User Centred Design, for the long haul.

air-new-zealand-user centred design of seating.

During a 9 month project with IDEO, Air New Zealand took a user centred approach to improve seating design for their long haul services. They built full scale prototypes of cabin interiors to carry out design research, evaluating seating and service concepts with real passengers.

The project began in 2007 with a goal of understanding passenger needs during long haul flights. Following extensive interviewing of passengers and flight attendants, a design team built seat concepts from polystyrene and cardboard.

Paid actors, as well as customers sat (or lay) through three hour research sessions simulating the in-flight experience. The actors were included to enhance the sense of realism, in addition to engine noise and full cabin service.

air-new-zealand-ideo-design research

Finding a point of difference is a challenge for airlines. While Qantas’ recent design efforts focussed on the aesthetic, commissioning Marc Newson to add a layer of style to the A380 interior, Air New Zealand choose to tackle the challenge from the customer’s viewpoint, leaving style out of the question until the functionality was humming.

As well as researching the way passengers used the seating concepts, a ‘fresh eyes’ approach was taken when selecting a design team. Air New Zealand opted to work with industrial designers who had ergonomics experience, but were new to airline seating, avoid preconceptions, maximising  freedom to take risks and innovate.

A groundbreaking three year project with User Centred Design at the heart, resulting in true innovation based on fresh thinking and real customer insight.

What a dream project.

Watch an unexpectedly cheesy 2min video which will give you some glimpses into the process.

View the website created to showcase the new seating types

7 thoughts on “User Centred Design, for the long haul.

  1. Simon Hatch

    When I saw the Skycouch profiled in the NZ press recently, I was struck by two thoughts: first, this changes the game significantly and is the single biggest differentiator for the economy class market I’ve seen. Second, why has it taken so long?
    Perhaps this answers the question posed in your Oct 26 post Air New Zealand listens to customers, Or do they?

  2. Nick

    Heya Zef, yes indeed I was so pleased to hear from Trent that some home-grown smarts were behind this top work. I agree, great to be stepping away from the screen too, I’ve been working on an ‘out of box’ user research project where customer behaviour revealed some tricky real world design challenges to the packaging designers.

  3. FrankieP

    This is all great for all the reasons everyone has mentioned but I’m struck by the fact that in very many years of long-haul flight taking I’ve pretty much never had 3 seats to myself and at best had to share 3 seats with a stranger. What is the etiquette for snuggling up in that case? 😉

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