Good design should be aesthetically pleasing, but there’s more to it than that. Experts shared insights into the psychology behind hotel design, and how that taps into emotions and even revenue opportunities.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—People choose hotels with their eyes, and during the booking process make a lot of inferences based on visuals about the experience they’re going to have, according to experts.
But design is so much more than the aesthetics, said Stephani Robson, senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Ultimately, design incorporates the space, furnishings, lighting and color to evoke feelings, she said.
“Part of what makes a great stay psychologically is that it doesn’t add to the stress of the guests,” she said.
Applied appropriately, design psychology can even help generate revenue at hotels, sources said.
Starting at the design phase
Ashley Manhan, cofounder and principal designer of Avenue Interior Design, said her team always thinks about how design will translate to guests and the psychology behind it. Her team makes a point to design a space “that feels slightly aspirational,” she said.
“No matter what, most people are using a hotel (as) some sort of an escape,” she said. “So you want to create something that’s different from their home but also keep in those elements that are comfortable.”
Creating mood always starts with the initial concept presentation with the client, she said.
“We really try to understand what the client and brand wants,” and it’s important that guests come away thinking about the experience they had, she said.
She said owners and operators of course want the best return on investment and are constantly considering how they can get more money for the room, which includes the psychology behind certain design.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s kind of in the back of everyone’s head, but we look at it as our job to bring it up and use it as a point in the design,” she said.
Robson said hotel design is focusing more new traveler types, and changing to incorporate elements that will stimulate younger generations. One way hotel design appeals to those guests is by creating spaces in which they can interact, she said.
“They like to be around other people but don’t necessarily want to interact with them,” she said. “There’s psychological comfort in other people being there. Empty spaces suggest deep down in our psyche this is not a place you want to stay.”
That’s why brands like Courtyard by Marriott put an emphasis on creating lively and busy communal lobbies with multipurpose F&B areas, which “sends a message to people that this is a safe environment,” she said.
Robson and Manhan both said it’s important for design to show congruency and cohesiveness in a hotel.
Design plays into a guest’s experience from the minute they walk in the door, through check-in and as they “meander up to their room,” Manhan said. It’s “making sure that all those experiences meet their expectations and needs,” she said.
Sources said to also consider things like lighting to calm moods and scents to trigger memories.
Manhan said Avenue Interior Design has worked with a lot of brands that use signature scents in public spaces. Used effectively, a scent at a hotel can carry on beyond the guest’s stay.
“If you get a hint of those scents anywhere else, it brings back that memory” of the hotel, and it might inspire a return visit, she said.
Robson said hotels should be subtle when using signature scents.
Psychology behind design can also help to make hotel staff more efficient, Robson said.
It can be as simple as how carpet in the banquet areas are designed. Carpet designed in a grid or with a pattern that repeats has been shown to help speed up the ballroom setup by the staff, she said.
If it makes sense for the hotel’s location and traveler type, it’s OK to “challenge the norm,” said Steve Smith, CEO at Lawrence Group.
Lawrence Group worked on the Angad Arts Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, which opened in early November. The hotel, which he described as being “completely different from what we’ve seen before,” consists of 146 guestrooms equally distributed among four primary colors—red, yellow, blue and green design schemes meant to elicit different emotions.
“We felt that this hotel, being in our cultural district, needs to be … artistic and consistent with (the area) we’re in,” he said.
The design team researched the emotion of color for each room: Red for passion, blue for tranquility, green for rejuvenation and yellow for happiness.
Smith said it will be interesting to see which rooms will be in highest demand—whether people will prefer one color over another when they book.
“We’ll learn that over time,” he said. “We may get people booking rooms based on their preconception of what their experience might be.”
He said if one color is fully booked one night, the question will be “does the guest pick another color or do they not book?” He added the design could inspire repeat stays, as guests try out the different room colors.
Robson said giving guests the option to choose a color might give them the feeling of having more control over their stay.