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Huis Clos: Furnished in the Style of the Second Empire

Second EmpireThey say not to judge a book by its cover, but when I walked into a hotel in Brussels and saw it decorated “in the style of the French Second Empire,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Scene description of Huis Clos (No Exit, in English): a plain room furnished in the style of the French ‘Second Empire’.

One note (and potential – minor – spoiler, for those who haven’t read No Exit). No Exit takes place in Hell. The implication is that Hell, at least for some people, is decorated in the style of Louis XIV’s elegant and overly elaborate red velvet brocades and gold and gilded chandeliers. So when I see that style, I immediately laugh to myself, “welcome to Hell.”

I won’t say that the furnishings made my stay a poor one, but over the course of my evening and morning at the hotel, every interaction was colored by my initial impression. When construction started outside at 5am… when the AC didn’t work… when housekeeping came in while I was in the shower… when housekeeping returned as I was dressing and insisted on taking my sheets and blankets(?!?!)… each time, I immediately thought “of course. I am in Hell.”

It’s unlikely that the hotel decided their customer experience didn’t matter, and then choose to decorate in this style. And of course, had the hotel been decorated differently, I would still have been frustrated by the lack of AC, ongoing construction, and bizarre housekeeping schedule. But it reminded me that “don’t judge a book by its cover” is intended to refer to people, not books – and certainly not experiences.

When it comes to experiences, first impressions matter. Visual impressions create expectations, which our usability and content needs to match. If you design your entrance to look like Hell, then Hell is what people will expect.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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