Winning the beauty contest is actually the easy part. Most architects and interior designers are very talented when it comes to creating beautiful buildings and stylish spaces.
Solving the planning puzzle of a creating a perfectly optimized member experience is the hard part. Sometimes architects and interior designers are known to lose interest when it comes to truly understanding the club business and importance of functionality and purpose-driven design in optimizing your member experience and sustaining your competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Here are 6 simple check points that you can use to make sure your design team is paying good attention to functionality and purpose even as they create a beautiful building, inside and out.
1. Look for and eliminate unnecessary walls and doors.
2. Look for and eliminate corridors. Yes, defined circulation pathways are important but they do not necessarily need to be defined by parallel walls like you see in a hotel.
3. Look for and eliminate narrow, enclosed stairways that must be used for member circulation between floors. Stairways for member use must always be open, wide enough for two-way traffic and easy to find.
4. Ask your designer to create a narrative description, in sequence, of the experience he or she has planned for various user groups such as members, guests, prospective members, staff, patients and passers-by. The experience of each user must be understood and designed for from the moment they approach the site to the moment they drive away.
5. Insist that your designer actually experiences, first hand, the basic functions he or she is designing for. Insist that they use a locker room, take a spinning class, take a lap on an indoor track or use the weight room. Our creative work as club designers is informed by our experience as users of athletic facilities and participants in club-based fitness programs. The integration of purpose driven, user-friendly design features into a beautiful building is what makes the work of club design so challenging, so rewarding and so accessible to anyone who is willing to walk a mile in the users' shoes. It’s like making the chef sample his own food. Have you ever been to a restaurant that serves a dry, tasteless bread and wondered if the chef ever tastes the food? The same disconnect between promise and delivery happens in the club industry when designers stop "tasting the food." How else can you explain impressively appointed club entry lobbies that are not convenient to member parking lots, or main entry doors that do not automatically open as a member approaches with full arms and children in tow? How else can you explain group exercise participants that arrive ready to work out but must leave their coats, purses and boots in a pile on the floor outside the studio? In the club industry, these disconnects between what members need and what designers provide are not the result of inadequate research or the failure to employ EBD. They are caused by a lack of attention to the human element by a designer or client more interested in winning a beauty contest than in solving the puzzle. A good design must achieve both.
6. Look for dysfunction, missed opportunities and disconnects in service to the human element. It is not only necessary to provide the good stuff but also to avoid the bad stuff. Our intuitive sensibilities as users can assist the quest for excellence in human accommodation by suggesting user-friendly features, including elevated stretching platforms, hip-high bag rests at reception/registration desks, a convenient place to hang coats and secure valuables in group exercise rooms, a secure place to charge cell phones and tablets, self evident way-finding, pause and-point facility overviews for the sales tour, a private shower with places for a fog-free mirror and razors, hands-free door operators and hand sanitizer for germophobic members, and locker room layouts that focus on space needs for dressing and grooming rather than maximizing locker count.
The attentive student of human nature can see opportunities for user informed design innovations and the long-overdue end to gang showers, corner lockers, blind corners, urinals without privacy dividers, open stalls and toilet partitions you can see under/over, grooming vanities in toilet rooms, locker rooms with doors, showers with curbs, fiberglass skylights and pools without stepped entries.
These kinds of design features are far from glamorous and will never be featured in a design awards program. When you design for the human element, expect the spotlight to be elsewhere, but the fit-to-purpose element will speak for itself.
In the fitness/athletic sports club industry, design innovations that enrich the member experience take place every day. Such improvements are limited only by the imagination of the architect , owner, manager, trainer or member who takes the time to think through how the member experience can be affected by the built environment and who can visualize a better way - no scientific research necessary.