OK. I admit the title has little to do with this post. But just like Vegas, one always needs a hook. This past week I was there for a conference (no, not for the West Coast Tanning Expo or Brittany Spears’ concert) and took some time out to stroll the strip. Instead of shows and buffets, I searched for design – good design, bad design and some fantastically hideous design. Vegas does not disappoint.
In reality, Vegas is an experience not unlike a Disney theme park – just as expensive, but with way more alcohol and far fewer rides. The real experience is nothing like in the movies or in those slick commercials, at least for me. But with almost 150,000 hotel rooms and 80% average occupancy, there’s not only variety but some fierce competition for your money. It also extends to the casinos, theaters, bars, restaurants, shops, pools and spas. There really is a lot of design there, albeit with a single purpose in mind.
There has also been a definite shift from themed-styled resorts to those with a more sophisticated and exclusive ambiance. Although with open door policies the throngs of flip-flopped thong and t-shirt wearing crowds tend to permeate even the more sophisticated of spaces. Picture a family wrapped in towels fresh from the pool standing right next to the Joel Robuchon Restaurant (true). But it is Vegas and no one seems to be aware of the irony.
But my real destination was the relatively new City Center, billed as a collection of spectacular hotels and residences, sensational spas, astonishing dining and extraordinary shopping – seriously. In reality, it was about as flat and bland as an open can of diet coke sitting out in the sun too long. I reviewed their website before I left and was left thinking it would be something exciting to see. But except for the Aria Resort & Casino, which frankly was moderately interesting and utterly crowded, it was all a major disappointment. Crystals shopping mall had every high-end brand imaginable except that there were so few shoppers that you can count the minutes until the first Jamba Juice moves in to increase traffic. The Mandarin Oriental’s entrance was so hard to find and the place so sleepy, it was no wonder that even they admit that they’re not expecting a quick return on their investment. And apparently the residents of the Veer Towers complain that the buildings are too noisy on windy days. It is a hot mess of underwhelming design that’s overhyped and under delivered. And did I mention that the Harmon Hotel, which has never opened, will probably be torn down due to construction defects?
Of course there are other well-known design issues that are pretty standard throughout the resorts: no place to sit except at slots or at gaming tables, few and far between water fountains (forcing you to buy that $5 bottled water or a $15 cocktail), hardly any signage, maps or direct sightlines to navigate by (keeps you inside near the gaming tables) and finally the lack of clocks and windows. All of this well-orchestrated traffic flow is designed to keep you and your wallets handy to add to Nevada’s gaming revenue. And despite my slight annoyance, I have to admit the designs readily accomplish their goals. As an example of commercial design, Vegas adheres well to the idea of getting your customers to do what and when you want by the inherent layout and spatial design.
So what thoughts do I bring back from Vegas? Fashionable design is fleeting and must always evolve to garner attention. And in destinations like Vegas, design is more about illusion and less about substance. In your own home or business, design is most likely going to be more immediate, personal and functional. You can still design to impress, but facades and trickery are never a replacement for honesty and sensibility.