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Editor Checks In: the price tag eliminating diversity in design

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
Editor Checks In: the price tag eliminating diversity in design

An independent investigation on diversity in design, carried out by Hotel Designs, has highlighted the potentially ‘unethical’ lengths that studios are willing to go to in order to win projects on the international hotel design scene. Editor Hamish Kilburn writes…

Traditionally – as well as recently – in the international hotel design and hospitality arena, the word ‘unethical’ and the phrase ‘dirty money’ was targeted largely towards the abusers of power; a handful of hotel owners, for example, have used money laundering to fund ostentatious and, quite frankly, outrageous development projects in luxury addresses.

However, it turns out that even some design firms have also been sheltering their fair share of unethical methods when it comes to business development, and I believe it is having a dramatic impact on equality within the industry – something that I was once proud of, but as I scratch beneath the surface, I am beginning to realise that we are at risk of this being nothing but a façade.

In new supporting evidence, there have been an increased number of design firms that have been exposed of deliberately undervaluing the proposed cost of a project in what has been described as “a desperate bid” to win the client’s commission. And especially in these challenging times that lie ahead, it is apparent that the scales are no longer level and the playing field is no longer fair.

“These allegations could drastically disrupt the design industry’s performance, as well as put several question marks on how ethical and diverse the industry is becoming.” – Hamish Kilburn, editor, Hotel Designs.

It is understood that for some design firms, certain prestigious projects – or more accurately all projects won during these unstable economic times – are considered more valuable within a portfolio now that we are are heading into a recession. As a result, firms are strategically pitching to clients with a significantly lower cost on the table – eliminating any possibility to make a profit – in order to drastically further the chances of winning the account.

One anonymous business development manager from a design studio, who Hotel Designs spoke to, described how he/she lost a commission for a recent project after a competitor allegedly undervalued the development by roughly 80 per cent to what he/she believed the project should achieve in design fees.

Furthermore, another anonymous leading designer reached out to Hotel Designs with a claim that he/she has witnessed projects being won by competitors at up to 75 per cent lower than what he/she believed was a reasonable professional fee to complete the hotel project.

In addition, other designers have come forward and claimed that they have witnessed situations whereby even suppliers have agreed to pay the design studio separately in order to be specified in a particular project, again this is with the understanding that being specified in the project’s design will generate positive PR around the brand as a result – effectively out-valuing the fee to the design studio.

Although not directly linked, these drastic methods of securing new business have circled back towards further inquiries regarding how design firms are actually funding their existence in the already competitive market.

If proven correct, these allegations could drastically disrupt the design industry’s performance, as well as put several question marks on how ethical and diverse the industry is becoming, especially, for example, if mystery backers are then funding the project on behalf of the design firm.

What’s more, the risk design studios are willing to take in order to secure these projects rings deafening alarm bells in my head, because it will inevitably be the talented individuals – often juniors on low-pay packages – who will be working on the project and who will ultimately suffer the most.

“Fees have seriously been trending lower after every recession when clients demand from firms.” – Anonymous designer.

There are also concerns among the industry that Covid-19 – and the pressures that are attached to the pandemic regarding a lack of new business opportunities on the horizon – will create further desperation between design studios that are responding to client briefs.

We have heard from a number of design studios regarding this, and many have decided to reduce project costs in ratio with the cuts they have made to staffing. One firm, again which would wish to remain anonymous, has confirmed that it has made a 20 per cent cut to all current project costs, and the studio has taken this decision in full knowledge that when or if the industry ever returns to what we recognised as normal, then the studio will work at full capacity but will only receive 80 per cent of the original fee. “We have seen this continuously,” said another anonymous designer. “Fees have seriously been trending lower after every recession when clients demand from firms.”

So, you tell me, will greed take its toll, and will meaningful and creative hospitality solutions be overshadowed by a tempting lower project cost? I certainly hope not, as I believe the industry is still made up of solution-driven individuals who understand and respect the need for thinking long-term, despite living and working in what feel like desperate times.

This is the first article within the series of this investigation. If you would like to speak to Hotel Designs – on or off the record – about diversity in design, please email the editorial desk

Editor, Hotel Designs

EDITOR CHECKS IN: Proud of diversity in British design

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
EDITOR CHECKS IN: Proud of diversity in British design

As the world focuses its attention on amplifying equality in all forms, editor Hamish Kilburn believes now is the time to break down why diversity in British design is something the industry should celebrate and be proud of…

We’ve come a long way, and although the journey hasn’t exactly been a seamless one, here we are in Britain in 2019 where we are free to love whoever we want. The next mission is now to work towards a society that campaigns for equal opportunities for all.

Our colourful industry, which is full to the brim of creative people, can be at the best of times a forceful catalyst for good and I believe, together, we can significantly do more than our bit in order for that dream to become a reality – and it starts here.

For a little more than a year now, since proudly joining the Hotel Designs editorial desk, I have tried perilously to understand what it is about the UK that makes it one of the major design destinations around the world. Despite its scale, Britain, the tiny little speck of land in the northern hemisphere, attracts the majority of the leading designers, hoteliers, architects and suppliers to train, flourish and go on to lead the industry forward into an innovative direction.

What Britain lacks in size it certainly makes up for in style, creativity and diversity. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that a large handful of the world’s most premium international design fairs, such as Sleep + Eat, 100% Design, Independent Hotel Show and London Design Festival, among many others, take place here.

Today, just two weeks after we officially opened nominations for The Brit List 2019, I’m seeing London from a completely unrivalled perspective – and it is a beautiful moment to witness. Peering over the edge of a rooftop bar, every colour of the rainbow is being amplified loudly on the streets below. As many as 1.5 million people have attended Pride London 2019, which is now being hailed the UK’s largest and most diverse Pride parade to date.

“By celebrating and supporting the concept of diversity – and by not oppressing original ideas that challenge convention – we can allow new thoughts to emerge.”

There’s an Albert Einstein quote that hangs on our office wall. It reads: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” For some, it may signify the balance of designers, hoteliers, architects and suppliers thinking outside the box while also designing with purpose.  For me, though, it encourages one to take on a challenge and make it fun! That way, with the ability of adding your stamp to your work, you will not only throw intelligence at the problem, but also personality and individual ideas too.

This, I believe, is where the UK flourishes on the international design scene. By celebrating and supporting the concept of diversity – and by not oppressing original ideas that challenge convention – we can allow new thoughts to emerge and evolve, which, as a result, gives original concepts a nudge forward in the right direction. Jack Irving is the perfect example. The fashion designer who has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga and The Spice Girls has just completed his first interior design project. Irving’s commissioned work for W London has resulted in introducing our industry to new, unconventional materials. On the other hand there’s Zaha Hadid Architects, with its firm footprint as an industry leader, that is turning new architecture chapters, with the likes of Morpheus, that create new elegant dimensions.

The Brit List 2019, our annual awards event, is all about championing the most influential and inspirational designers, hoteliers, architects and suppliers. In order to keep the whole process as open as possible, we have ensured that applying for our nationwide search is completely free.

It’s been a varied and colorful month at the helm of Hotel Designs and I for one am proud of our fabulous team. We started our mini July tour in Manchester for Meet Up North, where more 150 of us celebrated creativity outside of the capital. One week later, we further bridged the gap between suppliers and procurement specialists with our highly engaging meet-the-buyers event, Hotel Summit, which allowed me the great honour of interviewing Marco Novello, the Managing Director of The Lanesborough, on stage in front of our live audience. A quick 24 hours in Dusseldorf, Germany, opened up the opportunity for us to speak to Michael Struck, the CEO of Ruby Hotels, as well as Matthew Bolan, the brand’s lead designer, in order to understand more about Ruby Hotels’ aggressive expansion, which includes its highly anticipated debut hotel in London next year.

In an industry full of leaders and visionaries, who are designing the cities of our future, it makes sense for us to also carve the path for others when it comes to celebrating diversity. Here are Hotel Designs, we are determined to continue to praise and offer a platform to people, projects, and plans on the boards that further challenge convention.

Be proud and apply for The Brit List 2019 for free today!

During August, Hotel Designs will be putting Hotel Concepts and Beds under the spotlight. If you would like to contribute to these topics, please do not hesitate to email me.

Editor, Hotel Designs

Main image credit: ACT Studios