print logo
© 2017
International Interior Design Association

Chicago, IL
Toll Free: 888 799 4432
International: +01 312 467 1950

What Do Clients Want

By David Sokol

IIDA GETS THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM CEOs

The adage is so old that it almost doesn’t bear repeating: A project is only as good as its client. Well, it turns out, that’s only part of the puzzle. Success, it seems, is even more dependent on a strong—if not always easygoing—client-designer dynamic. And on the designer having the chance to exercise the full scope of his or her expertise, which is dependent on that very partnership.

IIDA’s book-publishing debut, What Clients Want, reveals the back-and-forths that produced the glossy project photos featured—or, as the organization’s executive vice president and CEO Cheryl Durst puts it, “the pain behind the porn.” The limited-edition volume, available in June, includes riveting tales of the therapy, cultural anthropology, and outright sturm und drang that focused clients’ vision and propelled designers to give it their all in turn.

The book results from an ongoing IIDA study investigating the client’s take on the benefits—both anticipated and unfore-seen—of having an extraordinary relationship with a designer. As it turns out, the design firms delivered much more than the clients typically bargained for: The designers’ purview and knowledge were broader and more nuanced than was expected. On one hand, that’s a nice pat on the back, an after-the-fact recognition of the myriad skills that industry professionals bring to the table. But it also exposes a persistent image problem, a systematic lack of under-standing of just what it is that interior designers do.

This provides an opportunity—and the motivation—for practitioners to better explain their services in an effort to get the broader populace to understand the true power of design, that it’s not simply a matter of specifying panel fabrics and drawing up floor plans; it’s about sussing out and supporting clients’ sales objectives, LEED goals, and cultural desires. This book is a great start at helping the industry figure out how to promote the full spectrum of its services.

It’s no surprise that a superior collaboration can positively alter a company’s outcome in significant, tangible ways. To wit: the 14 case studies highlighted. Whittled down from a group of 65, they span a range of project types, locations, and firm sizes. More important, Durst and editor Melissa Feldman made their selections according to clients’ willing-ness to stop being polite. Only when subjects are vocal about their desired results do both parties “realize the difference between thinking about design as a real-estate event and thinking about design as a human event,” Durst says. Feldman interviewed designers and clients both individually and together to revisit their process, with pull-each-others’-hair-out stories encouraged.

Like a site-specific design, no two processes are alike. Yet Feldman uncovered a commonality: “The one thing that holds true in all these cases is that a successful project hinges on the personal investments that develop between the client and the designer,” she says. Although a 12-year veteran of design journalism, even she was surprised by the friendships forged during project delivery.

SPEAK TO YOUR CLIENT IN HIS OR HER OWN LANGUAGE.

“At the end of the day, people want that emotional connection, to know that they’re being heard, to feel there’s more than just the signing of the check.”

The dialogues in What Clients Want underscore opportunities to nurture such chemistry. The University of Wyoming, Laramie, chose Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis to design its bright and textural Sullivan Family Student Center because client and designer had worked together previously. With Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Los Angeles production company Act 4 Entertainment also went the recidivist route. Geographic proximity propelled Facebook’s selection of San Francisco–based Studio O+A to refashion a 150,000-square-foot former laboratory into its new headquarters at Stanford Research Park. Swiss Army knife manufacturer Wenger conducted face-to-face meetings with Gensler’s Denver office to realize its first-ever flagship store in Boulder, Colorado.

Indeed, good feelings—and intel—are cultivated throughout the life of a project. O+A submitted its proposals to company-wide polls using Facebook as a platform for voting and updates. (Lesson: Speak to your client in his or her own language.) Paris department store Printemps hired non-French-speaking Yabu Pushelberg to overhaul its famous Boulevard Haussmann emporium based on the relevance and strength of the firm’s portfolio. Throughout and after completion, the client measured the design’s success according to a hoped-for 20-percent increase on merchandise turnover, which the project surpassed. (Lesson: With benchmarking comes a sense of assuredness.)

If What Clients Want does not describe systematic methods for winning a client’s insight and emotional investment, like discovery phases or midstream charettes, that’s because Durst was especially keen on clients who challenged the signature approach of a name-brand studio. In turn, “There are instances in which executives want the obviously beautiful, effective space, but they walk away from a project having their culture—and their minds—changed.”

Feldman hopes that the book will pass from the hands of students and associates to their boss’s bosses, producing a groundswell of understanding and support in the C suites of America. Perhaps good clients can be made before they even have a school of hard knocks to commission. Speaking of schools, the book will be distributed at various design institutions, with the idea to augment (and improve upon) existing cultural anthropology, change management, and organizational-behavior curricula.

Durst recognizes that the road to enlightenment may be longer than a single publication; most people have difficulty interpolating the lessons of case studies, no matter how compelling. “There is value and equity in the relationship between the client and designer, but the age-old dilemma is how do you measure it?” Simply put, quantitative data has gravitas. But beyond LEED scorecards or sales generated by French fashionistas, that data is hard to categorize and count. So, expect What Clients Want sequels. While this volume covered every project type—retail, corporate, institutional, hospitality—future editions will dig deeper into a single sector. With each conversation and investigation, IIDA gets a little closer to identifying and codifying key terms that guarantee a successful human event. One thing is for sure: Good designers and good clients make one another.
 
Just what do clients want, exactly? The answer—which may surprise you—will also be the topic of a new column to appear regularly in Perspective. In future issues, we’ll pull back the curtain on a diverse roster of client types, from real-estate leaders and hospitality giants to manufacturers and dealers.

BOOST BUSINESS
BUILD NETWORKS
ENVISION A MORE COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENT
BE ONE STEP AHEAD
DIFFERENTIATE OUR BRAND
SUSTAIN RELEVANCE IN THE MARKET
REDUCE REAL-ESTATE COSTS
REACH
LARGER AUDIENCES
ACHIEVE BUSINESS GOALS
INCREASE PROFITS
REINVENT OUR CORPORATE CULTURE
IMPROVE EMPLOYEE EFFICIENCY
BECOME LEED ACCREDITED
ENERGIZE OUR WORKFORCE
REIMAGINE OUR FUTURE
IMPROVE RECRUITMENT AND STAFF-RETENTION RATES
REFLECT OUR BRAND
GET MORE FOR LESS

ANDAZ: ONE CLIENT, FIVE PROPERTIES, FIVE “WANTS”
CLIENTS WANT WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT.

That’s the fundamental lesson in a case study of Andaz, Hyatt’s acclaimed boutique-hotel chain. With the help of an outside research firm, the hospitality giant learned that hotel guests would prefer a “barrier-free hotel experience,” explains Tristan Dowell, a nine-year Hyatt veteran and Andaz’s director of brands. Eschewing the front desk and its trappings broke convention with the hotel industry, which has expected guests to idle, queue, check in, swipe, retrieve, retrace, park, drag, hoist, and flop down with such consistency that the moves could be diagrammed into a dance.

In another break with tradition, instead of rolling out a single design package to multiple locations, Hyatt asks a new team to interpret the concept of uninterrupted entry for each property. The company’s mission is to create a sui generis hotel that says something about its hometown while main-taining an established standard. Dowell, who has participated in the evolution of Andaz since its launch, shares the client thinking that went into site-specific accomplishments.

1
ANDAZ LIVERPOOL STREET
Hyatt launched Andaz in November 2007, and with its inaugural property “our team was really trialing the brand,” Dowell recalls. In this remodel of the 1884 Great Eastern Hotel (which had been renovated just four years earlier by Sir Terence Conran), there is no waiting for arriving guests. The lobby was reconceived as a lounge where so-called hosts could greet newcomers proactively and perform check-in via tablet computer—with guest standing by at a large oak table or seated in a chaise, complimentary drink in hand. Reducing hand-offs and wayfinding, the design even allows the initial staffer to escort a guest to his or her room. Andaz Liverpool Street also functioned as a service prototype: While guests happily received the unlimited local calls and minibar freebies, gratis laundry service did not win accolades equal to Hyatt’s expense. Over the last 18 months, Dowell has worked closely with 700 loyal guests to collect more insightful feedback and test new ideas.

2
ANDAZ WEST HOLLYWOOD
Hyatt acquired the Gene Autry Hotel in 1976. Its most recent reboot transformed the property into the second member of the Andaz family in 2009. Although the Los Angeles hotel may not have the architectural pedigree of its older sibling, which was conceived by the creator of the Houses of Parliament, the mod building does occupy a unique slice of rock ’n’ roll history, when, during the 1970’s, it was nicknamed the Riot House and Keith Richards tossed a TV from his room’s balcony. Design firm Janson Goldstein paid homage to the mid-century architecture with Brasilia-style mosaic flooring, and under-scored its cultural cachet with a cozily dim lounge fit for the Chateau Marmont crowd. Dowell says that the West Hollywood project demonstrates how the lounge has a life beyond check-in. “In essence, it’s the heartbeat of the hotel: a convivial space that guests can treat as their own and interact with their host.”

3
ANDAZ WALL STREET
Hyatt’s project team had masters of the universe in mind when it built this property. Efficient 15-minute spa treatments and a gym open 24 hours appeal to the power broker who has everything but time. Andaz turned to hospitality expert Rockwell Group, whose design also channels Financial District denizens in trope and substance. Wall & Water, an on-site restaurant, adopts the watermark of dollar bills for a hanging curtain.

More important, Rockwell pushed Andaz’s “studio” conferencing concept, in which several multipurpose rooms outline a communal space for maximum meeting flexibility. Dowell also notes that historical references make this property feel of its place. At the hotel’s watering hole, Bar Seven Five (named for its location at 75 Wall Street), nine stations replace a single bar in a nod to the multiple pubs that once populated the neighborhood. The setup also increases exchanges between guests and bartenders, who rotate among stations. Heightened interaction, explains Dowell, is another manifestation of barrier-free hospitality.

4
ANDAZ FIFTH AVENUE
Dowell says this property embodies Hyatt’s designer selection process. “We wanted to create a New York apartment–style experience, and Tony Chi was the best person to do that. He lives in and knows New York. As we evolve the brand, we want to work with different designers and architects, and ideally the local architects who can really bring to light a vision of a place.” (To wit: Marcel Wanders has been tapped to design Andaz Amsterdam.) Dowell adds that the lounge remains integral to future rollout, and praises Chi for transforming it into a more librarylike experience, a nod to the hotel’s location, across the street from the New York Public Library. The domestically inspired design also reinforces the disparity between hustle-and-bustle Manhattan and interior calm.

5
ANDAZ SAN DIEGO

Initial and ongoing customer research suggested that individual Andaz properties could distill genius loci in a simple, essential manner. Dowell takes the menu as an example: It may hold fewer choices, as long as those choices represent the food filling baskets at regional markets and appearing on locavores’ tables. Naturally, guests are snacking on fresh oranges at Andaz San Diego. Hyatt determined that guest rooms should also aspire to simplicity. At this modernization of a 1914 building in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter (the historic renovation was originally performed under the moniker of the Ivy Hotel), San Francisco–based SB Architects and L.A.’s Powerstrip Studio configured public spaces and private quarters to enhance San Diego’s burgeoning downtown life. Within the guest rooms, minimal partitions between sleeping and bathing functions stand in for California’s famous indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

Comments

  1. I am an INTERIOR DESIGNER would like have more information about it Posted by: Khyati on 09.25.12 at 03:53

Your Name
Your Email Address
(not made public)
Your Email Address (not made public)
Your Comment