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Beware all that glitters

The excitement a child feels running headlong towards a shiny, glitzy, sparkly, gift wrapped gift is wonderful to witness.

Big books with imaginative covers and promising back pages can quickly capture our wallet. Bargains, half price, and unheard of discounts easily steal our common sense. But beware! All that glitters is not only not gold; it may not even be good.

And Design Means?

Before “style” there is “design” Style is merely a word to describe a genre of design. In other words, dreamy marketers have blurred the two words. Style is an outcome and a loose categorisation of one very general design type. Therefore to “purchase” a “style” design blindly is a little like ordering a triple by-pass without knowing why, but probably because your neighbour had one!

Design is not a surface thing; it is not about just making things pretty. It is not something that should ever be about “like” or “dislike.” It’s about passion, emotion, and attachment. Ultimately, design is the No.1 factor in determining whether or not you stand out. In other words, design for a reason, not for a fad.

What’s the Point?

Commissioning “a design” is easy. Setting parameters for that design is not so easy. Before anything happens, before pencils hit drawing boards, there needs to be a strategy for commissioning the design.

 Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group can teach us a thing or two. He said “Every new product or service that Virgin group offers must: (1) Have the best quality, (2) provide great value, (3) be innovative, (4) dramatically challenge existing alternatives, and (5) provide a “sense of fun” or “cheekiness”

 How many hospitality professionals really consider what they want “design” to do before commissioning the designer? It’s a little like sitting in the railway station waiting for the train but with no idea where you are going. How then would you know if the design solution proposed for you was right? If that’s the case, what chance of getting it right for the customer?

I Am who I Am.

Ultimately, “design” means you actually say something about your business. The design you roll out is your statement about your business. Your design is how your target market will choose you, or not. Get it right, you win. Get it wrong, you loose.

Would you cruise up to a shiny car showroom, select a shiny car because the salesman said “it’s what everyone is buying these days” drop ¤30,000 and cruise off happily into the sunset? Unlikely and it would be a costly “mistake” if you got it wrong. The moral? Before you see design as a solution, understand (1) the function of design and (2) the impact it will have on your business, current and future.

Beware of Simplifying Complex Things.

Over time we tend to reduce and simplify most things. We begin to shorten, abbreviate and express things in a lazy way. Look at how mobile text messaging is destroying language. Imagine how a twenty one year old will write and communicate in twenty years time?

Similarly, design has often been reduced to a simple menu of “design types.” There are terms like “traditional,” “contemporary,” “minimalist,” “premium,” Then, there is the word “style” a very loose term that vaguely hints at “something modern, cool, sophisticated and classy” I could go on and more words could easily be thrown into the “style” melting pot. What gets cooked is another matter. Let’s call a spade a spade, in fact, let’s just call design, design!

Your Choice, Your Market, Your Future.

Any good design by its very nature must have a lot more than just elements of “style”. It must also be timeless, appropriate and relevant. It must serve its function and enhance it and it must have a real meaningful role and purpose. Style is an intrinsic component of design but in itself it is nothing. It is not a question of “Is a style design right for me?” it is a question of what “design” is right for you, your market, your location, your history, your heritage, your ambition, your growth, your future and, by the way, your customer. What you need is a curious combination of several things. Your vision, aspirations, ambition, needs, goals, location, budget, competition, and most of all, what you see as coming down the line.

It’s Not a Drum Roll, it’s a Designers Role!

What is right for you is not a “traditional” “minimalist” or “style” sort of design. What is right for you is “your” design. A good design solution is an intricate web that takes account of all the unique aspects special to you, your business and your vision.

A good designer is first and foremost a good listener and someone who is provocative in teasing from you the essential ingredients described above. Once they have gathered up this information, their role is to paint that picture back to you, challenge the status quo and add ideas, inspiration and innovation. Or, as Richard Branson said, “a little cheekiness.” The solution the designer develops may well come out the other end and fall into a “design category”. What’s important is not the term, what’s important is the expression of something that is relevant, different and emotionally desirable. It’s the purpose of design after all.

Beware Cheap and Fast Fix Solutions

Design, be it “style” traditional” or whatever, will not in itself create success or atmosphere. It will help, it will facilitate it, but it will not create it. It is a component not a solution. Shallow or cheap quick fix ill thought through design solutions will guarantee the opposite and be a fast track to failure. A less polite term is “copies”. In the end it can be the most expensive money you ever saved.

A successful solution to regenerate your business may not need an expensive complete refit. Often, a change of some key elements from staff to music, to lighting to colour to menu may just do the trick. Good design is not always expensive design. Good design is clever design and clever designers are often most creative and most innovative when faced with a tight budget.

People, Atmosphere, People

If you ask friends to recount their best hospitality experience, you will seldom hear them say “It is a wonderful expression of design”. However, you will hear them say “What a great night, what a great atmosphere, great food, service” and so on. The only thing that creates atmosphere, or mood, is people. Good design enables that. The design, no matter what genre, simply facilitates the atmosphere. It is subliminal thing not an overt thing. It is essential but it won’t necessarily stand out. People, on the other hand, are the ambassadors and hosts, they express what you and your business are all about. They absolutely determine our experience and our judgement. To give an analogy, compare the pub to a theatre, both places of entertainment. You can have great sets, superb lighting, fantastic comfy seats, wonderful facilities, but, if you have no actors, you have no show & no show equals no atmosphere. Go further, would you build a great theatre with all of the above & then parade un trained actors, with no script & no objectives and expect a great night with whoops of laughter, fun & merriment?

And Finally.

It’s not important what the design “term” is that describes your venue, what’s important is that it is a combination of all things excellent from good design, appropriate design solutions, well trained customer focused staff, value, choice through to points of difference. The real test is not just admiring glances at clever and beautiful design. What really counts are the simple things and when you hear your customers say “What a great place!”
“Traditional, Style, Minimalist, etc etc” won’t count for much if your customers vote with their feet. That, after all, is the bottom line.