Learn From Great Design: The Algonquin Hotel

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)


The Algonquin is a luxury hotel in New York near Times Square, designed by Goldwin Starrett and his brothers who later went on to build other famous landmarks including The Empire State Building. Having opened in 1902 and hosting some of the top creative people of the 1920s on a weekly basis, it is rich with style and history.

Algonquin’s Homepage
Algonquin’s Homepage

Credibility through Design

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Good designers completely agree with the great Apple man but that doesn’t mean visual design isn’t important at all. It’s still an important cog in the wheel of design and Apple know this more than anyone. Certainly Steve Jobs did, given how desirable Apple’s products are.

The same is absolutely true of the luxury travel industry online. In a world where aesthetics are judged within just a second of visiting a site, visual design is critical to the first impressions of a luxury website. Another study shows the majority of visitors commented on the visual credibility of travel websites and you can expect this number to be higher in the luxury travel industry.

First Impressions

You immediately get a sense of elegance and quality, two key factors of luxurious design and luxury is what the Algonquin hotel is all about. The minimal use of a yellow/gold colour on black, carried through the design, gives it a classic luxury feel. Their choice of mostly using black and white images adds to the classic appearance designed to represent their long history.


Previously, I’ve written how writing can boost your design career, so with any great design we should analyse the copywriting to show you how you can learn from it and use it write great copy for your own designs, delivering more value to your projects.

Before we analyse the copy (or write copy), we need to do some research.


After just a few minutes of researching reviews for The Algonquin Hotel on Tripadvisor, I came across a clear common point of interest amongst customers:

  • “History and Charm”
  • “A Tiny bit of History served with Elegance.”
  • “Time travel back to Manhattan”
  • “Preserving the classic charm of the past with a mix of complimentary contemporary”
  • “Historical gem in heart of NYC”
  • “Soak up the Ambiance and the History”
  • “Classic Luxury”

Clearly the history of the hotel is a big attraction. Why not make it part of your marketing strategy? You should literally take the exact words customers use and use them to promote the hotel to new customers who will also love it for its history.

While it isn’t clear if the Algonquin uses the exact words their customers say (they may have and I just haven’t come across them), they practically do as you’ll see in the following examples pulled straight from the website:

“Blending the old with the new”

“Stay with us, be inspired and write the next top novel”

“Stay with us, be inspired and write the next top novel”
“Stay with us, be inspired and write the next top novel”

“In 1933, John Barrymore came up with the idea to have blue lighting the bar.”

“All 25 suites are named after legendary guests and patrons of the hotel.”

“Goldwin Starrett and his brothers designed The Algonquin. They went on to build many other famous landmarks including The Empire State Building.”

As you can see they really express the history of the hotel in titles and copy all over the site. Clearly they know their target market and are catering directly to them. People are drawn to the history so much, they even don’t mind the “small” rooms, even saying as much in their reviews.

More Great Copy

“It may be the city that never sleeps, but guests have no trouble drifting off in the luxurious comfort of a King guest room”

A lovely use of an internationally recognised phrase to promote the comfort of their beds.

“To date, the hotel has sold three $10,000 martinis.”

This grabs attention and highlights the luxury/boutique nature of the hotel in a shocking way. “Who would pay that much for a drink?” is almost certainly your immediate thought.

“You will delight in…

“You will delight in…”
“You will delight in…”

This is a delightful way of heading a list of a room’s features. The key thing they’re doing here is making it about the customer not just the hotel.

The Not-So Great Design

Overall, the website for The Algonquin Hotel is definitely great design but there are a couple of small little changes that could potentially make a big difference.

Homepage Title

“Welcome to the Algonquin Hotel” isn’t a very strong start in terms of copywriting. It doesn’t tell you anything other than you’re probably on the homepage and as the name of the hotel is on each page, it’s not doing anything of value.

As we’ve done research on what actual customers love about the hotel, it would be more effective to lead with something about the history of the place itself.

Something along the lines of these examples would be much better:

  • Relax in Fine New York History
  • Time Travel Back to Manhattan
  • History and Charm Near Times Square
  • Soak up the Ambiance and the History
  • Welcome to the Classic Luxury of the Algonquin Hotel

Do you notice something about most of those options? That’s right, they’re “stolen” right from the mouths (ok, keyboard) of actual customers.

Although redundant, these examples could still be proceeded with “Welcome to The Algonquin Hotel”, or like the last example, even just the addition of a couple of words could make all the difference.


There isn’t a strong enough call-to-action to book a stay at the hotel beyond the homepage because when do you see a “BOOK NOW” button, it doesn’t have enough prominence as can be seen in the screenshot below.

The call-to-actions are the only real weak point
The call-to-actions are the only real weak point

At least it’s at the bottom of every page but as an improvement, it should be fixed in the top right corner of every page too, so no matter where you are, you can book a room.

This is what that would look like:

A more prominent and persistent call-to-action
A more prominent and persistent call-to-action

As you can see, the yellow/gold colour increases the visual weight so people will be more likely to notice it and it’s smaller than standard buttons to prevent it from becoming too distracting.

Classic Luxury

There is no doubt that the design of Algonquin’s website captures the classic luxury feel of a hotel with well over 100 years of history.

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with 9 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.