Waterfront seat

The Waterfront seat concept is an example of how an ecosystem of innovators can develop a unique passenger experience, according to Stefan Pannenbecker, TEAGUE’s vice-president of Global Design Studios. Image via TEAGUE

APEX Insight: Holistic design encapsulates a number of hardware and software elements that define and enhance the passenger experience. In this series, we share insights from the industry’s top designers about these elements and discover how they can complement and magnify each other.

Airlines should embrace the age of digital disruption and design their passenger experience around it, suggested Stefan Pannenbecker, TEAGUE’s vice-president of Global Design Studios, during a presentation at the Aviation Festival in London this past September. This strategy, he explained, will not only modernize the journey and make it more user-friendly – it will ensure that aviation remains competitive and relevant. “Rather than think of [digital disruption] as a threat, it’s better to think of it as an opportunity and embrace this change and this dynamic,” he said.

Think Like a Disruptor

Pannenbecker outlined the five key qualities of an airline that is ready to embrace the digital age: an in-house culture that embraces disruption, a desire to build more personal interactions with customers, a commitment to building a community with suppliers and technology consultants, the ability to think like a disruptor and an eagerness to work toward a continuation of the customer relationship beyond the journey.  “It could be very simple straightforward things that extend the experience with the airline,” he said. “Maybe I can finish a movie that I watched on the plane in the lounge. Maybe an airline can offer to transport my luggage to the hotel for a fee.”

The key to thinking like a disruptor, according to Pannenbacker, is to consider an outsider’s take on the industry. “Apple isn’t going to start an airline, but it’s interesting to think about what would happen if it did,” he said. “Think like a technology company and deeply listen to those ‘crazy engineers’ at your company … Or act as a social network and create a community among developers and also among your passengers to pull them into your brand.”

At the Forefront: Waterfront Seat Concept

“As a design group, we believe truly that it’s about building ecosystems rather than individual experiences that we group together,” said Pannenbacker. As an example of how an ecosystem of innovators can develop a unique passenger experience, Pannenbecker presented the Waterfront seat concept, developed through a collaboration between B/E Aerospace, Formation Design Group, Panasonic Avionics and TEAGUE.

The Waterfront seat includes in-flight personalization features like storing passengers’ preferred content, music choices, seat settings and lighting configuration, but Pannenbecker suggested that such customized service could eventually extend beyond the aircraft. “Imagine the seat would recognize you when you get on the plane and it knows you’re going to Seattle, what hotel you’re going to, and it lets you preorder in-room dining,” he said.

Throughout the process of digital design, airlines should ensure that their technologies humanize the experience, with natural interactions, gestures and speech, and capitalize on developments in artificial intelligence. Pannenbecker believes that airlines are ready to embrace the age of smart cabins by using data to create more personalized experiences. “Airlines are excellent at collecting data,” he said. “Using that data to do these things is an excellent opportunity.”

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.