Reimagining Flight With People at the Center: How Design Thinking Can Change Air Travel

To borrow a phrase from a colleague, everything designers do starts with people. This is especially true here at Transpose, where conversations and research with both passengers and the aviation industry have driven our modular reinvention of commercial flight. It's easy to focus on the engineering it takes to make this happen; what's equally compelling is how passengers responded to design in a totally transformed cabin.

Passenger experience is about more than just legroom; it's an emotional journey. So while we build our first full-scale module (more on that in a future post) we've also been taking an experiential approach, asking questions like:

  • How might Transpose change the way people feel and behave during a flight?
  • How might Transpose change the way people plan their trip?

As the passenger experience design and research lead on Transpose, I'm proud to work with partners Neon Black Design and !dean to explore these opportunities in commercial flight. We're committed to innovating in the open, so in that spirit I'm excited to share what we've been learning.

A conceptual Transpose aircraft.

What do NASCAR fans and train commuters have in common?

Even before Transpose had a name, we engaged with Neon Black Design, a human-centered design firm , to investigate how innovating in the cabin would influence the "people mechanics" of a flight.

Neon Black started by researching why customers become "superfans" of experiences across hospitality and transportation. Though this research included elite fliers, it also included NASCAR enthusiasts, cruise ship aficionados , high speed rail commuters, and capsule hotel guests.

The Neon Black team research experiences that were analagous to travel and flight, such as NASCAR and pod hotels. Photo credit: Neon Black Design

What are they getting out of those experiences that drives them to be million-milers? The insight was that these "superfans" saw these experiences as a way to carve out valuable "me time."

How do you make both extroverts and introverts happy at 30,000 feet?

Opening up new activities for passenger experience is what makes Transpose compelling-passengers can make the most out of transportation time to do something personally enriching, or as an opportunity to have quality time with friends and family. But how might this work in a crowded airplane cabin? Neon Black found 66 people who were excited to help us find the answer by taking part in a simulated 4 hour flight.

At a historic airplane hangar in San Francisco, we built a mock fuselage and guided passengers from "takeoff'' to "landing" in a low-fidelity prototype passenger cabin (aka props from IKEA) that included a spa, restaurant, and game room. Here's what we found:

  • Passengers loved being able to stand, hang out, and wander around the cabin.
  • Extroverts loved being able to chat at the bar, but introverts searched for quiet spots.
  • There are more social and behavioral norms to consider in an active cabin: for example, how do you know if that seat in front of you is available? How do you manage passengers leaving one activity to go to another?

A low-fidelity aircraft for a passenger experience research study at Crissy Fie ld, San Franc is co. The area was a former U.S. Army airfield.

Research participants move through the different "cabin" areas.

The journey begins long before you pack

Two hot topics in the travel industry are enhancing personalization, and looking holistically at other touch points in a traveler's end-to-end experience. For Transpose, this comes together in reimagining the booking experience. Booking a typical flight means picking a destination, a date, and a seat; there isn't much room for choice. On a Transpose flight, passengers will expect a personalized itinerary.

This is why we've partnered with global design and strategy firm Idean. In their initial research, Idean found:

  • Travelers need to be guided through the purchase process in stages: discovering, choosing, then customizing their unique journey.

Some people find it more relaxing to schedule items ahead of time ("Planners"), while others find it hard to predict what they're going to feel like doing at a future time ("Non-Planners"). A booking solution needed to be flexible in considering the needs of travelers across this spectrum.

From those insights, Idean created a well-designed functional booking experience, which makes choosing and personalizing a Transpose journey as novel as the flight itself.

With Transpose, you can book different experiences for your glight based on Collections—or curated experiences personalized for the passenger.

What's Next for Transpose

I'm excited to work with Idean, Neon Black Design and other partners to move from insights to flight.

To get flying, we're looking broadly for inspiration, as designers love to do, and we're excited to collaborate.