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Designing for hospitality

Unreasonable Hospitality and Design

As the winter has turned into spring this year, I've been doing a whole lot of walking. Most days, I do a steady 4-5 mile lap around my neighborhood. It's a great way to get some fresh air, get some exercise, and get some mental space to balance out the hours I spend sitting at my desk.

It's also a fantastic time to listen to some podcasts and audiobooks, and I gotta tell you: one book in particular has taken hold of me. I can't stop thinking about it.

It's called Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara.

Unreasonable Hospitality

Guidara is a restauranteur and hospitality expert. He's known for his work at Eleven Madison Park, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. Guidara also cofounded as Make It Nice, a hospitality group that includes several other restaurants and bars.

In the book, Guidara talks about the principles of hospitality that he's learned over the course of his career in the restaurant industry. He talks about the importance of listening to customers, and anticipating their needs.

Unreasonable Hospitality book cover
Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara

Guidara's teams are the best in the world at providing a memorable experience: they look for small details about their guests that they can use to make them feel special. They go above and beyond to make sure that every guest has a great experience.

They do this while trimming away the unnecessary, the superfluous, and the extraneous. They're not just about making people feel special -- they're about making people feel unreasonably special.

One thing I love about the author is that despite working at some of the top restaurants in the world, he describes himself as more cheeseburger than caviar. That hits home with me.

Fine dining, smashburgers, and... TypeScript?

Although Unreasonable Hospitality is largely about restaurants, it's not just for people who work in food service. It's for anyone who wants to create a welcoming, inclusive, and memorable experience for their customers.

In other words, it's for everyone who works in product design. If you're reading this, that almost certainly includes you.

Hospitality and design principles

Guidara's book is full of stories and lessons from his time in the restaurant industry. He talks about the importance of creating a welcoming environment, of making people feel special, and of going above and beyond to make sure that every guest has a great experience.

As a designer, I found myself nodding along with a lot of what Guidara had to say. The principles of hospitality that he talks about -- things like making people feel welcome, anticipating their needs, and creating a sense of community -- are common to some of my absolute favorite end user experiences.

The most memorable products I've ever used have gone out of their way to make me feel like I was part of something special. Some examples:

How We Feel

The gorgeously designed How We Feel app is a mood tracking & journaling app that is pleasant to use, visually appealing, and just-the-right-amount of instructive.

How We Feel app
How We Feel distills a complex set of emotions into a satisfying, 2-dimensional space.

The first time I fired it up to log my mood, I was immediately struck by how nice it felt to use. The app lays out a huge number of selections for current mood on a 2-dimensional axis: left to right is pleasant and unpleasant, and top to bottom is high energy and low energy. It's a simple, intuitive way to distill a complex set of emotions into a satisfying, 2-dimensional space.

The real magic comes after the first few times you log your mood. The app gently and progressively presents short, thoughtful videos to help you understand your mood better. It's like having a therapist in your pocket, and it's so well done. Hooked!


My team uses Tuple for remote pair programming. The app is fast, reliable, and beautifully designed. You can feel that is has been made for devs, and helps my team work more closely together even though we're spread out across the country.

So what stood out to me about Tuple? At the end of most calls, you're presented with a UI asking you to rate the call on a scale of 1-5, with an open text field for notes.

In my experience most calls are a perfect 5/5. However, if I ever have a less-than-perfect call experience (which is a vanishingly rare occurrence at this point), I'll leave a short note about what seemed to go wrong.

The Tuple team has never failed to follow up with me about my feedback. Their reps are friendly, helpful, and so knowledgeable. Good customer service is such a difference-maker, and Tuple nails it.

Tuple app
Tuple offers simple productivity, and their support staff are absolutely wonderful.

Designing for hospitality

So how can we apply the principles of hospitality to our design work? Here are a few ideas:

Do an experience audit: Take a look at your product from the perspective of a new user. What's the onboarding process like? How easy is it to find the features they need? Are there any pain points that could be smoothed out? Are there moments where you could show them a better experience based on what you already know about them?

Take a look at your competition: What's the typical experience like for your competition's users? How can you differentiate yourself by offering a more welcoming, inclusive, and memorable experience? Is there a way to identify a niche in the market that you can serve better than anyone else?

Talk to your users: You just can't beat conversation. Reach out to a variety of your users to see what they like about your product. Talk to your best users, ones who may be at risk of churning, and if you're able, ones who have already churned. Take note of any commonalities and differences in these conversations. What can you learn from them?

Take the idea, and go parabolic

Once you've done your research, I think it's helpful to ask a more pie-in-the-sky question: in a perfect world, what would you do to blow your users' minds? What would make them feel like they specifically are being seen?

Write down these ideas in as simple of a format as you're able to - a sentence or two is fine.

Then, ask yourself honestly: how close can you get to these ideals with the resources you have available? Move the needle as much as you can, and keep iterating.

You'll know when you've hit the mark. Your customers will, too.

Go get yourself a copy of Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara. You'll love it.

From around the internet this week

  • YouTuber Foureyes Furniture recently shared the story of how one of their designs was stolen by a large-scale manufacturer of furniture. I love Foureyes' work, and it's a bummer to see this happen to them. The storytelling in this video is top-notch, and it's a great example of how to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

  • My Brother, My Brother, and Me is my favorite podcast (shout out to my sister Kris for recommending it to me years ago!) Their recent episode 707: Crispy Cuppy Puppies is one of the funniest I can remember. It's strange, and it's worth a listen.

My work online

  • 🎙️ My interview for APIs You Won't Hate with Suchintan Singh from Skyvern
  • My work on was featured in the most recent APIs You Won't Hate newsletter: Revamping You may remember my recent dispatch about working on a project with Astro - this is that, and it's getting closer to launch!

Thanks for reading Tiny Improvements. If you found this helpful, I'd love it if you shared this with a friend. It helps me out a great deal.

Until next time - be excellent to each other!

Designing for hospitality

"Unreasonable Hospitality" by Will Guidara outlines how to making customers feel exceptionally special. Let's bring these hospitality principles to tech, by creating memorable experiences, and using hospitality to elevate customer satisfaction in product design, engaging with the people using our products.



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