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30.05.2010: Six Ways to Improve the User Experience of Hotel Rooms
Like most people who have chosen a career path as consultants on large projects, I've spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. Until recently, I shared an outlook on travel, loyalty programs and living on the road with George Clooney's character in 'Up In The Air'. Luckily, my job was a lot more interesting :O)
Spending years living out of a suitcase also meant that every other week, or in some cases every other night, I would sleep in a different hotel room. At the advice of a fellow UX professional, I've decided to write this post about my thoughts on the user experience of these rooms. I'm not an interior designer, so I know nothing about building codes and I will make no reference to Feng Shui. This post is about the business traveller and the little things that can be done to make the hotel stay experience much more enjoyable for people like me.
I typically flew out every week on Monday morning, went straight to work after I landed, put in an full day's work, and then finally made my way exhausted to the hotel. This means that by the time I was about to check it, it was nighttime about 99% of the time. I arrived in front of my hotel room door, keycard in one hand, luggage roller in the other. One of the most frustratings moments when checking into a room is not being able to immediately find the light swich beside the entrance door. I'm not picky in terms of which way the door opens, as long as on the inside of the wall, beside the lock, I can feel the light switch in the dark right away. Having the switch on the opposite side (which means I have to get my luggage inside, close the door, and then keep searching in the dark, is not an option. Neither are multiple light switches unintuitively budled somewhere inside the room, an even worse as it forces me to prop the door open with my luggage so I can find a light switch, any light switch, that I can turn on in order to orient myself through furniture maze of a room layout that I am not yet familiar with.
Some hotels made it easier by having the light on in the entrance hallway. That worked for my exhausted state of mind but didn't sit very well with my energy conscious doppelganger who always wondered how hotel managers justify paying for hours electricity consumption when no one is inhabiting the rooms. If the light swiches are not easy to find, why not have the door automatically turn on the light when the room door opens? You can do this by installing a door contact switch or a motion detector inside that activates for a few seconds once the door is opened. Think about it, I was typically exhausted, and by that point really lazy as well, but that was it. Can you imagine an elderly person who doesn't see well to begin with, scrambling in the dark for a light switch? All it takes just a little bit of common sense.
Electrical OutletsMost of the time I felt like a hotel room Jacques Cousteau, diving under the bed and under the desk digging for free electrical outlets (and not always finding enough). One of the first things I wanted to do when I settled in was to turn on my laptop, charge my phone, camera batteries, etc. I'm a world traveller so I have a few devices following me around these days. I don't mind having to bend down and use visible electrical outlets on the empty walls. But I do mind having to move my bed so I can use the laptop in bed. Having one single extra outlet on the base of the desk lamp is a good start, but there are a couple of problems with it. Most times, the desk is too far from the bed (what can I say, having Platinum status meant room upgrades to suites more often than not), and if there is also only one, it means that I cannot charge the phone or my camera batteries while my laptop is one (and it's on pretty much all the time). A simple solution is to expose at least a double swith on an empty wall right beside the bed. Another would be to have all of the lamps (including the bed lamps) sporting outlets on the base. Or even simpler, buy a long enough extension outlet with multiple plugs in each room and don't hide it from plain sight. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option, but it will make life easier for a lot of people.
The Mini-SafeI typically travel with a fairly large digital SLR camera. I also have a 14 inch laptop. In most cases, the safe at the hotel was big enough to hold one, but not both of those items. Luckily, nothing was ever stolen from my room (knock on wood), but if you are going to provide your guests with the comfort of being able to lock your valuables, make sure it is big enough to hold some travel essentials. About half of the safes I've used were created in such a way that my laptop would just fit in in terms of length and width, but it would not fit height of the camera at the same time. Or it would fit the camera height, but then there would be no space for the laptop. Do some research, and make sure that a typical laptop (my guess would be up to 15') and a big camera can fit in at the same time. Or are hotel chains anticipating that all business travelers will have iPads in the near future?
Let There Be DarknessThe fourth item is dealing with the overuse of technology. Some of the new hotels have these new halogen type digital clocks that are brighter than the sun. It's good to be able to tell the time in the dark, but when the clock is bright enough to read a book, I'm switching it off. I have a cellphone and luckily I can set my alarm on it. Funny how hotels go to the extremes to make sure that the blinds/curtains can keep the room completely dark, yet they have dumb digital halogen clocks that don't adapt to ambient light and therefore render the blinds useless.
Space, The Final FrontierThen, there is the minifridge/minibar. I am all for trying to sell overpriced beverages in the room, and I even have no problem with the constant humming of the minifridge (well, I have occasionally been known to unplug them if they were too loud for my liking). But why not leave a couple of empty slots in the fridge so I can put my yogourt or half of my Subway sandwich in there? Don't make me problem solve when I really don't have to. I normally just take out of the fridge whatever beverages are in the slots I want to use and put them back later. But I'm not sure the next guests appreciate overpriced stale beer. You can't tell me that every single item in those overstuffed minifridges are best sellers and you cannot part with a couple of slots the size of yogurt containers...
Readable LabellingAnother little experience problem is using small identical soap, shampoo and shower gel containers with minuscule font sizes that describe the type of product. I have better than 20/20 vision, but it's still annoying to have to handle a container, read about its contents and put it back, when in most cases having different containers or a large font would make me save those extra seconds it takes to decide if I am using the right bathroom product.
What are your thoughts on this? Any annoying user experience features you've encountered in hotel rooms? And I don't mean noise levels from the neighbours, malfunctioning remotes etc., I mean things that have been designed in a manner that is counterproductive to hotel room guests who don't want their experience turn into a problem-solving endeavour. Tags: design, user experience, research, thoughts
I still believe the #1 issue with the hotel room experience is related to the noise levels. If hotel chains would spend money to sound proof the rooms, it would be a better use of their funds than any technologies gimmicks.
In my opinion, for a business traveler, priority number one is getting a good night sleep. Anything that interferes with it (e.g., noise; bed bugs; dirty/smelling sheets; uncomfortable bed; etc.) results in the morning in a tired, irritable, and totally unsatisfied customer. Getting your room next to the lift shaft, for example, is nothing less of having a continuous nightmare... In addition, how many times did it happen to you that when you arrived at the hotel you were told that your booking didn't go through their system and, therefore, you'll have to start looking for another option? How about unhelpful or even rude staff; being overcharged for the room or for services you didn't use; issues with connecting to their wireless Internet, etc?
However, when you are lucky enough to land in a hotel where all these are being taken care of, don't you feel like you're being pampered? (which also happen to alleviate - at least in part - the pain of being far away from home and for too many nights, I would add)?
I completely agree with you regarding noise levels, however, other than better sound proofing, there's not much you can do. The topic of the post is user experience and I purposely avoided getting into customer service as that's a neverending story with hotels these days. Better user experience makes me appreciate the little things in a hotel, and I'd like to hope that I am taking customer service for granted, as it should be :O)
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