Luxury and service design

I’ve had the privilege to have experienced a rather luxurious service recently and it got me thinking about the way we design services for the elite vs the general public. Can one inspire the other? What are the differences and what’s the thinking behind it?

1. Planning for all possible scenarios:

I stayed in a very fancy hotel last month and found among other weird things a shelf next to the minibar including the following items:

– a promotional cup from the hotel
– an Alvar Aalto votive candle holder
– a bottle of liquor
– a box of condoms that included small condoms

Odd combination of items which in fact make total sense, but that I’ve never seen offered in more affordable hotels. What’s the scenario here? Have a cup of tea, light a candle, have a romantic drink and shag? Bring back the cup of tea as part of your collection, bring back the candle holder as you forgot your wife’s birthday, have a stiff drink and call a hooker?

In a way, this very fashionable hotel is almost acknowledging what it is more than hotels where you’ll find the Bible in the drawer of the bedside table. Culturally and otherwise these objects are far more useful to a guest because they can convey a sense of “we’ve thought about everything, just relax”.

It’s interesting to think about how this feeling could be replicated in services. How can you provide a service and give a sense of reassurance to it’s users? Are you honest-enough with your service provision?

2. Secret language:

We all know that the epitome of luxury is feeling like you’re part of the elite and have your own secret language. You can find this to be true of most internet memes (wtf is flume?) but it also applies to the services and objects you surround yourself with. The latest Core77 article on the latest Bang & Olufsen portable music player is an example of misunderstanding that language:

“Bang & Olufsen designs interesting-looking products that most of us will never own, either because they’re too expensive and/or we simply have no use for them.”

That’s besides the point really, because luxury was never about utility but about recognition. How can a service develop it’s own language, only understood by it’s users? I’m talking about more than a member card here. Can other users of the service recognize each other by that language, like those necklaces people who have been to New Zealand wear. Products and services can become part of a secret shared by few but who are the few? Your friends? Your family? Your colleagues?

3. Not for everyone:

Asmallworld has been enjoying a little press lately, and why shouldn’t it? When all the services out there these days have “free signup”, these guys are invite-only (perhaps also what makes feel so elitist still).

What would be the middle ground here? Partial service access depending on who you are to me as the prime user?

I think there’s a lot of potential here beyond thinking about luxury as guns, drugs and art deco :)

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Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London, Head of Bulb Labs till May 2019.

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