Design Lessons: Hotel Rooms

HaHa in the hotel room
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M4 | Date: 11-06-2019 18:38 | Resolution: 5472 x 3648 | ISO: 640 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/30s | Aperture: 1.8 | Focal Length: 8.8mm (~24.0mm)

A humble (or not so humble) hotel room may succeed in delivering a satisfactory service to the user, but it may also fail dramatically to do so. These failures suggest that the “designer” either hasn’t thought about the user at all, or has made some very odd choices. The results can be frustrating, amusing, even dangerous, sometimes all of the above.

How do the rooms you have stayed in succeed and fail?

In the following assessment, a perfect, unobtrusive hotel room would score zero. Points are deducted for annoyances, problems and perils.

All examples are real. I’m not making any of this up! Smile

Power Sockets and Connectivity

Let’s start with an easy one. Perfect zero is a couple of free power sockets just above or immediately adjacent to the desk. Wired networking is presented at the desk, WiFi works throughout the room.

  • Only power socket is located behind the bed. Deduct 2 points.
  • Only power socket is nowhere near desk/table and you have to leave your laptop and phones balanced precariously to charge. Deduct 2 points.
  • Only power socket is currently in use for only light. Deduct 5 points.
  • Only power socket is currently in use for light, fridge, TV and kettle via scary stack of adapters which almost certainly doesn’t meet even local fire regs. 10 points.
  • Sockets power down when you leave the room so you can’t leave anything charging or downloading. 5 points.
  • Sockets power down when you leave the room, but switch to keep them on accepts a standard ISO card like your gym membership. 3 points.
  • Hotel is unable or unwilling to find and return your gym membership card which you left in the room. 5 points.
  • One accessible power socket, to the right of the bathroom door, while the desk, the only place to rest laptop and things on charge, is to the left of the same doorway. Spend stay with a power cable stretched right across the bathroom doorway, limbo dancing under to use the facilities. 15 points.
  • The only place you can get simultaneous power and modem connectivity is above the hot tub in the middle of the room. 20 points. (Remember, I’m not making this up.)

Don’t get me started on WiFi…


  • Desk at standard height with matched or adjustable chair, large enough for laptop, mouse and a drink. Coffee station on another surface, hotel directory and other bumf away in a drawer. Nul points.
  • Desk of acceptable height, size and location but with a mirrored surface which causes your laptop to skid about and neither mechanical nor optical mice work properly. 2 points.
  • Desk too high / chair too low, so you have to type with your arms up around your shoulders reminiscent of the “short order cook” scene in Bless This House. Commonly achieved by having no dedicated desk chair, just an armchair. 5 points.
  • Desk too low, so you type like Rick Wakeman plays the keyboards. 5 points.
  • No desk at all. 5 points (no cheating!)
  • Desk exists, but full of crap (coffee station, hairdryer, hotel brochures are common offenders), some of it bolted down, so there’s no room for your stuff. 10 points (for adding insult to injury).
  • Desk hidden in an alcove under a ceiling so low you risk banging your head while you sit there. 10 points.

Shower taps

Add points for all which apply. You may score on several criteria!

  • Scary arrangement of multiple pipes and taps in different positions and of different styles, with no indication what does what. There is at least a small risk that one turns off the water supply to the whole hotel. 10 points.
  • Indicators engraved in tiny letters with zero contrast against the metal. 2 points.
  • Ambiguous engravings (e.g. does “C” stand for “Celsius”, “cold” or “calde/chaude”?). 2 points.
  • Perfectly smooth cylindrical or domed rotary knobs which are impossible to turn with soapy hands. 5 points.
  • Mount on the wall for the shower head either absent or broken. 5 points.
  • Mount for the shower head positioned so high that it both restricts the flow and ensures that what does come out floods the entire room. 5 points. Add another 5 if it’s the most expensive hotel of the trip.
  • Complex lever tap with about 5 degrees of freedom, so you can theoretically adjust temperature, flow and the use or multiple outlets by correctly twiddling it. 2 points.
  • Complex lever tap with about 5 degrees of freedom which turns on OK but doesn’t stop flow when returned to original position. 5 points.
  • No thermostatic control, and the hot and cold flow rates are so different it’s impossible to correctly adjust the temperature, and a micron of control movement can swing the water temperature from just above 0°C to around 60°C. 10 points.

I know in theory what perfect zero looks like. Two lever taps, one of which sets the flow, the other of which sets the temperature with thermostatic control and a stop at about 40°C. Flow control is indicated by clear icons (e.g. 0 to multiple drops), etched in a large font and a colour which clearly contrasts with the metal. Temperature is indicated by blue and red dots or arrows, or maybe temperatures in °C. The handset or head is sturdily mounted about 2m from the base.

I may know what perfect zero arrangement looks like, but I also know what a unicorn looks like. In neither case have I ever actually encountered one.

[Sod’s Law: about 10 minutes after writing this I had a shower in a room at the Ramada Cwrt Bleddyn, near Newport in Wales. Shower arrangement exactly as described! Yes Jemima, unicorns do exist! Don’t celebrate too much, the room scored well under several other headings…]

Bath Taps, Plugs and Associated Fittings

  • No bath plug. 3 points
  • Bath plug wrong size. 5 points (if you’re not going to bother, don’t pretend).
  • Bath plug loose and has to be held in place with foot. 3 points.
  • Plus is a spring-loaded popup positioned exactly under the buttock of an average height bath user. You shift your weight slightly and realise about 2 minutes later that the water has disappeared. 5 points.
  • Taps placed to scald toes (or head) as water added. 5 points.
  • Hourglass shaped bath which is wide enough for your shoulders but not for your hips. 10 points WTF.
  • Shower cubicle so narrow you can’t reach the lower half of your body once inside. 10 points.
  • Guest shelf in bathroom is above and behind toilet, difficult to reach and occasionally pitches your belongings down the pan. 10 points.
  • Soap “dish” in shower is a wire basket with holes so large your soap falls straight through unless very carefully aligned. 5 points
  • Soap dish has a convex surface, or slopes down towards the front, so soap simply slides off. 5 points.
  • Nowhere to hang wet clothing. 5 points. (Exemptions apply for hotels a long way from the sea with no pool, but beach/resort hotels really should get this right.)
  • No towel rail/hook. 4 points.
  • Towel hooks are mounted about 6″ below the ceiling, out of reach of anyone less than about 6′ tall.
  • Towel rail has rusted sharp edge on rear surface, so you slash your hand removing the towel. 20 points.

Shaving/Make-up Light/Mirror

  • Large mirror directly behind sink or dressing table with built-in rim light. 0 points.
  • No mirror. 5 points.
  • Shaving mirror in pitch blackness. 5 points. (I only discovered it was there, after my ablutions, when the sun came up!)
  • Shaving mirror lit by small lamp directly above with result like the Bohemian Rhapsody video. 3 points.
  • Shaving mirror is the size of a postage stamp, so you can’t see the whole face in one go. 3 points.
  • Shaving mirror lit by a single small lamp from one side with result that your shave or make up for the day is different on the two sides of your face. 8 points.

Toilet position

  • Toilet too close to door. 3 points.
  • Toilet too close to wall, so you can’t sit straight. 5 points. Add 5 points if it’s squashed into the corner of a large bathroom getting on for the size of a tennis court.
  • Toilet adjacent to head of bed, separated only by a thin curtain. 5 points.
  • Active and spare toilet rolls are strung on a rope from the ceiling, conveniently positioned for when required. In principle this is a good design, however in a tropical rainstorm water gets in, runs down the rope, and soaks both rolls. Score 5 to 30 depending on urgency at the point of discovery!
  • Toilet has spring-loaded seat which rises every time you adjust your weight. 5 points.
  • Toilet has spring loaded seat with the toilet roll holder just out of reach, and liquid soap on the floor so your feet are slipping. (Again, I’m not making this up although I will admit it was in the hotel’s communal area, not an individual room.) 20 points.


Permit me to dream for a minute. Perfect zero consists of a large, powerful central light or cluster which fills the room with light, plus a selection of subtle spotlights or uplighters at key points. You can choose any combination, but you can then turn them all off, or back on to the previous settings, with two master switches, by the bed and at the door. If the room is genuinely dark once the curtains/shutters are closed and the main lights are off, there’s some form of very low level night light which includes the bathroom area, but you again have control to turn it off if required. A man can dream, surely?

  • The only illumination appears to be a couple of captive glow-worms in opposite corners of the room. 5 points.
  • Lots of independent lights, each with separate switches. 3 points (at least you can work this arrangement out…)
  • Lots of switches, which control random subsets of the lights. None turns all the lights on or off. 5 points.
  • Room is so dark you can’t get to the bathroom during the night without turning everything back on again. 5 points.

Heating and Temperature Control

  • There’s an easily accessible control panel on which you set a temperature of your choice between say 16°C and 24°C. Once you’ve done that invisible systems quietly heat or cool the air and maintain your chosen temperature. Nul points, and count yourself very, very lucky.
  • No heating, or heating not working. Exemptions for hotels in the Tropics where ambient temperature always exceeds 20°C, otherwise 10 points.
  • No AC, or AC not working. Exemptions if the ambient temperature never exceeds 20°C, otherwise 10 points.
  • Heating sounds like a water tank being dragged slowly over rough cobbles. 10 points.
  • Heating sounds like Concorde warming up for take-off about 50m away (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration…). 20 points.
  • Temperature control locked. 5 points. Add 2 points for every 1°C between your preferred temperature and the hotel’s dictat.
  • Temperature control has to be reset by standing on a chair and toggling a master switch above bathroom door. 3 points.
  • Heating is switched off centrally at the coldest point in the early hours of the morning. 10 points.
  • Heating goes off when you leave the room, so you have just got it warming up on a freezing night but by the time you get back from dinner it’s frozen again. 20 points.

TV Position and Inputs

  • TV is positioned so it cannot be viewed from the only chair. 10 points.
  • TV is positioned so it cannot be viewed from either chair or bed. 12 points.
  • TV has no modern inputs, so it’s impossible to connect laptop to view recorded/streamed programmes. 8 points.
  • TV has modern inputs, but it’s attached to the wall or built into the furniture so they are inaccessible. 10 points.
  • Arcane “hotel” software restricts channels and inputs but is hackable with a bit of googling and your own universal remote control. 5 points
  • Arcane “hotel” software is not hackable. 10 points, but at least I enjoy the challenge.
  • TV has a smaller screen than my laptop. 5 points.
  • TV is an ancient communist-era set with tiny square CRT, no inputs and apparently only able to receive broadcasts from the same era. (This was at the Berlin Holiday Inn in 2014. Maybe it was some weird DDR theme, but no one told me…). 10 points.

Curtains, Blinds, and Windows

  • No curtains or blinds. 5 points.
  • Curtains don’t meet in the middle. 5 points. Add 5 points if room is directly opposite flashing green neon cross of an all night pharmacy.
  • Curtains don’t reach the edges of the window. 5 points.
  • Transparent curtains. 15 points WTF.
  • Porthole with no curtains carefully designed to admit the rising midsummer sun into your room at 3.30am. 20 points.
  • Curtains or blinds can be thrown wide open after a good night’s sleep, to reveal your naked self to Canadians having breakfast at a table directly outside your room. 5 points.
  • Window doesn’t quite fit window frame, so when the wind blows it whistles like something out of an old fairground Ghost Train. 5 points.

Tea/Coffee Station

  • No tea/coffee station. 5 points. That’s just mean.
  • Supplies inadequate, or they appear to have been part-used by previous occupant. 5 points. (I accept this is an operational rather than a design error, but depressingly frequent.)
  • Kettle doesn’t fit under cold water tap. 3 points.
  • Kettle lead doesn’t reach a power socket without balancing the boiling kettle on arm of chair. 10 points.
  • In the middle of the night there’s an odd scrabbling noise and you think you see the milk cartons moving across the desk of their own accord, but put it down as a hallucination due to your slightly drunken state. In the morning you find them at the other end, each punctured with a couple of tiny teeth marks and drained. 0 points, but it’s one of the oddest ways I have been deprived of an early morning cup of tea.

Furniture, Storage and Luggage Racks

  • Insufficient wardrobe space. 3 points
  • Hanging rail in wardrobe only about 2’ from the surface below, so impossible to hang clothes without wrinkling them. 3 points.
  • Bed and every surface covered in surplus cushions. 3 points.
  • You collect up surplus cushions to put them away, only to find that the wardrobe is already stuffed full of cushions, reminiscent of the Tribbles in Star Trek. 8 points.
  • No bedside cabinet. 3 points.
  • Bedside cabinet on only one side of double bed. 3 points
  • Bedside cabinet top so full of hotel c**p that you can’t put any of your own stuff on it. 5 points.
  • You move hotel c**p off bedside cabinet to make room for your own stuff, and the next time you stay they’ve bolted/wired the hotel c**p down. 8 points.
  • You use wire cutters to cut the wires and move the hotel c**p, and they finally get the message, but it means you always have to have wire cutters in your travel kit. 2 points.
  • No luggage racks or free space to lay down a suitcase. 5 points.
  • Only one luggage rack/space in a four-bed suite. 10 points. Really?
  • No room for a second suitcase but enough room for a two-person Jacuzzi. 3 points – at least this has its compensations.


  • Bed is such a tight fit to room that you are unable to access both sides of the bed without climbing over it. 5 points.
  • Have to limbo dance under a 3ft beam to access the bathroom (see picture below). 5 points.
  • Stairs down into bedroom directly from doorway. 10 points. Haha! (Look it up.)
  • Steep stairs down directly in middle of the bedroom, just off the line from bed to bathroom. 20 points.
  • Bath positioned under sloping roof which almost meets bath at the far end, making entry and exit a tricky manoeuvre. 5 points.
  • Shower itself decent size with perfect taps, but entrance so narrow you only just fit through sideways. Chimneying move required to swing yourself in and up over the step, using the glass partition as a hand-hold. 5 points if the glass partition doesn’t give way, otherwise a lot more…

Limbo dancing into the bathroom, boutique hotel in Kent
(Show Details)

Bedding and Pillows

  • Temperature in the middle of the night drops well below 10°C, but bedding is a couple of thin sheets or blankets. 5 points.
  • Temperature even in the middle of the night rarely drops below 20°C, but only bedding is a 50 Tog quilt designed for a Siberian Winter. 10 points.
  • Pillows are like marsh mallows, offering no support whatsoever. 5 points.
  • Pillows are like bricks. 5 points.
  • Pillows or bedding look suspiciously like they have not been washed since the last occupant, possible not prior to that either. 10 points.
  • Pillows have been bleached so thoroughly that you wake up in the middle of the night with a streaming nose and sore throat. 8 points.
  • Blanket is cut so small it doesn’t reach all corners of the bed. 5 points.
  • Duvet is so narrow it does not simultaneously cover both sides of you. 8 points


I can’t believe this needs to be a heading!

  • Floor slopes down by 15° or more, with the result that you gradually slide down the bed and out of the bottom end. 20 points. (I’m not making this one up, either.)
  • Bathroom floor slopes up noticeably from the door to the sink, so if you’re slightly drunk you have to hold on! 5 points.

Safety and Cleanliness

  • Bathroom floor is so sticky you have to use most of the towels as a set of stepping stones. 5 points.
  • Lift to top floor room works fine, but stairs are out of order (due to a 10 ft gap half way down.) 10 points.
  • Glass shower door detaches from hinges and falls into bath. 10 points.
  • You have to stand in sewage while conducting your own emergency repair on the toilet. 5 points, add another 5 for every star claimed by the hotel (30 points possible and observed in practice).
  • French windows open onto a shared balcony. Lock doesn’t work, but they give you a length of broom-handle to jam into the frame when you leave the room. 5 points.
  • Wardrobe top collapses inwards under weight of discarded pornography. 5 points, but at least it gave me something to read.

Sleep Prevention

There is one UK hotel chain which promises you a good night’s sleep, or your money back. While I don’t think the rest actually have the opposite intention, it’s sometimes easy to become suspicious.

  • Freight trains pass about 50m to the rear of the hotel every 15 minutes throughout the night, each sounding their horn several times. 20 points. (Hint: never stay at “The Old Station Hotel”, just in case the line is now a major high-speed trunk, and be very, very afraid if there’s a bowl of free earplugs at reception.)
  • Attractive chalet has a solid base and sides, but the roof is a weird double canvas affair. In any breath of wind over Beaufort Scale level 1 it whips, creaks, groans, snaps and pops vigorously. 15 points (Be very, very afraid if there are free earplugs in the soap dish.)
  • Tiny boats power past the hotel throughout the night, single-cylinder engines going full chat. 15 points.
  • Ice machine makes a noise like a road-mender’s pneumatic drill, at random points throughout the night. 10 points.
  • Double/triple glazing on 7th floor room proves insufficient to keep out noise of drunk Irishman in the street. 10 points.
  • Fire alarm goes off at about 4am, and Sod’s law it’s well below freezing with snow on the ground at the muster point. To add insult to injury there are two chaps still in suits each with a pint of beer in their hands. 10 points. Add 10 for each occurrence if this happens more than once at the same hotel…
  • Earthquake. In Warwickshire. OK, that wasn’t the hotel’s fault, but it was about a week after the last fire alarm… 10 points.

In Summary

Some of these are amusing, some very frustrating. Several are severe enough to lose the customers a night’s sleep, when that has to be the most basic provision from a hotel. A couple have forced us to abandon the hotel and go elsewhere, even though we’ve already paid. A few are operational rather than design errors, or genuinely beyond the hotelier’s control. But the others represent sheer failure to think hard enough about the poor old customer’s experience, either through plain ignorance, or where some notion of “style” has trumped the very necessary substance of such provision.

The necessity for good design applies in many spheres. And good design, a good user experience, is about making things work, not look pretty.

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