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Riding the Wave of the Future

This year's Wave of the Future Next Gen Conference, sponsored by Hospitality Design magazine, featured an array of inspiring speakers. Image © Gensler

“A conference set to engage while illuminating the future.” That was the tag line for this year’s Wave of the Future Next Gen conference sponsored by Hospitality Design magazine. This conference has, for the second year in a row, set out to do what other conference have been unable to: Offer a small, intimate, and highly focused environment geared towards inspiring designers, manufacturers, operators, and developers.

This was my first year attending the conference, and I wanted to write this blog as a way to give kudos to Hospitality Design for creating something so fresh and energetic. Here are my takeaways from this wonderful.

Cindy Chang discussed her "Before I Die" project. Image © Gensler


A couple big reasons this year’s conference was so inspiring is the speakers selected were truly inspirational. The first evening featured a mini interview with CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts, Niki Leondakis. She spoke about her experience and how she rose to her current role with Commune. Early the next morning, attendees listened to Candy Chang, founder of the “Before I Die” Project, and I must admit I was in tears. Her story is so moving and evokes deep considerations about how we live our lives every single day. Her “Before I Die” project just really set the tone of the conference on how to think differently and with urgency in every day.

Larry Smith challenged attendees to sum up their lives in six words or less. Image © Gensler


Larry Smith, our second speaker discussed his “six word memoir project,” which challenges everyone to summarize their lives, professions, and beliefs in six words or less. It sounds easy until you try it. He shared with us just how this idea could be translated into businesses as a way to create a point of view or mission statement. We tend to over explain who we are as a business or even as people, but if you had to take everything that your company has to offer and condense it into six words that sum it up, what would you say? The results can be quite thought provoking and sometimes key in to a deeper understanding of people. One that stands out to me today is “Hearts, like infants, scream when unfed.” It’s quite emotional, direct, and evokes curiosity. Many times this approach to self-expression yields more interesting results than trying to reveal everything at once.

Wave of the Future Honorees

During our lunchtime hour, we listened to various speakers discuss what authenticity means to each of them. Any time you ask a group of creative people a question, they inevitably try to be very creative with their answers. While I enjoyed observing the beautiful design work each of these professionals has created, I learned more from listening to each person explain how they view hospitality and authenticity. Kenneth Villamil, global director of product and brand development for Park Hyatt and Andaz, stated that “design should connect with guests on an emotional level” and that we should always aim to “create a narrative that stimulates and connects with the guest.” This is a sentiment that is too often overlooked during the design process. We tend to focus on what design should express versus how it can actually engage and evoke emotion. We fail to realize that emotional engagement equates to better business for that property and a lasting impression with those who use it.

Connection and People

One of the most beneficial, and overlooked, part of the conference was being able to exchange thoughts with operators, manufacturers, developers and the issues we face in each of our areas of expertise. These people are experts in their respective fields and have a lot to teach us about the products and processes they work with on a daily basis. As designers, we must seek these professionals out and engage with them on a regular basis. Failure to do so equals a lost opportunity.

Rashana Zaklit is a Hospitality lifestyle designer in Gensler's San Francisco office. With a background in Hotel design, Rashana has adopted an obsession with the guest experience that goes beyond just great aesthetics. Her focus is building a portfolio with projects that connect with people and that evoke a physical and emotional response. By plugging into what her clients say or more importantly what they don’t say she brings an edgy perspective by creating emotionally driven design formulas for every project. Named one of Boutique Design magazine’s “Boutique 18” up-and-coming designers of 2014, Rashana tries to live up to this honor in her every day design practice. You can contact her at rashana_Zaklit@gensler.com.

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