The next time you walk into a hotel lobby or check in for a flight at an airport, look over your shoulder. You may notice someone watching your every move.

There's no need to be alarmed. That someone may simply be a consultant hired by the hotel or airline to help make travel easier and more enjoyable.

As hotels and airlines look for ways to distinguish themselves from competitors, they're turning increasingly to outside firms for help in designing a travel experience that's both appealing to a younger, more style-conscious generation but at the same time cost-effective.

One company that has carved a niche for itself in the area of travel design is Ideo Inc. The Palo Alto, Calif., firm has worked on several travel-related projects, such as developing hand-held in-flight entertainment devices for Lufthansa and helping Amtrak design the interiors of its high-speed Acela trains. Most recently, Ideo was hired by Marriott International to revamp its hotel lobbies and rooms. In addition to its travel work, Ideo has helped design products such as a stand-up toothpaste tube for Procter & Gamble and a kiosk machine McDonald's customers can use to order and pay for food, instead of waiting in line at the counter.

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