The Unbearable Weight of Excessive Influence

Clint Nagata, Founder and Creative Partner of BLINK Design Group, on good design in a social media world
Published: 19 November 2023
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Let’s talk trends. Hotel trends, specifically. It’s axiomatic that you
can have too much of a good thing. They also say the cart shouldn’t lead the horse. The social media revolution has brought much good but it can also do great harm. And while I enjoy a sexy hotel Instagram shot as much as the next guy, I’m starting to wonder if we are entering the Upside Down; a world where influencers have run wild.

I see more and more of a prevailing trend in design that revolves around the dangerous idea of being Instagram-worthy. A lot of clients believe that this is what drives guests to stay with them. I try to instil in them the notion that this is the antithesis of authentic, lasting design. While going for the easy wow factor might make for Insta-gratification, guests will soon see past the shallow stunts. And in a world of wow and one-upmanship, where does it end? Chasing after the next fleeting fad as the filtered, pouty crowd rushes off to the next photo opportunity.

In parallel, another trend in luxury travel is authentic experiences. Luxury hotel guests often search out the unique and plan their travels around it. This is my wheelhouse. At BLINK Design Group, we subscribe to the philosophy of placemaking as the genesis of authentic, unique design rooted in a sense of place, and inspired and fed by local culture, arts, crafts and traditions.

This is a much deeper point of distinction in an ever-fiercer competition for guests. Sure, cheap wows can get attention. The secret is keeping it. Peeling the onion. Going deeper. Revealing more. True luxury travel is a marathon, not a sprint. Discerning travellers demand more. Is the Insta-crowd doing the TikTok tango trend? You can keep them.

I guess, I’ve always viewed a real sense of place as an inherent part of our design process. I’ve not thought of it as a trend or something fleeting. It really is the genesis of all of our projects. Through the years I think we’ve managed to refine it and it’s driven largely by our desire and love for travel and exploring. Authenticity is key in placemaking but so is the art of distilling that authenticity into a single thread to magnify its significance.

Travel has bounced back in a big way post-pandemic but it’s a double-edged sword. The two big challenges that affect what BLINK does more than ever are time and money. Developers want things done yesterday. Everyone is in a rush to make up for lost time and opportunities. But the supply chain is broken and it can’t be healed overnight.

There are a lot of materials and supplies that are either no longer available or have much longer lead times, which leads to project delays. For us, abortive work is having to reselect finishes and materials. Project deadlines have got shorter and we have become used to meeting online. Calendars are awash with Zoom dates.

Trends are trending to the universal. Love it or hate it, the world we live in is ever-more instantly connected. A client in one part of the world can see what is happening halfway around the world. This has led to a circular design culture in which trends stretch across continents and clients are more often than not in search of the same trends. Of course, the danger is design becomes an ouroboros, hell-bent on devouring itself.

Now, the elephant in the room: Artificial Intelligence. I think we are at the tipping point in terms of hotel design. AI is still nascent yet its potential is both scary and endless. I had always thought the day when AI replaces hotel designers would not be an integral part of our industry during my generation, but I was wrong. We’ve already had a few clients asking for AI-generated mood images. At BLINK, AI is something that we are keen to understand more and embrace as a design tool.

In a very human industry, built by and for people, can artificial intelligence really ever replace the human touch? It’s an interesting question. I am more excited than scared, and I’m rolling up my sleeves to try to understand how to work with AI in order to make hotel designs better. How can we create spaces through the use of AI?

Another trend I find encouraging is the shift to a small, local and nimble perspective. Just a few years ago the hospitality design firm was dominated by large practices with global offices. But times have changed. In almost every corner of the world, there are now a lot of small firms that do wonderful work. I’ve been following a handful of them on (insert ironic chuckle) Instagram. It’s inspiring, to say the least.

Regarding geographical trends, the Middle East is a big story right now. It’s a huge hotspot for growth due to several factors. The region, which has long relied on its wealth from oil, has pivoted into becoming travel-focused. In countries like the UAE, a lot of the interest is driven by man-made attractions such as the recently opened USD1.6B Atlantis The Royal. But its neighbours such as Saudi Arabia are turning to their rich history and natural beauty, which I find more exciting. Places like the Red Sea where they are developing two giga-projects or more historical places like Alula and Dhiryah Gate.

A quieter trend has been the ongoing development of new destinations within proximity to major urban cities like Bangkok and Tokyo, with areas like Khao Yai and Karuizawa being hotspots for new developments that BLINK is keeping a close eye on.

I’ve also recently been fascinated by collaborative efforts between two labels, like the Gucci and adidas collab. It forced me to think [about how] these unions work. Usually, they’re from two opposite directions—luxury versus sports apparel—but together, they create something different.

That could be an emerging trend in hospitality design: smashing polar opposites together to create something new and unexpected. That’s exciting. It would take brands and owners with the courage to step into the unknown but it could just be the future.

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