Behind the Scenes


IDEO. Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Innovation labs. What are hotel chains up to?

If you were to name the single-biggest influence on meetings over the last decade, I’m pretty most of you would say technology. You’ve made significant technological changes to every aspect of your event, from refining backend systems to offering event apps to incorporating social-media tools into your program.

Beyond that, technology has changed how attendees want to meet at conferences and conventions. They expect to do two things at your events that may seem diametrically opposed: to stay connected to their devices and to maximize face-to-face opportunities. So you’ve adjusted the design of your meetings, carving out more space in the schedule for peer-to-peer conversations, making Wi-Fi a priority, and designating physical spaces where attendees can plug in.

Likewise, convention hotels have responded to the changing expectations of business travelers and meeting-goers. That becomes abundantly clear as you step into more and more hotel lobbies. “This is probably something that everybody knows,” Erin Hoover, vice president of design for Westin Hotels & Resorts, told Executive Editor Christopher Durso in this month’s cover story (p. 42), “but lobbies are now where people do lots of things that they didn’t used to do, mainly as a result of technology and also a result of the fact that the workday is now 24/7. It’s not 9-to-5 anymore. People were having informal meetings in our lobbies, and we did a lot with design to facilitate that.”

As Chris writes in “Beyond the Ballroom,” the major hotel chains increasingly have applied design thinking not only to the configuration of lobbies, but to every conceivable space — boardrooms, ballrooms, prefunction areas, hallways, breakout rooms — where people gather. Marriott, for example, has partnered with the renowned firm IDEO for the past several years to reevaluate its properties, including its meeting space, from a design perspective. And it and other hotel chains are responding to observable behavior, listening to meeting professionals’ requests, and anticipating what’s next with innovation “laboratories” at their corporate headquarters, where they tinker with guest rooms and reimagine meeting spaces.

They’re also experimenting with the functional properties of meeting space, within whose walls interactivity and collaboration should flourish. Matt Adams, Hyatt’s vice president of global innovation — who is both taking and leading classes in design thinking at Stanford University for a six-mo nth period — told Chris: “People now want to be able to … have a meeting where it’s not just someone presenting them information or working in a traditional boardroom-style setting. They want to have the ability to interact.”

Design thinking is about not just how a space looks, but how people interact with that environment. Jennifer Hsieh, Marriott’s vice president of insight, strategy, and innovation, said it best: It’s ultimately about creating an experience — one that’s based on each particular meeting’s purpose.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.