This June, we headed to Washington, DC for our fourth annual HD NextGen Forum at the infamous and newly reopened Watergate Hotel (which was decidedly less scandalous than its previous incarnation). During the event, our new class of Wave of the Future honorees sat down to talk about their careers and passion for design.
Here are few how-to tips we picked up from Matthew Goodrich, creative director and associate, AvroKO; Michelle Behr, vice president of design and construction, Highgate; Ana Milena Hernández Palacios and Christophe Penasse, co-founders, Masquespacio; Kevin O’Shea, founder and creative director, Salt Hotels; Teddy Mayer, vice president of design, Virgin Hotels; and Christina Luk, director, Lukstudio.
How to Let Go
Ultimately you can’t control your clients. “They come to your space, they love your ideas, but then they put rainbow clothes everywhere,” says Luk of some of her past retail work. Her best practice is to make the products work in the space and to learn “to pick the right clients and the right projects.”
Also, adds Mayer, “know when to back down and be flexible.” There are so many factors that inform each design decision that being transparent with information is key. “If every team member is informed, then you can make decisions together.”
How to Handle the Process
After working on a Disney cruise ship when he was with Rockwell Group, Goodrich says the experience was “great, weird, and terrifying.” Along with a handful of other firms, they worked together to implement design elements that literally helped keep the boat afloat. From there, he found that every process is basically the same. “The variables change. There’s different technical requirements, collaborative paths, but every project requires the same core skills,” he says, adding, “Once I realized that, I never looked back.”
How to Break the Rules
Because O’Shea is both client and designer, there’s a freedom in implementing ideas. It’s something he learned while working at Morgans Hotel Group with Ian Schrager where the designer would “question every detail, he says. “We continue to do that today in our own properties. It makes the experience better. We try to get away from the rules,” which often means bring OK with trying something out even if it fails.
How to Deal with Clients
“It’s very important to understand what the client wants,” says Luk. “You have to communicate very well. You have to have a lot of patience.” Eventually, “you will get what you want, and all the constraints and problems will make the project much richer.”
How to Execute Your Vision
When Masquespacio was formed it was very difficult to stand out. “We didn’t have the experience,” says Penasse. “Every time was like jumping into a pool with no water.” Even after four years, the most difficult (but interesting) part of the job is convincing the clients of their vision. Often, if clients don’t like the initial idea, it pushes Penasse and Hernández Palacios to create a better design.
How to Manage Expectations
At Virgin Hotels, “it’s important to keep in mind the spirit and philosophy of Virgin as a whole,” while also managing people’s preconceived notions of what Virgin is as a brand. “I always think that each brand is sensitive to the industry that it’s in,” Mayer says. “We use the institutional knowledge of the whole group but filter it through the hotel industry and our brand.”
In addition, because she has a background as a designer, Behr understands that view, so it helps with that relationship to have conversations about the budget, schedule, etc. “It’s not just about saying no,” she says. “It’s all about relationships and being flexible and trusting the design.”
How to Create a Lasting Impression
“What you’re doing when you’re designing a space for hospitality is making your best the best,” says Goodrich. “You’re using your experience, intuition, empathy, but the reality is that once it’s open, that’s only 40 percent of the job,” he says. The guest tells you what it’s going to be like, how they want to use it, and they make it better. When working on a brand like tommie for Commune Hotels + Resorts, “it will be brought to life by people you never get to meet,” he says. “It’s a fascinating way to work.”