The Ultimate Insider Guides

21C was founded by Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, contemporary art collectors with a mission to recreate hotels into hubs of innovation and art that could transform communities.


(Brand Strategy, Naming, Identity Design, Business Collateral, Brandbook and Guidelines), User Research (Landscape Analysis, Guest Personas, Value Proposition), Website (UX, UI, content), Content Creation, Social Strategy

With eight award-winning properties in America’s second cities, Wilson and Brown sought to drive in visitors in three ways:  

1 Unpack the dense experience of each property, which combined high-design rooms, a chef-driven restaurant, and a contemporary art museum in each location;

2 Extend the 21C experience beyond the lobby doors via a guests-only destination guide that celebrated the neighborhood through a precise 21C lens; 

3 Differentiate the 21C brand and reinforce its position as a tastemaker and curator.

21C Museum Hotels came to Porter & Sail, where ADV’s creative team then worked. Porter & Sail was an acclaimed hotel app that married inspirational and functional guest content, “beautifully designed, bursting with functionality, and updated with regularity” (Cool Hunting), and renowned for its “stylish good looks” (Wallpaper*). 

It was an interesting challenge—inland destinations not particularly known for their food and culture scenes, but a hotel collection with great ambition.

In the same roles at Porter & Sail, ADVs Content and Design Directors shaped a digital experience for 21C’s guests that went farther than we’d ever gone before in creating the desire to visit and explore. 

Bentonville, Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, Durham, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Chicago—We realized that to make these second cities first choices, meant delivering on two very difficult things: high design and great content. 

Our Content Director ran all the early city guides personally, to define scope, voice and vibe, and to know the challenges of finding and managing world-class writers, photographers and insiders on the ground.

He proposed a thesis for each city—a culturally resonant reason to visit, which some of these towns had never really had before. With style guides, content principles, and contracts in place, a small editorial team was able to deliver complete guides in as little as six weeks each, back to back.

The final content comprised: all original writing and photography—totaling 95,000 words, 13,000 images—celebrity features, authentic reviews, artist-led audio guides for every exhibition in the 21C galleries, and itineraries aligned to a guest’s length of stay.

The app itself was a triumph of Art Direction. Well-executed UX and UI ensured an experience that users dived into and shared, delivering off-the-charts engagement for an app in the travel category: 28 minutes per user!  

These guides were never accessible to the public, remaining an exclusive product  for 21C to offer its guests, for whom they conveyed ultimate insider status.