All About the Details
Creating a complete experience through music, signage, and branding materials
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
In any space, grandiose gestures may be the first to catch a guest's eye, but a successful design is also all about the details. From the architecture and furniture selection, down to menus and servers' outfits, creating a complete experience is key. Enter Jason Brown, Lori Hon, Victor Arzate, and Robin Perkins. They enhance and help round out the design of any project with coordinating graphics, menus, music, uniforms, and signage, and a few other things in between. HD caught up with them to discuss their latest projects, new ventures, and what they bring to the table.
Taste Envy, Brand Envy, and Studio Jason Brown
Why did you start Taste Envy and Brand Envy?
I have always been interested in design. After 15 years designing presentation systems for such corporate clients as Victoria's Secret, Apple, and Chanel with Lost Luggage, I decided to focus on hospitality design. I have always seen the need for well-designed hospitality products, such as menus and service directories. With our new venture Taste Envy, we offer a collection of presentation products (menus and binders) for organizing information and presenting it to the customer. With the addition of Brand Envy, Nadine [Stellavato Brown] and I are able to offer the client more than just menus and binders; we are able to offer brand strategy. Whether we are starting from scratch or working with an existing brand we can tailor the marketing materials and presentation products into a cohesive look and feel.
Latest venture: turn-key solutions
Through our Brand Envy service we have been offering full service marketing and graphic design services for corporate and hospitality clients for years. The process is very thorough and thus needs adequate time for development. We saw a need for quicker turnaround and lower cost brand development for clients who need a more a la carte system of marketing pieces. Our newer service called BE by Brand Envy provides a user-friendly, turn-key program that includes brand identity, letterhead systems, marketing packets, front end web design, and portfolio solutions. The approach is the same high level of craft, creativity, and quality from Brand Envy, delivered at only a fraction of the cost and time. The products consist of pre-designed templates that can be configured into many tailored design solutions.
Cool new project
We just completed a great project for Elizabeth An, called House of An, which is a new restaurant in Bloomingdale's in Costa Mesa, California. We created menu covers and clipboards to showcase a variety of lunch and dinner selections as well as 500 custom screen-printed acrylic invitations sent to patrons announcing opening night. We matched the brand's colors with custom colored acrylic and screen-printing.
On the boards
The first project is an entire branding and design project for a well-known hotel in the Caribbean. Almost one year in the works, we are designing collateral for five new restaurants within the property. The second project uses many products from the Lost Luggage and Case Envy line as prominent props in an upcoming feature film.
To work with a hotel or restaurant to not only work with my team at Brand Envy to develop a brand, but to also design pieces, such as furniture and decorative pieces for the interior. Under the brand Studio Jason Brown, which launched this fall, I am able to translate my vision for product design into a line of gallery-caliber pieces, including table runners, placemats, and soon to be released furniture, which showcase unique textiles and materials that draw inspiration from a wealth of global sources.
Why did you start Gray V?
I had owned a snowboard shop and some restaurants in Colorado and music was always a big part of both businesses, but was also always a pain in the butt. I wished that I had control over the feel and some specifics but I didn't want to have to deal with maintaining it and keeping it fresh and organized (no iPods back then, so it was even worse than it is now). [My partner] Paul Marais is a programmer and graphic designer so we have good complementary skills. We started out on CDs, working with indie labels and worked our way up to iPods, and now have our own device. We want to give clients great music the way they want it; they can have as much or as little input as they need.
Music's effect on design
There is nothing worse than bad music. I’m shocked at how many places will invest so much money into design, uniforms, even a chair and then they'll play smooth jazz because it's 'non-offensive,' when in reality it shows that you just don't care about one of the most organic elements in your space. Outside of the employees the music is the only thing that is in motion throughout the day and can really set the tone for the guest's experience. The proper music for the space reinforces the branding. You can spend as much as you want on marketing, PR, design, and brand elements but if you walk into a space and it just feels wrong, lame, or like you're trying too hard, it can undo all of the other elements. Some people don't care or hear music, but a lot of people care very deeply about it and how they feel about the music in the space is a direct reflection on the branding.
Cool new project
We just did the Ames in Boston [a Morgans hotel designed by David Rockwell]. The concept statement was 'Ben Franklin meets supermodel' and the concept is a 'modern tavern.' They were willing to push the boundaries and wanted an eclectic mix of familiar classics and current indie music. It was a fun playlist to put together
The custom music process
A lot of it is working hand-in-hand with the client and trying to get inside their heads. We go over concepts, the look and feel of the space, but a lot of it is intuitive and we try not to overcomplicate things. Bottom line is does it fit the space? Is it working for the clientele? Does it have the right timing? Does it add to the space? And is it something that is timeless and going to sound good overtime? Most people know what they like and know their business, but don't know how to talk about music. It is our job to translate what they say they are looking for into what they really want; that's the fun part for us. When we take a completely cryptic description and are able to give them exactly what they’re looking for, we have a success. We have a close relationship with our clients and get really specific feedback from them over time to help get things dialed in and evolve as time goes on. It's a process.
Most requested songs
If I had a dollar for every time someone requested Buddha Bar and Hotel Costes.
Why did you start VADI?
I started my design career in retail advertising in the early '60s; this was followed by a filmmaking working/learning relationship with Charles Eames. From then, I expanded my interest in working in the television and film media at CBS and MGM Studios. In 1971, I was offered the head of the graphic design department for Howard Hirsch and Associates in Beverly Hills. At that time there was an absolute void in the hospitality industry, as the position did not exist anywhere in the world. It was Michael Bedner of HBA/Hirsch Bedner Associates who had the foresight to envision that there existed a niche for the special graphic design services of architectural signage and printed graphics for the hospitality industry. It was also Michael who discovered that I also had a talent and interest in drawing the human anatomy for the fashion world and made the decision to add uniform design to HBA. Tabletop design would come later, when I joined the HBA staff in Hong Kong in 1992. As the need for my design services increased, I decided to try my own business in 1994.
Cool new project
One project that does stand out is our Sheraton Addis Ababa Hotel in Ethiopia. The team was international from Sweden, England, France, South Africa, the U.S., Hong Kong, Malaysia, etc. The budget seemed to be limitless. We had the opportunity to work with Pierre Balmain in Paris for the production of our uniform designs, Bulgari for the provision of guestroom amenities, Canada for the production of our limestone architectural signage. The location was also exciting as the source of the Blue Nile is in Ethiopia. Working with the international and Ethiopian staff was exceptional.
Latest venture: glass blowing
As tabletop design is part of our design discipline, we are always looking for new sources to bring to the table. An introduction to one of the top glass blowing factories, Salviati, based in Murano, Italy, was made while I was attending the Maison & Objet show in Paris. Subsequently, I was invited to a special show the following year to meet with the owner. We were asked to represent Salviati exclusively in the hospitality industry, worldwide. As their products are of exceptional quality, we accepted their offer.
Trends in the industry
For uniforms, we prefer to work in eco-friendly fabrics such as natural Calico cotton. Working in Asia also has some wonderful advantages in that we can specify the use of silk for uniforms. As silk has been in use in Asia for thousands of years, the maintenance issues have proven to be tried and true.
One big advantage for printed graphics is the fact that the 'good old-fashioned book binding craft' by hand is still practiced in Asia. This allows us to bring this discipline to the design of our menus and other printed items. The art involved in keeping this craft alive is very satisfying.
Best part of the job
The best part is and always has been to have the opportunity and continued challenge and exploration of using new materials with old techniques or using old materials with new techniques.
Selbert Perkins Design
Tell us a bit about Selbert Perkins Design.
We specialize in large-scale urban projects. We developed the concept and design for the light columns at Los Angeles International Airport (known as LAX Gateway). We also developed the entire exterior vehicular sign program for LAX airport and are currently working on Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. We just completed the signage and wayfinding masterplan for the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, which holds 100,000 people and is the largest NFL stadium in the world. That being said, we really enjoy large-scale projects. The exciting aspects and challenges mostly include coordination with the various consultants. There are hundreds of consultants in a project of this scope, all with their own areas of responsibility. Since a sign program is usually site-wide we are part of the entire project and need to coordinate with many sub-consultants. So that can be challenging!
Cool new project
At Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas we wanted the signage to seamlessly integrate with the architecture. There are many different materials, colors, textures, and shapes within the interiors of the project to consider. We thought the overall use of wood and soft, glowing light would unify the project, provide adequate wayfinding, and enhance the brand experience—all while not drawing too much attention to itself. Environmental graphics were designed to reflect CityCenter's sophisticated brand identity. We also utilized sustainable material and processes, including aluminum, reclaimed wood, and low voltage, LED illumination. The project is very big [there are more than 7,000 signs]! We worked directly with the owner and each of the many designers.
Signage's effect on a project
Signage is the one element in an architectural project, site, or city that literally speaks to and communicates with people. In this project, the 'people' are the guests. So we are always thinking from the guests' point of view and what type of experience the brand reflected. Signage has become a very important part of the brand experience. Is it easy to find my way? Is the information clear? Do I have to work hard to find where I want to go? Are the signs well placed or do I have to stop and ask people for directions? All of these issues mold the brand experience.
On the boards
We are currently working on the Cosmopolitan Resort, which is right next door to City Center—we're very excited about that!