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Launched in November 1995 by Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, two former Harvard Business Review editors, Fast Company magazine was founded on a single premise: A global revolution was changing business, and business was changing the world. Discarding the old rules of business, Fast Company set out to chronicle how changing companies create and compete, to highlight new business practices, and to showcase the teams and individuals who are inventing the future and reinventing business.

How To Rebrand An Unsavory History

If ever there were a place for a scandal to play out, the darkened and discreet hotel room is it. Seedy hotels are probable spots for misconduct, obviously—but so are glamorous, distinguished hotels that host high-profile figures prone to high-profile screw-ups. For a prominent hotel, being the backdrop of a public scandal is forever an unavoidable possibility.

But how damaging to a hotel’s business is being swept up in a controversy it inadvertently hosted? By just providing the backdrop to a scandal, hotels are in the unique position of being able to capitalize on it without it seeming outright tasteless. Can a hotel’s unsavory history actually become its biggest branding asset?

[Photo: courtesy The Watergate Hotel]

The answer, according to Roberto Sablayrolles of the real estate and design firm Streetsense, is a resounding yes. Sablayrolles specializes in the experiential design of restaurants and hotels, so I called him up to ask how hotels handle controversial histories in their design and branding, starting with the Watergate—the hotel complex so defined by political scandal that its name has since become a suffix synonymous with public disgrace (see: Pizzagate, Bridgegate, Deflategate). Sablayrolles’s treated the break-in like a branding gift. “I have to tell you this, if we had the chance to do [the Watergate branding] it would have been great because there is already a great story there,” he tells me.

Streetsense didn’t do the branding—Watergate developer Euro Capital did—but Sablayrolles says that any strong history that a hotel can use as its branding is an asset, especially one with as much name recognition as Watergate. “If you already have a story that’s controversial, there is a lot of opportunity for branding,” he says. In the Watergate’s case the flubbed burglary of the Democratic National Convention headquarters, located inside the complex, and subsequent cover-up by Nixon’s administration made the hotel an attraction even immediately afterward. According to the Washington Post, the scandal boosted business in the 1970s, and it continued to be used as a prominent spot for those in the Reagan administration in the 1980s. When the hotel closed down in 2007 it was because of building decline and changing ownership, not the bumbling burglary over 30 years prior.

Last June the Watergate reopened under new ownership with a $125-million renovation.  In the press, the hotel branding took a backseat to the gilded, retro-chic interiors spearheaded by the British-Israeli designer Ron Arad. But the cleverest elements of the communication design are the ones that allude slyly to the scandal. Upon arrival, hotel attendants wearing uniforms designed by Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant hand over key cards that affirm there is “No need to break in.” Pencils placed alongside a pad on the room desk read “I stole this from the Watergate Hotel.” For those really paying attention, the customer service phone number (1-844-617-1972) includes the break-in date, and the hotel’s typewriter-style typeface was inspired by the 1970s-era legal documents used during Nixon’s Senate hearings.

“I knew we needed to address the scandal, but I certainly didn’t want it to be the only focal point because the hotel is—and was—so much more glamorous than that,” says Rakel Cohen, who co-owns the hotel with her husband, Jacques Cohen, and led the hotel’s rebrand. The details Cohen included—she also points out that the front-desk hold music is a 1972 speech Nixon made to address Vietnam—are so subtle they feel like inside jokes, where the punchline is something everyone with the slightest knowledge of American history is in on.

In the same vein as the maxim “good design is invisible,” incorporating controversy takes a nuanced touch and a blending in with the overall design vision (in the Watergate’s case, an homage to its glamorous ’70s heyday). The fact that these references are so small they are totally missable is most of why they work. “If you explode a theme way too much it becomes over-theatrical,” says Sablayrolles. “That’s not clear branding. I like to say, when you have to tell the joke more than once, it’s not funny.”

[Photo: courtesy Cliveden House]

The Watergate isn’t the only hotel that has been successful at spinning a big political scandal to its advantage. The website for the Cliveden House, a private estate-turned-luxury hotel in Buckinghamshire, U.K., boasts a history of “unapologetic debauchery” (which echoes the copy on the Watergate website promising “unapologetic luxury.”) The main piece of history the Cliveden House is not sorry for? The Profumo Affair, a 1961 political scandal that started with an affair between John Profumo, the secretary of state for war at the time, and 19-year-old model Christine Keeler and ended with the resignation not only of Profumo but also of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Profumo and Keeler began their relationship after meeting by the pool at a Cliveden estate party, where Keeler was swimming in the nude.

[Photo: courtesy Cliveden House]

These days, the secluded pool is now a spa area, and the hotel’s copy is replete with mentions of decadence and intrigue. “Cliveden absolutely embraces its scandalous history,” says managing director Andrew Stembridge. “It is indeed the hotel’s past that defines the property today, making it one of the most historically renowned hotels in the world.” He points out that political scandal stretches even further back than Profumo, all the way to 350 years to when the Cliveden House was first built. In 1666, the second duke of Buckingham had the house built as a gift to his mistress, the countess of Shrewsbury.

Advertisers and designers have long known that sex and scandal sell, and clever hotel branding can play that up. As Sablayrolles puts it, the clever details can provide what he calls “Instagrammable moments,” but they have to be rooted in a more compelling overarching story. With hotels, there’s a fine line between sexy and seedy—it takes a historical foothold and a nuanced approach to come off as the former.

Last Chance To Enter The 2017 Innovation By Design Awards!

UPDATED 4/26/17: The deadline to enter the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards is a week away. Enter now!

We’re pleased to announce that Co.Design is now accepting entries for the 2017 Innovation by Design Awards. Innovation by Design is the only competition to honor creative work at the intersection of design, business, and innovation. The deadline to enter is May 4.

Winners and finalists are featured in the October issue of Fast Company magazine and listed in an online directory of the world’s best design-driven companies. Winners will also be celebrated at Fast Company‘s Innovation Festival in the fall.

Video: What Makes Good Design Great

We have 13 categories this year (click here for a complete list). Entries will be judged on their functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, depth of user insight, cultural impact, and business impact. Our roster of esteemed judges includes designers and design-minded executives from companies such as Amazon, Google, Adobe, Kickstarter, Wolff Olins, Gensler, and more.

Our goal? To highlight the industry’s best work–whether it comes from a freelancer, a startup, or a multinational corporation–in hopes of elevating the industry as a whole. Enter today.

This article originally appeared on Co.Design 2/28/17.

There’s A New Must-Read Book For Frank Lloyd Wright Fans

This year, Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the greatest and most popular modern American architect, would’ve turned 150 years old. To help commemorate the milestone, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy–a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving Wright’s buildings–is publishing a new edition of its Wright Sites guidebook. In addition to showcasing dozens of beautiful FLW projects, it’s also a testament to the power of historic preservation.

[Image: courtesy Princeton Architectural Press]

Edited by Joel Hoglund, the Conservancy’s communications director, the book includes 74 buildings–including spiritual structures, schools, commercial spaces, and private homes–in the United States and Japan. Most importantly, all of them are open to the public.

“People who look at pictures of architecture are experiencing it in one way, but when you stand inside and confront one of these buildings in person, the value presents itself in way you can’t put in words,” Hoglund says.

Wright Sites has changed since the previous edition published 15 years ago. Some projects are no longer accessible–like the Ennis House, which was sold to a private owner in 2011–and have been removed. Sixteen sites have become open to the public and are now in the book. About 25 projects in the book have undergone significant restoration. Of those projects, about 20 of them have received what the Conservancy calls a “comprehensive restoration,” meaning a re-visitation of the building due to improved scholarship on the project or significant need.

The Conservancy’s goal is to preserve Wright’s buildings–of the approximately 500 structures he designed and built, roughly 400 remain–and keep them in as close to their original condition and use as possible; a house remains a house, a bank a bank, a hotel a hotel, and so on. While Wright is considered a modern architect, his youngest buildings are between 50 and 60 years old and the oldest are about 130. This poses a significant preservation challenge for a few reasons: real estate value (and what owners value) changes over time, the context of a project changes, older buildings need a lot maintenance, and Wright incorporated a lot of untested techniques into his designs.

SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower (1936 and 1943). [Photo: © Mark Hertzberg]

“Wright was an innovator,” John Waters, preservation programs manager at the Conservancy, says. “And often his innovations were ahead of the curve in terms of technology. So at the time a house was built there could be issues with flat roofs and sealants and that sort of thing. Technology has come a long way in the last 50 to 75 years that can be used to [fix those problems].”

Located in a Chicago suburb, Unity Temple–which Waters considers one of Wright’s greatest, but lesser known works–is wrapping up a three-year renovation and is scheduled to re-open in June. Constructed in 1905, it was an early application of reinforced concrete. All of the exterior surfaces had to be refinished. The interior walls, which have a sand-textured finish, also needed to be redone. All of the wood trim inside the structure had to be refinished. The art glass–one of Wright’s signature details–needed to be restored to replace the fine metal work that holds the stained glass in place.

In Mason City, Iowa, Wright designed a bank and adjoining hotel in 1909. He riffed on the notion of a vault and opted not to include any street-level windows, just art glass at the clerestory level. Over the years, the building was turned into retail–a result of the bank going bankrupt in the 1920s–so the ground floor brick walls became storefront windows. The 50-room hotel was converted into apartments, which were eventually abandoned.

In 2005, a grassroots preservation movement began to restore the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank to their original state. Mason City citizens formed a nonprofit and raised funds for a renovation, completed in 2011. Major efforts included rebuilding the brick walls, re-installing an art glass skylight, and building out the hotel rooms as Wright originally designed.

While the restoration effort is remarkable for preserving architectural history, it also shows how historic buildings, and Wright’s in particular, can become a local beacon.

Historic Park Inn Hotel (1909). [Photo: Patrick J. Mahoney]

“It was a real community effort,” Waters says. “People want to maintain their history. Architecture is such a great indicator of who we are as a people and Wright is a fulcrum of American architecture coming into its own. If someone looks at a building that needs a lot of work and appears to be shabby and run down, would they rather see it as a strip mall or band together and save local history?”

The forces of real estate and time pose preservation challenges; so does the natural environment. Affordable housing for the middle class was one of Wright’s preoccupations, and he designed about 60 of these homes, which he named “Usonian.” The Bachman-Wilson house, built in 1954 was one of these homes. It was constructed near a river, which began flooding more frequently and more intensely in recent years. The Conservancy and the house’s owners, an architecture and design firm, decided that the structure would have to be moved to save it. After the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Arkansas, agreed to buy the house, it was painstakingly deconstructed, moved, and rebuilt. Now the house is open to the public.

Bachman-Wilson House (1954). [Photo: Nancy Nolan Photography, © 2016, courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

The Conservancy achieves its preservation goals a handful of ways: by marketing available Wright real estate to people who are fans of his work–the thinking is those buyers are more likely to respect the design–through a Wright on the Market page on its website; through its advisory committee, which offers technical advice and referrals to Wright building owners; and by its preservation easement program in which owners of a Wright building donate a portion of the structure–usually the most significant part of it, like the facade–to a nonprofit that’s then responsible for maintaining the element. Sometimes it even assumes ownership of a building temporarily until it can find the right owner.

While there have been a number of preservation success stories, there have also been some challenges. The Hoffman Auto Showroom, located on Park Avenue in Manhattan and designed in 1954, was gutted. “The value of the real estate played into it,” Hoglund says. “The developer knows that as much cache as Wright’s name has, they’re looking at the bottom line and a clean sweep was more valuable.”

The Conservancy only has four full-time employees and relies on a network of hundreds of volunteers and about 1,000 members in its organization to fulfill its work. Wright Sites is another tool in its arsenal. “It’s a good exercise in what the Conservancy does, which is try to create a tight community of people who care about Wright’s buildings,” Hoglund says.

The more people who care about Wright’s body of work and preserving it as a physical record of 20th-century architectural invention, the better chance it has of surviving the next century.

How To Design An Inclusive Tech Conference

Diversity and inclusion in design are such frequent panel topics these days, it seemed only a matter of time before entire conferences emerged on the subject. AIGA St. Louis hosts an annual Design + Diversity conference that launched last year (though charging $125 for members of the professional design organization and $150 for non-members to attend seems to counter its theme).

Today, another conference comes into the space: Design and Exclusion will focus on how designers can make products and services more equitable, and the field more inclusive. The first step? Making the conference accessible to all by hosting it online and for free.

[Screenshot: Design and Exclusion]

Diversity and Exclusion is hosted by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, in partnership with the media company and podcast Mash-Up America as well as MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Last year, tech evangelist John Maeda joined Automattic as global head of computational design and inclusion, vowing to apply his recent dedication to making design more inclusive to the products produced by the open-source software company. About six months ago, Automattic brought on Ashleigh Axios, formerly the creative director for the White House and an AIGA national board member leading its diversity initiatives, to work on their programming (her official title is design exponent). Led by Axios, Automattic created the conference as a way of bringing together disparate conversations about the benefits and challenges of building inclusive products and spaces.

The idea to host the conference online came about relatively reflexively, says Axios, since Automattic has employees spread across 53 different countries that they wanted to be able to attend. The company decided to front the administrative fees so that the conference could be free to attend. The conference will be audio streamed like a podcast, with speakers and panelists calling in from where they are located. To make it accessible to people with disabilities, the full transcription of the conference will also be made available afterwards. People can follow along and post questions on Twitter using the conference hashtag #DesignX. Throughout the conference, Automattic will post “bite-size” content, says Axios, like quotes, tweets and excerpts of interviews so attendees have multiple options for accessing the information in a way that works best for them.

The conference will last from noon to 4 p.m. today, and its line-up is impressive: alongside Maeda and Axios, are Etsy editor-in-chief Andrew Sinkov, Airbnb researcher Anne Diaz, and Tech LadyMafia founder (and co-host to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast) Aminatou Sow. The panels range from one addressing major diversity problems, using examples such as when Facebook let its advertisers to target racial groups and discussing the policies companies should have in place to avoid something like that. Another panel will talk about the importance of quantitative as well as qualitative data in considering inclusion, using Pepsi’s recent flub—an ad that capitalized on a prominent Black Lives Matter protest image—as an example. The two others will focus on inclusion on online platforms, as well as steps the design and tech community can take to make it a more equitable industry.

While the online format does give more people access to it, there are potential challenges to hosting a conference that doesn’t physically gather people in one space. For one, it’s hard to predict how many people will participate, and how long they will be able to engage. “If you charge something, you have a better sense of your numbers and who you’re going to get,” says Axios. “That dynamic shifts even more online. We don’t know what we will get in terms of participation, and online its more possible to get distracted by things happening in your physical space.”

To combat that a bit, Axios says the audio player will let you start and stop, so that if you have to leave your desk and come back you have the option of picking up where you left off, or joining into the livestream. The text components will also help with that. Ultimately, Axios wants the content to meet as many people as possible where they are, regardless of geography, professional affiliation or money. The conference acts as an alternative to many professional organization conferences that cost money and require travel.

As Axios says, diversity in the tech and design industries is an important issue that will take the participation and consideration of as many people as possible. It’s only natural that a design conference on inclusion should be inclusive itself if it expects to inspire change in others. And the best outcome from the conference? “If we see commitments come out of tech companies big and small to design exclusion out of the products that they build, we would consider that a success as far as measuring impact,” Axios says.

Facebook Wants To Read Your Mind And Make You Feel Words

At Facebook’s F8 conference today, the DARPA and Google ATAP alum Regina Dugan debuted two new radical, multi-year projects being developed by the social media company with a singular goal: to turn your body into the ultimate computer peripheral–no keyboard, mouse, display, or speakers required.

The first of the two initiatives is called Project: Type With Your Brain. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a project with the goal of enabling someone to type 100 words per minute just by thinking them, within a few years.

[Screenshots: Facebook]

As Dugan argued on stage, the human mind has enough bandwidth to stream 40 ultra HD movies at a time (a rate of about one terabyte per second). And yet, when we communicate through speech, it’s at the rate of a 1980s dial-up modem. “Speech is essentially a compression algorithm, and a lossy one at that,” she said.

The truest expression of feeling would come straight from your brain. But we’ll need radical new interfaces to communicate with our minds, especially if Facebook’s vision of the augmented reality world, experienced through glasses, is to really take off. “Even something as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ brain click could fundamentally change our capability,” Dugan said. 

To get there, Facebook has hired a team of 60 researchers with a diverse range of specialties to develop a prosthesis that can sit on your head, beam light into your eye, and read what your neurons are doing, “as they suck in sodium and spit out potassium,” in Dugan’s words. 

[Screenshots: Facebook]

The second project Dugan discussed is Project: Hear With Your Skin. Inspired by the Tadoma method developed by Hellen Keller–which allows a blind and deaf person to learn to “hear” and speak simply by touching the throat of someone who is talking–it’s a combination of hardware and software that could allow humans to discern vocalizations simply by feeling those vibrations, rather than literally hearing them.

Dugan showed a video of a woman named Frances for whom Facebook built an artificial cochlea. Frances wears a black sleeve on her arm, and it transmits different frequencies associated with different words to her skin.

“She has learned to feel the acoustic shape of words on her arm,” said Dugan, adding later, “If we put these things together, one day it may be possible for me to think in Mandarin and for you to feel it instantly in Spanish.”

[Screenshots: Facebook]

Dugan is superb at these presentations, and her role as Head of Building 8 at Facebook–where she leads the craziest R&D within the company–necessitates it. Just because she paints such a convincing view of the future doesn’t necessarily meant it will come true. At Google, Dugan’s team stumbled on seemingly impossible technologies like the Project Ara phone, which promised a smartphone that you could build and fix your as easily as you’d assemble Lego bricks.

Even still, Dugan does give us the clearest image of the distant future, as Facebook imagines it yet. It’s a future where we won’t type status updates, or talk to one another, or read screens. Instead, we’ll walk around the world as nodes in a giant empathy machine.

“Imagine the power that would give to the 700 million people who cannot read or write but can surely think and feel,” Dugan said. We’ll either be the peace-loving Na’vi aliens of Avatar, or the silent mechanical hivemind, the Borg.

A Fitbit The Size Of A Ring Is Surprisingly Wonderful

After plenty of earnest self-reflection, I’ve given up on my Fitbit, on my Nike+ Fuelband, and on my Jawbone Up. I’m pretty much convinced that tracking my own sleep and activity can only make me feel worse about staying up late and taking fewer steps a week than I should. I’m a full believer in the post-quantified self, cracking an America at 3pm, and going for a run until the pain–not a beep–convinces me to stop.

Or I was. Then I spent a week with the Motiv ($199 this spring). It’s essentially a device that has all of the accelerometer and heart-rate sensing technology you’ll find in a Fitbit, miniaturized down to a sleek titanium ring that could pass for a wedding band. This tiny, downright elegant marvel of technology–powered by a battery so small it hadn’t been invented before the project began–makes the breakthrough curved batteries inside the Fuelband look like medieval iron cuffs.

Ultimately, I still don’t really believe in data tracking for data tracking’s sake. But wearing the Motiv for a week, I got a taste of the wearable future to come–a future that won’t be defined by blinky, distracting gadgets like the Apple Watch, but technology that’s subtly woven into the fabric of our lives…and our clothes.

Snapchat’s Amazing New Filters Drop Digital Stuff Into Your Real World

Snapchat’s filters aren’t just for puke rainbow selfies anymore. A new feature called World Lenses lets you actually place animated digital items, ranging from rainbows to giant cups of coffee to phrases like “OMG,” into your environment.

All you do is drag, drop, and pinch-to-scale. Then, as you walk around with your phone, the object stays put like a digital sculpture. There’s no doubt, given Snap’s unprecedented track record in leveraging augmented reality into successful ad campaigns, we’ll see sponsored World Lenses soon.

The timing is by no means coincidental; mere hours after Snap’s new feature was announced, Facebook unveiled a huge push into augmented reality at its annual F8 conference. To be honest, Facebook’s initiatives look far more advanced than what Snapchat debuted today. Facebook has APIs that can actually identify objects in a scene, and offer custom animations as a result. Then again, that feature is still in beta for developers. Snapchat shipped its new AR feature to a hundred million users today.

World Lenses were captivating when I tried them myself, even if my cluttered apartment seemed to sometimes confuse the software’s ability to spot a flat plane. Even still, the biggest surprise was not in how they looked or worked, but that as I was swiping a rainbow across my son’s play table, I decided that I wanted to move his firetruck, too. And rather than reaching for the real object, I poked at the screen instead, momentarily confused why the real toy was stuck in place.

Augmented reality is just peeking its way into the mainstream. And already, it’s confusing the hell out of what is real, and what isn’t.

Why You Should Always Let Somebody Else Pick Your Profile Picture

LinkedIn. Facebook. Match. They’re all meat markets in their own way, which is why we work hard to choose the most professional, fun, and generally flattering photos to represent ourselves online. But according to research out of The University of New South Wales Sydney, we’re doing it all wrong. We shouldn’t be picking these photos ourselves. We should let other people do it for us.

In a study just published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 102 students were presented with 12 of their own photos that they had posted on Facebook. They were then told to choose the best shots to use on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Match. Then right after, they were tasked with doing the same rankings for a stranger in the study.

[Infographic: David White]

When a totally new group of people came in to critique all of the picks, without knowing who chose what, they favored the stranger-chosen photos pretty much across the board. Measurements of “trust” and “competence” were all significantly higher on the stranger-chosen photos than the self-selected ones, on all services. Attractiveness was neither better nor worse–it lacked any statistically significant difference for reasons researchers couldn’t explain–but even on the dating platform Match, profile photos selected by a stranger still made the person look more competent and trustworthy.

“Our findings suggest that people make poor choices when selecting flattering images of themselves for online profile pictures, which affects other people’s perception of them,” said lead author Dr David White in a press release. “This effect is likely to have a substantial impact on online interactions, the impressions people form and the decisions they base on them, including whether to employ, date, befriend or even vote for someone.”

In the design world, we generally frown on crowdsourcing opinion. But in this case, researchers believe it could be key to overcoming implicit biases. We tend to view our own familiar faces more favorably than those of strangers–we tend to believe we’re more trustworthy and attractive than other people do.

In terms of getting out the door on a bad hair day while attempting to ace that job interview, that over-inflated ego can be good thing. But as researchers explain in the paper, “one apparently plausible account of our findings is that, somewhat paradoxically, these self-enhancing biases in perception may in fact interfere with a person’s ability to discriminate between images when selecting one to portray a positive impression.”

We might be so in love with ourselves that we can’t tell which photos objectively put our best faces forward.

I’m Fluent In 5 Computer Languages. Why Can’t I Switch Off The Bedside Light In A Marriott?

The experience, gushes the hotel website, will be delightful, with staff who will be your new best friends; luxuries beyond the dreams of Caligula. Just look at this shot of a couple lounging in bathrobes that are so fluffy they’ll have to sit on their suitcases when they steal them.

Yet it’s not really infinity pools, spas, and marble staircases that create a hotel experience.

[Photo: BaronVisi/iStock]

Somewhere way, way, down the pyramid of basic human needs lurk the real things that define our stay. We confront them when we’re at our weakest: jet-lagged out of our gourds, sweaty-palmed, and panicky an hour before our big keynote or, on the last day of the Cannes festival, too slammed on Martinez rosé to remember our own name, let alone room number.

Hotels could have risen to the challenge of designing for those of us mentally and physically incapacitated by long-haul travel, stress, alcohol or a day on the floor of CES. After all, designing for vulnerable people has led to some great breakthroughs. Oxo Goodgrips are a range of kitchen utensils created for arthritis sufferers. They became bestsellers because we can all benefit from a more comfortable potato peeler. That Aeron chair you’re probably sitting on was designed for elderly people. Nike’s Flyease, created for people with disabilities, is becoming a mainstream hit.

Instead, hotels seem to have decided that the average business traveler is Daredevil.

Daredevil can sleep no matter how much stuff glows in his room. Daredevil is too badass to care about showers that sit on a knife-edge between freezing and flesh-searing. Daredevil’s job doesn’t depend on his abilities to upload stuff on Wi-Fi. Most of all, Daredevil is brilliant at knowing where stuff is in the dark. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal superpower. It does when you’re trying to find the bathroom at 3 a.m. in the Hyatt in Tokyo.

[Photo: razyph/iStock]

I test products for a living. Often, I find extreme ways to test those products, to understand where they really break down – and why they really perform. If hotels tested rooms on groups of consumers who were drunk, or stressed, or deprived of sleep for twenty-four hours, I’m certain they’d rethink everything.

So in the interests of science, I have inflicted all of these states on myself on a recent trip to the US, and have reached some conclusions that I would like to give the hotel industry for free as a service to them, and to road warriors everywhere.

Test One: Seven hours of jet lag and three Old-Fashioneds in Milwaukee, WI.

I’m tired, that third Old Fashioned was a mistake and I just want darkness to descend. I switch off the main light by the door. Everything goes dark. I switch it back on. I hit the switch by the bedside lamp. It comes on. I walk back to the door. Click. Darkness. The switch by the door turns everything off. Perhaps it doesn’t switch the desk lamp off. I repeatedly turn the knob on the desk lamp, which doesn’t come on. No, because there’s a switch on the flex as well. Back to the main light. Click. Darkness. I am in the puzzle room from hell.

In Daredevil mode I walk back to the bed in the dark, banging into the pointlessly enormous chest of drawers. Every hotel room has a giant chest of drawers. Why? Am I The Unsinkable Molly Brown with a steamer trunk full of crinolines? More to the point, who unpacks their suitcase? Even if I’m staying a couple of weeks, I’ll be living out of my carbon fibre Samsonite, the king of carry-on wheelies. Just give me somewhere to park it where I won’t bang into it in the dark 

I limp into bed. Sometime in the night I will get up to go to the bathroom. I already know that the bedside light switch won’t work and I will be Daredevilling there and back again.

Test two: Three days of sleep deprivation in New York

Finally, the back-to-back workshop deathmarch was over, and I could have an early night. Most hotels have wonderful blackout curtains that completely cut out urban light. Then they spoil the darkness with giant glowing clocks, because what we all want behind our eyelids after eighteen hours in a plane is a little bit of Shinjuku neon winking away at us. Often they are hardwired into the wall so I can’t just wrench out the plug. Why? Do people steal them? Does anybody want a thing that glows with the intensity of a dying star in their bedroom at home, or do they just need somewhere to dock their eight year-old iPod? I put the hardwired ones in a pillowcase then slam them in a drawer. I’ve put post-its and even duct tape over wall-mounted ones. (Also, memo to Jonathan Ive: that little white pulsing heartbeat of a Mac laptop is not cute in a dark hotel room. It wakes me up. I have duct tape on that, too.)

Test 3: Send emails while trying to eat in Chicago

When you go to a restaurant, does the waiter say, We’ve hidden the menu and you will have to solve some riddles to find it? No, they don’t. Because if you were tired and hungry, you would either walk out of the restaurant or waterboard the waiter until he told you the specials.

So why do so many hotels put room service on the fifth page of the television menu? Do they not want us to spend ludicrous amounts of money on a Caesar salad? Finally, it’s ordered. Now to do those emails. Hotel rooms generally have lots of plug sockets and lots of comfortable places to sit. But they don’t put the two in the same place. Who works at a desk when they can work in bed? Or in a nice armchair? Or on the balcony? But batteries are getting smaller and leads are getting shorter. (You again, Ive. See me after class.) A socket by the bed would be nice. As would one of those little fold-out tables you get in hospitals. So if I wanted to sit in the armchair, I had to get the emails sent before the batteries ran out.

Although this happened two months ago, I can tell you that the Wi-Fi password in my hotel was AvE1cD. It is imprinted on my mind forever because I re-typed it into my laptop, phone, and tablet every 15 minutes. For four days.

Test conclusions

As anybody who’s worked in experience design will tell you, it’s not about grand gestures: the Renoir in the lobby or the Starck-designed bar. Experience is the accumulation of a thousand tiny moments, most of them almost invisible. My final tip for hotel designers is this: before you finalize a design, go out for a few drinks. Come back to the room about 4 a.m. and ask yourself, does this still make sense? Right now, a lot of stuff won’t.

R/GA’s Path From Special Effects To Global Creative Powerhouse

If you’re confused as to what R/GA actually does, I promise, you’re not alone. The firm launched in 1997 as a special effects company. It made websites in its early years. Today, it’s a multi-headed, digital-design-meets-advertising-agency thing.

But listening to Nick Law, global chief creative officer at R/GA, speak on the topic for Co.Design‘s Studio Tours series, he makes R/GA’s evolution sound downright logical: “At each period, the thing that’s disrupted the industries we’ve been in has been technology. And the ability to sit above the industries and see the ramifications to those disruptions, and to adapt to them, is what’s distinguished us over the years.”

Today, that technology continues to be the internet, Law says; the web has connected so much of our lives that, to truly serve clients, you can’t just be a one-trick pony–you need to do everything. So while it continues to be hard to define exactly what R/GA does in a single sentence, that’s only a reflection of how hard it is to define exactly what any design consultancy or media agency needs to be today.