PriestmanGoode United Polaris

PriestmanGoode’s Quad seat, designed for the Untied Polaris lounges, incorporates a host of user-friendly details, including a coat hook, storage for carry-on bags, a pullout table with integrated tablet holder, charging points and a reading lamp. Image via PriestmanGoode

APEX Insight: In the third installment of our series on holistic design, PriestmanGoode’s Luke Hawes explains how attention to passengers’ interaction within the cabin space can lead to dramatic experience improvements and enhance the value of the brand.

With flawed functionality, even the most eye-catching cabin designs can be a turnoff to passengers. Many cabin interactions, including elements we take for granted as mandatory, could use a fresh perspective.

“Excellence is in the details,” says Luke Hawes, designer and director at PriestmanGoode, London. “As a designer, you want to create an environment where everything is intuitive, and everything has a place. Our latest first-class cabin for SWISS, for instance, includes headphone hooks and dedicated tablet storage with power outlets that are easily accessible.”

PriestmanGoode SWISS

PriestmanGoode’s latest first-class cabin for SWISS, for instance, includes headphone hooks and dedicated tablet storage with power outlets that are easily accessible. Image via PriestmanGoode

PriestmanGoode’s commitment to user-friendly spaces and products is also evident in the Quad seat, a bespoke feature of the United Polaris lounge that mirrors the experience of the Polaris seat, scheduled to launch in flight next month. It incorporates a host of convenient details, including a coat hook, storage for carry-on bags, a pullout table with integrated tablet holder, charging points and a reading lamp.

While we all value the regulations which keep aviation safe, Hawes believes greater collaboration with regulators might help smooth out some user-experience wrinkles. “For the most part, those standards are for safety concerns, but there are some instances in which there is perhaps a certain overuse, which gets in the way of creating a coherent, branded cabin interior,” he says. “For example, it’s been almost two decades since smoking was banned on commercial aircraft, and everyone knows you can’t smoke on a plane, yet, there are still no smoking signs on every seat, in galleys and lavatories. There is also an overuse of placarding, such as with signs that point to exit signs, even though the latter are clearly visible. Visually streamlining this would be better for the passenger experience, whilst retaining the same level of safety.”

“Excellence is in the details.” – Luke Hawes, PriestmanGoode

But not all passenger-space interaction is structural. With enhanced usability, Hawes says, in-flight entertainment (IFE) offers an excellent opportunity for brand engagement. “The IFE is what passengers are looking at for the majority of their journey. On long-haul flights for instance, your passenger may be using IFE for up to 11 hours. It’s your most effective way to connect with, or lose, your passengers,” he tells us. “A poorly designed IFE for instance, may incite passengers to pick up a book instead. A well-designed IFE, on the other hand, can draw passengers in.”

Hawes suggests extending the user-friendly features of IFE beyond in-flight movies and television, to digital interactions which result in real-life satisfaction. Some airlines already incorporate these features, like food orders placed on in-flight entertainment menus on Virgin America and Norwegian, and duty-free shopping on Finnair’s Nordic Sky Wi-Fi portal. “You could even create a numbered queuing system for the lavatories, so that passengers could queue without having to stand in the aisle,” Hawes says. “Successfully keeping your passengers entertained and using IFE means they are engaging with your brand during every moment of their journey, and this is a key part of creating a positive passenger experience.”

Carefully considering the details of passengers’ interactions with products and services and finding ways to make them smoother and more rewarding is a critical part of the design process. As Hawes says: “An important part of improving brand perception is by demonstrating to customers that you are a people-centric business, that you live to serve the consumer and that passenger needs are constantly being evaluated and products refined to better suit current and future demands.”

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.