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What designers must learn from the hotel industry

A good user experience is like a good hotel experience. People will not remember what color your bedsheets were, trust me. People will remember if they had troubles falling asleep.

A nicely made hotel bed with white linen and striped pillow covers

On the day Mr. Rajan Shakya of Kathmandu Guest House invited us over to discuss the UX redesign for his group of hotels, he was just out of a meeting on redoing the bedroom linen of some of the suites. He was unhappy about the use of polyester in the material used for pillow and bed covers. KGH used predominantly white cotton for these stuff, but the recent batch of textile was too shiny, and it took away the warmth and made the beds less attractive.

This is just a very small example of how important it is for the hospitality industry to pay attention to details. A ton of quality control inspectors are employed just to make sure everything is in order, and it feels exactly as intended. It may look like obsessed micro-management to some, but it is important. This kind of attention to detail is what keeps the hotels going, and customers coming back. It may not matter if you’re a small BnB (though it should), but higher up you go in the service, these kind of things become more and more crucial.

Hotels consider minute details like the direction of their electric kettle and the proximity of the carpet from the bed — and if they’d stop caring, it would immediately throw things off for the customers and that could ultimately affect the service experience, and the business.

A good user experience is like a good hotel experience.

So coming back to designers — no matter what medium you design in; whether you’re a graphic designer or a UX designer or even a back-end engineer, attention to details matter. Famous product designer Dieter Rams was a sucker for attention to details, which was later carried on by Steve Jobs of Apple. The reason why Apple became such a valuable company is because the amount of effort Jobs, along with his designer Johny Ivy put into their products, both physical and software-wise. Every button, every line of text, every inch of their metal was designed with precision and purpose. Everything together made sense, and even a minutest offset would become a glaring eyesore. That’s the kind of craftsmanship we expect, that’s the kind of intricate care we want all designers to put into their work.

If you’ve seen Japanese bakers prepare their jiggly cakes, or gourmet chefs carefully drop sesame seed dressing on specific spots of the plate — you’d know why it matters. I don’t rather care where the coriander leaf falls on my chicken curry, but there would be cooks to whom it would matter; and it should matter! This may sound crazy and feel borderline OCD, but attention to detail is not just something that defines what you do, but also who you are and where you come from. That’s the exact reason why service experience today is considered vital and hotels are willing to throw in any resource to make things work for their users.

A good Service Experience (SEx) should satisfy the customers and make them want more. 😜

Back to the hotel room: if you really want to experience the most satisfying SEx, I suggest you go and live in the big hotel for a day or two. SEx in a hotel room is something most people find pleasurable and satisfying. Anyway, one good SEx I had was in a hotel restaurant (and not the bedroom) and I’m going to describe it now. Once while we were having lunch at Annapurna’s Ghar-e-Kabab, I remember how important the server made us feel. He first greeted us and introduced himself. That was a very nice gesture. He then asked who we were and what we did. When we told him so and so, he spoke about his son who was doing computer engineering in Bangalore. That was a very personal touch. Second, before handing out the menus, he asked made sure what we wanted. Ghar-e-Kabab is predominantly an Indian restaurant, so he asked if we liked spice. Spice was okay with us. We said we did not want to eat heavy stuff like biryani. Then he suggested if parathas was something we liked. I liked stuff parathas so I said yes, my friend said no. So he told us the chef had this great lamb and he wanted to share with us. We said hell yea! Let’s have some lamb. The chef himself came out with some very small plates with grilled lamb meat and handed out the little plates to us. We tasted and said we liked it, so he thanked us and went in the kitchen to serve us more.

If you summarize the series of event that occurred, you can see that the chef followed the Empathize – Define – Ideate – Prototype and Deliver format. Though UX is a relatively newer field of service, the hospitality industry has been using format for a very long and time and it works for them every time. UX is not complex rocket science, it’s just how you make your users (customers) feel about your service. This is how I feel. It’s fascinating to see that these people have been doing this for a very long time, and we just call it UX now. It’s fun.

Okay, about attention to detail again — I think as a designer, it is super important to make sure you behave like you run a hotel. Put yourself in the position of a concierge and plan out to serve your customers accordingly. It is a fool-proof method that has worked in the past and will work every single time. To you, your linens and bedsheets are your UI. The way your customers are directed to their rooms, how lights are turned on is on-boarding experience. The response you give when call the front desk is the query-response user flow. Ease of accessing the porch, ease of using the controls in the bathroom, finding the switch to reading lamp, finding their way to the breakfast corner are all part of the user flow and how they navigate across different sections of your UX. Every thing that happens in a hotel suite has an equivalent in a software.

People will not remember what color your bedsheets were, trust me. People will remember if they had troubles falling asleep.

A well laid out amenities plan in a hotel works as effectively as a well-designed application works. People will not remember what color your bedsheets were, trust me. People will remember if they had troubles falling asleep. People will not remember if you forgot to put a shampoo in the bathroom, but people were remember if you were able to replace with ease and speed. These are little things that make up a good hotel experience, just like how it makes up for a good user experience.

So, the next time you’re designing a user flow, put yourself in the position of a hotel customer and see how you’d want to be served. A perfect UX is the one that solved your problem and made you happy. Hotel employees do this day in and day out. As a UX designer, you should do it too. Stop worrying about if you put all the amenities in place — but focus on if your users will be able to find it when they look for it. If they find it, you win; if they don’t — they’d probably want to speak to the manager.