Sampling a Website Buffet: An Exploration into the Principles and Elements of Design in Hotel Websites

delicious foods to choose from
Guest Blogger
Guest Blogger
April 2, 2012
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Chapter 1: An Overview

It’s no secret that when you stay in a five-star resort or even just a budget motel, someone had to have spent a lot of time and money on how it looks. It’s not an accident that the circa 1980 flowery comforter matches the abstract painting hanging above your bed. Or that the towels you dry your hands with bear the same embroidered logo as your bath towels. The point being that you are provided an experience when you arrive and stay in the hotel, which is accomplished through the use of design. Some properties do it very well, by maintaining a very consistent design and immersing their guests in their brand. If this concept holds true for the property’s physical address, then why wouldn’t it be carried over to the web address as well?

Interior Design or Website Design, it’s all the same reallyWeb design and interior design follow a very similar set of elements and principles. Much like any other form of design and art, these principles vary slightly and are hotly debated among creative professionals. One thing is certain, these elements and principles (however defined) dictate what constitutes a “good” design. That is a design that is both pleasing to the experiencer and also functional in its use. These elements are made up of line, colour, texture, shape, value, and size, which are put to use with these principles— unity, balance, scale, contrast, movement, rhythm, and space.

There are almost an infinite number of formulas that can be cooked up in order to present a successful design. In interior design, these principles and elements are put to use by making guests feel welcome as they enter the lobby and provide them comfort in their rooms or even provide a logical exit path in the event of an emergency. In very much the same way, guests of a hotel’s website should be provided with a similar attention to detail. Their initial arrival at the website should be met with a welcoming feel that is unified with the property’s interior design elements. When providing images of guest rooms, the user must feel like he or she would want to stay in that room, and if they decide to book, there should be a simple and logical path to the booking engine as well. What is common knowledge on the property is just as important on the website, if not more important in some cases.

In the example site above, The Beverly Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, CA successfully integrates the look and feel of the property into its website. Through the use of color, texture, and other elements of design, a sense of unity is accomplished between the property and the website.

 First Impressions: Before the guests even set foot in the hotelA hotel’s website is often times the first interaction a guest will have with the property, and with obvious reason the hotel should want to provide a good first impression for that guest. Take the typical young (potential) guest, browsing the internet for hotels, rates and attractions in the area. Given the current trends of online shopping, the user will most likely visit an Online Travel Agent (OTA), like Priceline, Expedia or one of the many others available. In some cases that user will simply book the room on that site and never see the hotel’s vanity site at all.

That’s not always the case though – what if the user wants to use that OTA or other sites to explore the hotel options in the area, then visit the websites of each of those options?

The hotel, or more specifically, its website, has just been placed into a sort of “digital buffet,” where presentation is everything. Consumers are going to visit each of these sites, and based on the site’s use of these design elements and principles, they are going to make a decision. For the sake of this argument, let’s pretend for a moment that all websites load exactly the same and site speed is irrelevant (before you say it, yes site speed is important). Our digital buffet has now loaded and we are presented with a spread of delicious and maybe not so delicious websites. The user’s first look at the site will be met with all of the many principles and elements of design, much like the many dishes available in an extravagant Las Vegas buffet. The user’s eyes act like a hungry diner’s nose sampling the scents of the many dishes presented to them, their minds salivate with thoughts of soft beds, sexy nightclubs, and stunning beaches. Whether the site was done well or not, we all perceive our world rather similarly, and we’re all going to notice these details both consciously and subconsciously. The trick is for that hotel to present its “dish” in the most pleasing way possible, or in other words, maximize the use of those elements and principles of design.

Tubac Golf Resort in Tubac, AZ is literally presenting a delicious image of a steak on its dining page header. The use of size and color bombards users with a brillant and tantalizing image, while at the same time presenting a balanced layout. The placement of imagery and a reservations widget present this page with attention-grabbing emphasis and draws a line for the viewer’s eye to the booking widget.

The Principles and Elements of Design: In a NutshellIf you gathered anything from the “digital buffet” example, it should be that these design elements and principles are both very essential to a successful website design and require a subtle elegance to get it just right. In keeping with the food theme, you could imagine a website design again as a nice steak. You don’t want to overcook it or season it too much, and you can’t just leave it raw. No, a chef understands that his diners want that steak to be cooked to order and with just the right taste for their pallets, maybe even a good red wine paired with it as well. Paying special attention to the use of these details are essential in cooking and hold true in website design as well. Doing so will without a doubt affect a guest’s decision to take a bite or move his plate to the next item in the buffet.

I will be exploring the elements and principles of design in more detail in later chapters, but there are few very basic things I like to keep in mind before any work begins:

First and most importantly, the elements and principles of design are the building blocks used to create websites and any creative work. Good or bad, a website will incorporate these details. Successful design is using them to your advantage to accomplish the goals of the design.

Secondly, in order to use these elements and principles successfully, you must define your goal or problem. The answer to your problem or the way to achieve your goal is through the use of these elements and principles.

Lastly, design is bound by a set of rules, and these are the elements and principles of design. A strange concept about these rules is that they should be followed very closely, but always tested and even sometimes broken. As much of a contradictory statement as this is, it essentially means that design is liquid and the rules are not set in stone. Exploration of these rules sometimes takes a design in interesting directions. Designers and artists embrace this concept and it’s what pushes design to be different, interesting, and great.

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