How metaphor influences design

April 3, 2008

Metaphor is fundamental to humans for understanding, communication and meaning-making. It is also pretty key to innovation. It provides a starting point form which an idea can be developed and that starting point is critical. I had a chance to observe this at first hand over the last two nights by staying at two different attempts to innovate the provision of low cost accommodation. Both are examples of the lateral application of ideas based on different metaphors, and the difference shows. So let me tell you the story of heaven on Tuesday night, followed by a descent to hell on Wednesday (well I might as well use a metaphor myself).

Returning from Hong Kong late on Tuesday night with an early morning flight to Belfast the next day I stayed at a Yotel unit insider Terminal 4. You buy these in four hour units so I bought two units and had a good nights sleep. Following a long day in Antrim I got back to Heathrow at around 2230 and finally ended up at 2350 in a easyHotel in Knightsbridge. I have an early morning meeting in London and a visit to the mac store genius bar today before I pick up a hire car and drive home.

Now Yotel and easyHotel both aim to provide low priced, consistent, high quality no frills accommodation. I already knew that Yotel was good, but had not tried out the easyHotel alternative so staying in both on successive nights gave me a chance to compare them. The price in both cases is similar, varying around the £50 mark which is good for London. easyHotel can be cheaper if occupancy is low and you book ahead. In theory they offer the same thing, but they are very different and I think that is down to the metaphor from which their design is derived.

The founder of Yotel took his inspiration from a first class seat on a BA flight. He sought out the designer and got him to create a British equivalent of the Japanese cells. easyHotel on the other hand was developed by moving the no frills airline concept across to hotels. In both cases the rooms overall are the similar sizes, although the easyHotel unit has far more height. But there the similarity ends. Yotel is designed, easyHotel I think was probably sketched out on the back of a notepad and then manufactured.

10 comparisons

Feature Yotel EasyHotel
1 Reception Required to fill in a form before key is issued, OK welcome but nothing special. No security check or photo ID required Key handed over o production of photo ID by cheerful and friendly staff, folllowed by security check
2 Getting to the room 30 second walk around corridor and two steps down into room No lift available so carry two heavy bags up X steps, mostly in narrow and claustrophobic stair wells without enough room to carry cases on either side. Twist knee, and bang head
3 First impression Cabin on a cruise liner A plastic box with a vivid orange well, out of breath already I know feel sick
4 Storage space Coat hanger and multiple shelves including small storage by the bed for glasses, watch and book Two coat hook on the wall only, the toilet seat and the floor are the only flat surfaces. Glasses and watch have to be placed on floor on direct route to toilet so in high danger
5 Entertainment Right size multi-channel television with additional services at eye level at the foot of the bed, all bar the films free Small screen eight foot up in corner of room. £5 a night fee if you want to use it and you will have to walk down those stairs to get a remote control
6 Bed comfort Good size bed and very comfortable Length OK and width for single occupancy, but this is sold as a double bed. Not the best mattress
7 Services Drinks and snacks available and can be brought to your room Nothing bar a drinks dispenser at the bottom of those stairs
8 The shower Plenty of space with gel dispenser in shower A nightmare – not enough room to turn around without knocking the shower control resulting in cold or scalding flow with no where to retreat. No room to reach down to wash below knee level. Soap outside shower curtain so toilet bag perched on side of sink(no shelf) is soaked in consequence
9 Working in the room Drop down desk with surprisingly comfortable stool and free fast ethernet access to the web Nothing and I mean nothing
10 Sound proofing Excellent, good nights sleep despite all adjacent units being occupied No sleep, noise from all adjacent rooms including vigorous and athletic couple on one side, incontinent double flusher on other side, early riser below and late night revelers returning on stair case

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