Express Smart Guide

Being informed means being the Readiest™.

Web Design




A new VisID for Holiday Inn Express was coming in hot, accompanied by a new set of core programs being re-tooled at the hotel level.


Develop a marketing campaign consisting of pre-stay emails containing a heavily branded "Smart Guide" featuring hotel essentials and other relevant information.


In April 2016, navigating to would bring you face to face with American comedian Rob Riggle.

Riggle was hired to be the guest-facing "creative director" for Holiday Inn Express. This was all well and good, except for the fact that Riggle's goofy brand of comedy was a poor representation of Holiday Inn Express, a high-profile hospitality brand with over 200,000 rooms worldwide. Here are some examples of the dichotomy I'm talking about:

Photos of actor Rob Riggle being a goofball, as seen in a Google Images search.

This brand, easily the largest in IHG's Portfolio, was in dire need of a maturity boost. May 2016 served as the launch point for this rebrand, a considerable effort whose intended roadmap spanned more than two years.

In order to soft-launch this new identity, the brand team brought me on to help develop a multi-level international campaign. Set to launch in September 2016, a pilot program was planned for two hotels in Greater China consisting of targeted pre-stay emails, informational PDFs & in-hotel digital signage. The goal was to introduce members to a slew of new programs called "Experiential Moments", focused on improving the guest experience at key touchpoints.

As shiny and new as this branding was, it would require significant platform knowledge, attention to detail, and some good old fashioned problem-solving to launch this campaign.

A photo of the Holiday Inn Express styleguide showcasing various vibrant blues and orange colors which were used in this project

I'm always up for a challenge.

The brand PDF was 157-pages of super-fun constraints we were asked to strictly adhere to. Everything was thought out and carefully mulled over for each situation the way brand guidelines should be.

Because of this, treading lightly became an essential part of the creative process, with every pixel meticulously combed over for detail.

The first iteration was based mostly on existing IHG pre-stay HTML emails. Since 100% of the text in these templates was live, I decided to use Tahoma instead of brand font Amsi Pro for accessibility. Here was the first point of contention; stakeholders put their foot down that the email must prominently feature brand fonts, no exceptions. Despite the implications for accessibility, I needed to compromise: headers would be featured in colorful, Amsi Pro JPGs, while the customization-heavy body copy would stay Tahoma.

An image of printed out iterations of the smart guide piled on top of one-another with revision notes on them in red ink

A vision in blue.

Another significant point of friction was the content of the email. Initially, I included all the traditional content of a pre-stay email; reservation details, hotel information, trip extra, et cetera. These sections would come and go throughout the versioning as higher-ups debated their value. Ultimately all these slots would be stripped, save for reservation details, the most critical pre-stay information. All other space was officially dedicated to the visualization of the brand manifesto.

With this in mind, imagery and line art were next up for discussion. Lifestyle photography helped dictate a large part of the brand's tone and energy. However, in later versions, we aimed to be rid of it altogether. This shift helped the sends feel more on brand while also reducing vertical height, as the inclusion of imagery wound up forcing critical information further down the page than was desired. Ultimately, I switched over to line art for a more branded, visually sparing experience.

A guest at a hotel checkin reaching into her purse. On the table in front of her is a screen with the smart guide on it, with blue and white sections detailing relevant information for the guests stay

I promise I'm almost done complaining.

The final deliverable was the smart guide. This information-laden chronicle featured maps, iconography, and stay related information intended to help guests have a more rounded hotel experience. However, during the production of these assets, the way we envisioned users interacting with these guides shifted.

Originally pitched as a microsite experience with clickable links, the project transformed halfway through to be more print and display friendly. It was a wonderful transition from full digital to a sort of hybrid; instead of delivering HTML, a PDF format was used for a more universal display. The CTAs for address & phone numbers were removed to streamline the content. I hand drew supplementary icons for features such as in-room refrigerators and fresh towels, adding visual flair to less stimulating sections. After all that deliberation, the final product was surprisingly enjoyable.

The final guides were delivered in English and Chinese PDFs for web viewing and various standard aspect ratios for in-hotel display. The saving grace of this information-laden piece was, surprisingly enough, was the plasticity that the new identity afforded me, helping to condense the information overload into highly digestible, visually appealing segments.

With these manuals, we managed to create an experience instead of just beating users over the head with content. Imagine that.

A guest shaking hands with a desk clerk at a hotel. On the wall next to her is a television with the smart guide on it, with blue and white sections detailing relevant information for the guests stay

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