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An upgrade to first class can inspire many things, not the least a feeling of utter jubilation! But for two UK-based businesses, first-class travel planted the seed of inspiration for two contrasting yet kindred design solutions in the hospitality and healthcare industries.
Last week business took me to New York for a whirlwind visit. A member of my team had heard about a hotel called YOTEL that they read had earned LEED® “Gold” certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and so seemed like a good fit. But more intriguingly, in addition to its certified green hotel credentials, they assured me it was an experience I should really check out. I’m so glad I did!
In short, YOtel’s mission is to provide a first-class hotel experience at coach-class prices. The idea for YOTEL came from Simon Woodruffe, a UK entrepreneur behind the UK’s Yo!Sushi restaurant chain which enjoyed a huge ride to success in London in the early 2000’s. Diners flocked to the restaurants to enjoy the Tokyo-meets-London neon aesthetic and the novelty of selecting their dishes in an authentically Japanese style from a moving conveyor belt. It was this sort of attention to detail from which the concept YOTEL was born.
After being upgraded into first class on a British Airways flight Woodruffe hit upon the idea of making the stellar amenities in first class that take all the inconvenience out of travel available to all by translating luxury air travel into a hotel experience.
With YOTEL, I can attest that he has done just that. Even the lexicon of air travel has been adopted with rooms called cabins, and ‘galleys’ on every floor in place of in-rooms mini-bars. The design is a meld of Japanese minimalism (necessarily so as every square inch of the micro-sized rooms has been utilized) with NYC cool. Every ‘cabin’ has a ‘techno wall’ with flatscreen TV and a work desk with super speed Wi-Fi. My room had a sofa that turned into a queen size bed at the flick of a switch, which somewhat reminded me of a futuristic futon, but was actually very slick.
The big draw tech-wise is the ‘Yobot,’ a huge white robotic system that lifts and stores your luggage – which brings me to what I felt was the only downside to YOTEL. You can check in, stay and check out without having to talk to a single soul. But as with air travel, sometimes silence is exactly what the weary traveler needs!
As I was delving deeper into the history of YOTEL, I came across a fascinating article on how one London design agency specializing in transport had also taken the concept of first-class air travel, but instead had reimagined it for healthcare. While not yet a reality, in their compelling and inspiring Health Manifesto document the Priestmangoode consultancy make a very strong case for how applying the principles of first-class air travel design (e.g. privacy in every space for every person, smarter and more functional use of space, etc.) could both improve the patient’s experience and make healthcare facilities more efficient.
In both cases, each company makes the point that brilliant design and superior experience doesn’t need to cost the earth, which gives hope to the thought that one day soon, we’ll all get a universal upgrade.
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