Design Forum Hong Kong – Smart, smarter, click

At the Asia Society in Hong Kong Global Digital Nomads including architects, interior designers, developers, and others gathered to learn more about Smart Cities.

The guest speakers Bruce Chong, Silas Chiow, John Shamon, and Mark Bickerstaffe took the audience on a journey from smart city planning to improving health and well-being in the bathroom in hotels and at home.

What’s smart?

The short answer is to solve the problems right in front of your nose first. To dive a bit deeper it means new concepts, optimization, urgent and immediate solutions. Whether this concerns urban planning or product design new approaches to tackle challenges are needed. Smart is the use of technology and connectedness in a way to enhance life experiences.

Today’s challenges

Twenty years ago the world was only 25% urbanized – Today it is almost 50%. Close to 50% of the world population is connected to the internet or mobiles and in Hong Kong it is almost 80%. The rapid rate of change and urbanization challenges such as housing, traffic, pollution, and social planning give rise for serious concern. Solutions need to be found quickly or cities become unsustainable.

Urbanization and connectedness create Big Data that need to be adapted, used efficiently and built into collective intelligence to join up the digital and physical world better and smarter.

City planners, designers and architects see lots of opportunities to improve this environment. Teams are collaborating on projects, designs and systems to incorporate innovation and sustainability better. For example, in China 36 smart cities are planned to emerge in the near future. In Hong Kong, professionals think about how to improve google maps to navigate foot traffic faster and more efficiently by indoor and outdoor routing. In South Korea, plans are made for interactive city maps. These projects and future projects demand multi-disciplinary collaborative approaches.

Generation Z – iGeneration

Internet use and urbanization heavily influence demographics and life-styles in the 21st century. The Generation Z – iGeneration (part of the Millennials) are constantly online, virtually always connected and managing their digital DNA (if they only have one). To reach this target audience, smart communication needs to be intuitive, meaningful and catch the consumer at a level of an emotional “low”. What is offered, has to be practical all the way down to the details to create a predictive experience that will hold the consumers interest.

Physical and digital world mesh – how much is too much?

We are at the crossroads of merging virtual and real worlds. We debate whether to switch on the light by touching a button or to have your bathroom uniquely ready for you as soon as you walk in by pre-setting preferences on your app. All agree that the experience needs to be easy and intuitive.

No one contests that a multi-disciplinary approach in design, particularly in hotel and room design, is needed to optimize construction costs, energy efficiencies, sustainability, and the environmental impact.

Smart toilets that use feces to produce energy or atmospheric water generators that turn air into drinkable water are just a few ideas to integrate sustainability in projects.

Decisions will have to be made around balancing discoverability, originality, convenience, usefulness, and emotional rewards. With innovative, environmentally-friendly products companies like ours become partners in infrastructure planning, architecture and interiors. Together with our customers, we help to integrate technologies and consider the human aspects.

Changing hotel environment

The life-styles influence hotel and hotel room designs. The hotels become more of a meeting place and a location for socializing. So, mixed-use facilities are popular and lobbies become multi-use areas. With the growing wealth in China, hotels are seen as mini-vacation locations and get-aways to relax and enjoy.

In the future, hotels and hotel rooms will be smaller and public spaces become more casual and multi-functional. In the past bathrooms have taken up 20% of the whole room, now it is up to 50%. Research has shown that guests spend more time of their waking hours in the bathroom than in other parts of the room.

There are almost no telephones in hotel rooms anymore. The younger generation uses their own mobile phones and downloads the hotel app that process all main communications. Room and guest preferences can be linked to the hotel database for integration.

Home vs. hotel experience

Global Nomads are so much on the road that they will appreciate a customized experience in a hotel room giving them a feeling of home. But home and hotel environments are still not the same.

At home it might be convenient and functional to save your preferences where as in the hotel, depending on the initial set-up, it might be a bit tricky for the user-experience and also intrusive. Although, once set up, the next-day recognition is certainly a benefit.

Whether on the road or at home, the bathroom is the place that is the most transformative for our state of mind. Creating a great user-experience by automating repetitive tasks and enhancing efficiencies is a chance to increase user’s delights. Turning the shower into an oasis of revitalization, water pleasure, pleasing sounds, and a relaxed atmosphere enhances this transformation.

Soon an even more connected approach will available with the Konnect app (mid-2017). It will save multiple users’ preferences, communicate from one product to another and will improve overall well-being and health by fully connecting and exchanging data.

Challenges and concerns

In this digital DNA cloud we will be drowning in Big Data. Some guests raised concerns about the impact on people’s physical health. Recent studies on these points are inconclusive, but the market (and individual) response is already here. There are detox rooms available that offer complete disconnection and hotel destinations in remote areas for those who seek an escape.

Other concerns center around security, privacy and the cost of smartness. There are still many open questions, but there are lots of indications that smart technology will become affordable for everyone in the near future.

Exciting times are ahead of us – let’s embrace the change and marvel at all the new discoveries.

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