John-TigheDesign is a really big deal for brands, but cabin interiors aren’t always top of mind for people when they think about airline brands. Can design really change that?

It’s a topic we’re always talking about. In the past airlines probably haven’t differentiated and advertised on their cabin product so much.

I think it’s because they’re worried about consistency. Even if you introduce a new product, it’s going to take a couple of years before that product is on all of your aircraft and often with bigger fleets it never will be, so it’s difficult for airlines to actually sell people on what their cabin offering is.

But that’s changing. With one of our clients, American Airlines, they have ad campaigns that are really showing the product off, which is great.

Hopefully that will be a growing trend with airlines, where they’ll realize that the cabin is an asset and if they’re investing in it they should start using it a little bit more.

This year Singapore Airlines was awarded World’s Best Business Class Airlines Seats at the World Airline Awards. The seats give people more room, they’re comfier and their equipped with digital capabilities. They also cost SIA U.S. $150 million. Why do you think these seats have been such a success?

There are certain things a seat or product offering has to do. For Singapore airlines it has to be a warm and welcoming space that suits their brand identity.

Singapore Airlines are very focused on delivering excellent service and that actually affects how you design the seats. What we really focused on was creating a cabin space that was conducive to excellent service.

When you travel frequently on business class you realize that a lot of the seats are actually detrimental to passenger service. They’re causing problems and the cabin crew has to work around them and make the best of what they’ve got.

Any examples?

Tables or cocktail trays are often poorly positioned. If I want to serve a drink to you I need it to be clear I’m presenting you with something without being invasive. You’d be surprised how few seats actually allow that to happen.

People who travel a lot do notice these things. Even if it’s unconscious, they notice whether the service was good or not and whether the space was appropriate to that service.

The new Singapore business class seats are

The new Singapore business class seats are designed to allow flight attendants to provide personalized service and preserve interaction with passengers.

Can you tell us what your process looks like when working on interiors?

It varies across airlines, but we tend to break down projects in the same way. Design is always an iterative process and it’s very rare that you get a clear and complete brief from the client. It’s a team exercise.

One of the most important things in the project is having the right people at the reviews and meetings. For example, always having a cabin crew representative and a service representative at each meeting.

Some airlines may consider that to be superfluous, but by having them there and ensuring they have a voice throughout the process ultimately makes a better product. That’s what I consider to be a key element to what happened at Singapore.

The Industry is going through a boom and entering what some are calling a second Golden Era. At the same time more people are getting crammed into economy class, or at least that’s how the media is portraying it. As a designer, how should airlines handle this balancing act?

Most people’s initial reaction when they come from another industry is, “can you give us more leg room in economy?” It’s kind of the natural reaction.

I think it’s a misconception that effort doesn’t go into economy. There’s an awful lot of stuff going into trying to improve it. But the important and interesting point is how the market is diversifying.

There’s economy plus and premium economy and even business minus, so hopefully in the future passengers should at least be able to pick where on that spectrum they want to be.

Often it’s a trade off between how much you are willing to spend or what compromises you’re prepared to make in order to get a bit more leg room or extra service. What’s good is that the range of choice should be broadening.

Why do you think a design-led approach leads to a happy passenger experience?

There’s a growing recognition of the value of design. People do notice, they are discerning and they’ll try airlines out. They’ll pick a favourite and actually assess it on what they feel is important.

I think airlines and other companies are realizing that taking a design lead and really focusing on making everything as good as possible for the user can be incredibly powerful in terms of winning market share.

It’s not just a trend within aviation. It’s worldwide. I’m not sure if I’d call it a second golden era but I think it’s a very exciting time.