Intercontinental Hotel Group
How we helped hotel guests sleep better

Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) wanted to escape the ‘beige trap’: the way hotel rooms tend to look the same – anonymous, bland and uninspiring.

They had a sense that capturing people’s deeper feelings about sleep could unlock the design breakthroughs they wanted. So they came to Space Doctors for help. First, they asked us to explore what sleep and dreaming mean, culturally and emotionally. And second, they wanted to know how people express these themes in practice.

Our cultural and semiotic analysis took us to some fascinating places. We found that the threshold between wakefulness and sleep is richly symbolic and surrounded in ritual.


We also learned that dreaming is about fluidity: in dreams, space often bends and curves around the dreamer. There was clearly amazing design potential here, with inspiration widely available from film and the visual arts.

With these powerful codes in place, we went on to partner ethnography agency ESRO to look at how people enact them – or try to. We found that standard hotel rooms pay little heed to the themes we identified. For example, typical room design leaves guests struggling to create a sense of transition between wakefulness and sleeping.

By identifying these important codes, we were able to influence IHG’s design brief for a totally different kind of room experience – one that honours deeper emotions around sleep and dreaming. The new design is now being rolled out across hotels in the US to great acclaim.

Our work with ESRO jointly won us Best Presentation Award at the MRS Conference in 2013.