Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Interactive, Integrated and Inter-operable: 3 ideas for hotel design

A few weeks ago in this blog I asked "When will technology really disrupt the hotel business?"

As I observe how hoteliers are exploring the possibilities of evolving the paradigm in which hotel operations are based, I have identified 3 key elements that are needed to implement successfully any technological advance: solutions must be interactive, integrated and inter-operable.

This means that technology must:
  • enhance the experience through an enticing connection between the guest and the physical space
  • be perceived as a seamless part of the guest experience, and not just a layer applied on the conventional operation
  • it must increasingly permit information exchange with the guest's own personal devices

The market is full of examples of technological upgrades, but I've recently come across a few experimental and conceptual ideas that push the envelope and that I believe will leverage further the hospitality user experience when they are ready to be applied in commercial spaces.

Nest Thermostat
The Nest Thermostat is an ingenious invention developed by Tony Fadell, an Apple alumni who had a key role in the Ipod creation.

This device re-invents our relationship with the appliances that control human comfort, in this case thermal comfort. It has an innovative capability to learn the user patterns in order to create optimal living conditions, as well as to provide energy savings.

What I find particularly interesting is a design that embeds artificial intelligence so discreetly in the product's DNA, and that permits a innovative interaction with the user.

Adaptive environments that learn how to adjust the conditions of a living space to its occupants will be a quantum leap from our existing systems. And Nest might be about temperature only, but once this concept expands it can be applied to all sort of adjustments in moisture content, barometric pressure, air velocity, acoustic issues, and then even further to manage visual comfort through daylighting and artificial lighting controls, eventually media content, and who knows maybe even physical comfort through fine adjustments in upholstery firmness.

It is truly a new product, and I envision a time when people can carry their own "comfort intelligence" in digital form, and then transfer that information in advance to the room where they will be staying. We will then be able to have a hotel guestroom, or an office space which customizes its properties to accommodate each unique user's needs.

The customization of spaces will be further enhanced with evolved TVs which will allow us to "launch" our tablet customization on the screen just by placing them on the side and swiping them in the direction of the TV. At this point all our own media (music, video, whatever entertainment apps) will immediately become available in the room. Portable comfort, and portable media-impact devices will meet the interactive, integrated and inter-operable requirements.

Accor's Ibis brand is testing an original interactive experience, with a robotic arm linked to sensors placed on bed mattresses, which transfer sleeping patterns onto a canvas. I find it to be such a daring use of technology! And it provides a novel connection of guests to the hotel in ways that we can only begin to imagine.

Whether the result is true art or not isn't really the issue (watch the video and decide for yourself), but this use of technology pushes the boundaries of human interaction with technology, and integrates it not only in the physical space, but also creates a very unique form of engagement with the hospitality product. And the enrollment via Facebook provides an additional layer of positive entanglement with the brand.

For the cynics and pessimists, you can have the consolation that even if this experiment doesn't really catch on, it will for sure have taught hoteliers and designers where some of the boundaries are.

This is a highly conceptual product developed by design collective NAU. More than a product, this object reminiscent of Kubrick's monolith, is an interface. The concept is that the space enclosed within the sphere can provide infinite digital freedom where the entire body interacts with sensors to re-create reality. It is a unique sensory experience inside a very controlled environment, in a way that until now was the object of science fiction. 

This concept contradicts in some ways the basic notions of integration and inter-operability, because it is a device so independent from reality, but I was drawn to the idea that an interface might not need to be a screen and it can be anywhere we want it to be.

Where I see the disruptive potential is not necessarily from the product in its pure form, but the ability to expand the notion of interaction and apply it to real spaces to improve living environments and comfort.

I am thinking for instance of a smart wardrobe where the mirror can allow the user to "virtually" try the clothes before getting dressed .... or falling asleep with the kind of warm summer breeze that makes it so easy to drift away at the beach ....

So these 3 examples of innovative creativity in product design point to a direction where we can carry our own comfort as a digital signature, we can interact physically with spaces, and we can extract elements of virtual experiences to increase the quality of living spaces.

And the more we talk about the possibilities, the more we realize that these inventions will intersect and trigger exponentially increasing options to re-design the hotel experience: the room sensors can detect what the user's exact mood and feeling is, and by using the "learned intelligence" adjust the comfort conditions and transform the perception of the room ambiance and decor to suit the guest.

Creative and talented inventors are providing us with the tools we need. Now it is up to hoteliers, designers and entrepreneurs to put them to use, disrupt the market and impress their guests.


  1. taking the world of technology and finding ways to make it more *human* friendly ..
    Until most mega brands understand the true benefits in compatible products and software, & without aggressive, proactive sharing, these new worlds of technology will never become mainstream and have no chance of becoming our reality. here's to playing nice in the sandbox.
    great post bruno!

  2. I felt hipnotized by everything I read.
    As a very "dificult and demanding" hotel guest I will be anxious to see it happen as described in your blog specially the sleep dept!
    Congratulations bruno by giving us the feeling that in this area Sky is really not the limit.