Since the appearance of American entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, Ian Schrager and his gang, we have seen a revolutionised connection of the three dots: hotel spaces, design and the user. In the last two decades, the hotel business model and, subsequently, the hotel experience have changed beyond recognition.

As a studio deeply-rooted in the hospitality design sector, we have witnessed significant movements within this industry. Although I am delighted to see storytelling taking a central role in the hotel interior design process, I believe the story we are all trying to tell needs to be equally challenged.

To achieve category-defining design, you need to have a game-changing starting point. I keep asking our clients “What is different about your story versus everyone else’s story?” To innovate and stand out in a river full of other fish, you need to have a slightly different point of view – one that looks upstream rather than downstream. A good friend once told me that it is much more fun to “swim upstream”. I could not agree more.

Whatever the status quo is in your area of business, we believe, challenging it gives you the chance to be remarkable. We call what we do “category-defining design”. Our clients come to us because they want the design of their restaurant, bar, hotel or place of entertainment to be regarded as “best-in-class”.

Our unique 360-degree approach can be applied to any project, be it a restaurant or hotel. The studio has developed an innovative storytelling wheel, which includes all touch points a project needs to consider in order to be successful and enhance the guest experience. The interiors are just one part of the overall concept – design needs to be part of the bigger experience.

No one really visits a business hotel just to do business; they are occupied by a community who mix work and play. Hotels need to respond and react to this dual need by pushing the boundaries of what a hotel means and its traveller’s requirements. Designers can be part of the innovation. Hoteliers have to move away from a cold reception, never-ending corridors, a sea of beige, artwork by the metre and the lonely man and the machine in the hotel’s basement gym which has become a cliché of the traditional hotel experience that we all take for granted.

We have spent a significant part of the past few months checking out the world’s cleverest hotels that cater for the new generation of business hotels and I have identified some of our findings here. Unique partnerships can transform hotels from cultural deserts into oases of activity, for example, Andy Puddicombe, founder of the Headspace mindful meditation app partnered with Westin Hotels to provide wellbeing for their guests and Artist Ryosuke Yasumoto resided in his room at the Park Hotel for days, where he painted as part of a collaboration between the hotel and local artists in Tokyo.

Hotels should actively connect people, just like peer-to-peer lodging. The Sheraton hotels host a Social Hour, which combines wine tasting events with meeting like-minded business people. Steering away from the ‘cold reception’, we have also created a hotel reception design concept where bar staff assist with digital check-in making the process a lot less formulaic. We need to think about getting people to switch-off and engage with one another. The Nomad hotel in New York is a good example of forward thinking in this area as guests are encouraged to mix their own cocktails in its Library Bar.

In this digital age it is so important to experiment digitally and utilise new technologies to challenge the fundamentals and make daily routines more efficient and fun. For example, the Body Dryer invention is a drying system that eliminates the use of bath towels, the 26-metre long table by Philippe Starck at Miss Ko Paris has built in digital screens showing Asian news channels and in the Yotel in New York, the guest’s luggage gets sorted by a robot concierge.

Other areas one can address is applying innovative thinking on sleep cycles to hotel bedroom design, the creative optimisation of hotel spaces and moving away from the traditional F&B concepts to create something less expected – that ‘cherry on top’ moment that resonates with a guest and makes them want to return.

Afroditi Krassa is a product designer and founder of hospitality design studio AfroditiKrassa.