EXCLUSIVE: The Ned’s designer empowers staff to become ‘brand guardians’

The bedrock of a successful hospitality business is your staff, and their ability to maintain standards that are expected by guests. Their service must go hand in hand with your brand, its story and its design, ensuring a coherent message throughout. A major part of this is the look and feel of your property and how its styling resonates with guests; from the colours on the walls to the art featured and the furniture chosen, design is a powerful communication tool.

It’s vital that the story of your brand and business seeps through the design of your property and through your employees; it’s staff who need to buy into the design first. Employees on the front line, communicating with your guests at various touch points throughout their stay, need to understand and engage with the design decisions and concepts.

We caught up with Alison Cobb, designer at Soho House stalwart The Ned to explain how she ensures each employee fully understands what they are trying to achieve with the design and branding at the property.

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Why is it important to ensure staff are familiar with design concepts and the meaning behind certain styles?

Since The Ned’s branding is so steeped in the history of the building and its architect, Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens, much of the experience of The Ned can be missed if you’re not aware of the meaning behind its design concepts – for example, the concept behind Ned’s Club (our membership offering) is that Ned Lutyens was the founding member of the club in the 1920s. All of the assets we’ve designed – from board members’ welcome bottles of whiskey to the printed bar collateral and even mailer correspondence – feature our Ned’s Club branding inspired by Lutyens’s doodled letters we uncovered during our research stage at the RIBA archives. It all has a very personal nod to Ned. We have nine individually-branded restaurants & bars (with completely different culinary offerings) that all tell their own story through their unique designs – such as The Nickel Bar, for which the wordmark and logo are inspired by Lutyen’s original architectural plans for this area of the building.

It’s important staff are familiar with the design concepts behind all of the various umbrella brands within The Ned to better understand the functioning structure of the business (e.g. how the gym & spa offerings sit as sub-brands under Ned’s Club), as well as the story and experience we are selling to our guests and member.

How do you talk to staff about your design to get them engaged?

We host ‘Brand Training’ workshops, which teach staff about the influences and strategy behind The Ned’s design, and how they can help protect and evolve The Ned as ‘Brand Guardians’. It’s an interactive session with quizzes and a ‘Show & Tell’ – staff bring branded collateral that’s been requested/is used by their department – which hopefully helps to make feel staff engaged in the company’s design process.

What techniques do you use when talking to them to get your concept across?

In terms of presenting design ideas for approval to senior management, even though we’re an in-house team we still create agency-style pitch decks with mood boards/reference as well as visual representations of proposed designs.

We have a collateral request form, which all staff from across the company can use to brief our Comms team (Marketing/Editorial/Design) on any branded assets they need created.

How can staff’s engagement in design impact on the guest experience?

It’s important for staff to recognise when guest-facing collateral is and isn’t on-brand to ensure that the visitor’s experience of The Ned is the one we’re trying to achieve. We encourage all staff to be ‘brand guardians’ and make sure we’re only associating The Ned with the kind of visual assets that reflect the quality and style of our service.

How do staff feel when they are more involved with the design process?

They (hopefully!) find it interesting and feel a sense of pride in being a part of something which simultaneously has such fascinating heritage and an exciting new role in the ever-changing hospitality scene in the city.

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