Perspectives vol.7

Reading into extraordinary experiences

The Perspectives series follows Sony designers into a diversity of fields, where they glean new insights from experts and experienced veterans with far-reaching ideas and exciting creative energies.

The destination for this installment was eslite, which started out as a bookstore and has gone on to propel local culture since opening in Taipei in 1989. Over the past three decades, the eslite Group has built a growing base of bookstore locations and also diversified into the accommodation industry with the opening of eslite hotel in 2015.

Raye Fukuda, designer at Sony Corporation, visited eslite hotel for an interview with Mercy Wu, Chairperson of the eslite Corporation and Tony Wang, General Manager of eslite hotel. Read on to find out what Fukuda learned from her conversation with the two leaders—and what she discovered about sustaining a constant stream of experience value that’s unique to the setting.

the "analog" charm

The lobby is lined with bookshelves housing a whopping 5,500 titles. The guest rooms have spacious couches, the perfect places for stretching out or curling up with a book. The bathtubs even feature trays that guests can use to hold their books if they find themselves in the mood a leisurely bath-time read. On every desk, meanwhile, sits a little box containing pencils, erasers, and more, and on every coffee table is a basket of fruit. When you step into an eslite hotel room, you enter a warm embrace of the “analog” mode of life: reading books on real paper, putting a real pencil to the page, appreciating a simple, relaxing ambience.

At eslite hotel, everything revolves around the core concepts of reading books and fostering Taiwanese culture. From the lobby to the guest rooms and even the restaurants, the whole space puts that focus front and center, echoing the philosophy of the Group’s founder, the late Robert Wu. The environment puts you in the reading mood, to be sure. A step out onto the balcony reveals a swathe of green below, the natural scenery mingling with the city vista. The occasional birdsong fills in the air; warm winds waft through the windows. It’s certainly a vibe that makes you want to kick back with a book.

Infusing ordinary life with extraordinary experiences

Sony Designer Raye Fukuda

I was the project manager for Sony's "an/other TOKYO" initiative, which incorporated digital signage at the hotel reception area for an/other TOKYO. It all started when a representative from an/other TOKYO saw Sony's "Hidden Senses" exhibit during the 2018 Milan Design Week—it was an inspiring experience, evidently, that prompted an/other TOKYO to reach out to Sony about designing their front-desk area. The Hidden Senses concept is an exploration of how new technology can align with people in a comfortable, complementary role, enriching everyday life through products and spaces with meaningful stories. Instead of putting high-tech wizardry in the spotlight, the Hidden Senses approach focuses on using technology to infuse ordinary life with extraordinary experiences.

Digital-signage setup at the front desk of an/other TOKYO

Building our an/other TOKYO proposal on that foundation, we started talking about the different kinds of experiences we could create in the limited physical space of a hotel. Once we had an idea of our approach, the discussion turned to the hardware we would need to make those experiences possible. We ended up going with a digital-signage setup at the front desk of the hotel, a system that would present guests with information in a new way.

The hotel was going to be in charge of actually building and operating the technology, so we sat down with an/other TOKYO personnel to lay out the Hidden Senses concept, talk about the experiences that the approach could unlock, and do a rundown of the technical components. During the prototyping phase, we gave the client feedback on specifics—the movement of the projected images and optimal lighting settings for the space, for example—to help bring the target experience to fruition in a collaborative, back-and-forth arrangement. In the end, the Hidden Senses concept, which started out as an installation, came alive in a hotel setting—and the place was vital to the experience.

Turning the dice will change the photo on the display

Plot consistency:
Aligning the service design with the story

What I got out of my time at eslite was a deeper understanding of two key points: how important it is to develop a design in line with the concept, the equipment, the customer value, and the service as a whole, first of all, and how hard it is to keep providing value on a continuing basis. The Hidden Senses project for an/other TOKYO requires content updates and maintenance, for example. At eslite hotel, they’re dealing with the same kind of thing. “We’re still exploring development on the service side. It’s a work in progress,” Mercy Wu says. The process of filling out the service dimension hinges on getting feedback from customers, gathering input from employees, and responding accordingly.

From my perspective in solution design and service design, I see so many ways that designers can use flexible, outside-the-box thinking to meet meaningful needs. Spending time at eslite hotel gave me plenty of ideas: they could furnish rooms with longer novels to help jet-lagged travelers occupy themselves during sleepless nights, hold book fairs and other reading-oriented events, or use digital elements to enrich the front-desk space. The possibilities were everywhere—and exciting. The minds behind eslite hotel are in perfect position to deliver experience value on a unique, intangible level. They’ve turned reading—a personal, solitary pursuit by nature—into the heart of a thriving business. That founding vision is still flourishing, and it’s because it meets the needs of the place. From that basis, eslite hotel definitely has an opportunity to shape a distinctive guest experience around that spirit.

Designing environments and experiences depends on crafting a good story. When that narrative falls into place, you start weaving it into the space, the experience, the whole service—including the back end. It’s a challenge that you have to take on. At eslite, I got a clear reminder of how true that is.

Raye Fukuda
Design Manager, Studio 3
Sony Creative Center

Mercy Wu
eslite Corporation

Tony Wang
General Manager
eslite hotel

Editing and layout by AXIS editorial staff

Text by Junya Hirokawa