Vahana Design Process Part I: Putting Pen to Paper

The concept of personal flight has been a dream of humankind since we first took to the skies. We’ve seen it conceptualized in comic books, television shows, and futuristic sci-fi movies.

Vahana began as all great concepts do; as an idea. One might imagine that bringing this kind of concept to life begins with a group of aerospace engineers gathered around a table, pouring over schematics and blueprints. Our story is a little different, the very first image of Vahana was sketched on a napkin. It wasn’t exactly a blueprint, but it was our first step towards making our vision a reality. And, more importantly, it was tangible.

As Vahana’s design evolved, we knew that we couldn’t tether it to sci-fi aircraft from films such as Blade Runner and Star Trek. Those concepts are fine for initial inspiration, but there’s a reason that they’re fictional: they aren’t always the most practical or technologically feasible. Structurally and aerodynamically, what looks cool on screen won’t necessarily be able to house the components that we need to make the aircraft fly the way we want it to — safely and efficiently.

As we gained a clearer vision of what technological elements we needed to incorporate into Vahana, our early inspiration took on a new form. We explored a universe of designs that included features such as the space to fit a person comfortably inside, the power to take off vertically, the ability to gracefully transition to forward flight, all while having the capability to economically move people across our cities.

Within a short time, the first renderings of Vahana were complete. The next phase of design required figuring out how exactly we were going to integrate the features needed for flight with the aesthetic we wanted. This phase required a constant interplay between function and design.

The main objective of our engineers was function, and the main goal of our designers was sleek aesthetics. Designers wanted to evoke sci-fi inspired shapes, structural engineers wanted to make Vahana as light as possible, and aerodynamicists wanted sleek, high-performance wings. However, when the end product works mechanically, but lacks innovative styling, you’re going to have a tough time convincing people to get on board.

Vahana’s ultimate design combines an aesthetic that will make people feel relaxed, safe, and secure. It’s not just about having a product that people look at and say, “Wow, that’s cool!” Good design helps make people feel comfortable and provides a premium experience and peace of mind.

We finalized the details that resulted in a well-integrated product. We went back and forth on the specific features we wanted to include. We had to figure out where the batteries would sit, details about the aerodynamic surfaces, and even engineering details around passenger ingress and egress. We also factored in the economic parameters, operational concepts, and technical parameters that generally focus on customer-facing performance.

Having a dynamic team in place allowed the design process to move quickly. Our engineers fed technical advice to the designers and the designers replied with visual guidance. The team would get together, talk about how certain features should work, sketch our ideas on paper, and by the end of the same day the designers would have a detailed, colorized image ready for review. This process let us see how new features fit within the design in a timely manner, ensuring we didn’t move on to a new feature with an old design in mind.

We also tackled Vahana’s interior in this way. Our main vision was for a sleek, minimalistic interior design with a strong focus on the user experience. The seats, modeled after those used in modern helicopters, graciously contour to the spine while providing enough space to ensure that commuters don’t feel cramped. The customer’s experience with onboarding, loading luggage, and in-flight communication were also designed to fit neatly in this environment.

Once we had settled on a design that could bring the vision of Vahana to life, we drafted renderings in cityscapes. The most important aspect in this image is the “form language,” which goes back to the concept of balancing design and functionality. Our form language entails displaying Vahana’s canopy as very sleek and modern. It’s that canopy that we strove to make distinctly “Vahana.” It’s like our signature style, something that makes Vahana its own entity that sticks out in the minds of commuters. This kind of branding is important as more companies enter into this market. It’s something that people can recognize. It might seem trivial, but having a distinct feature makes the overall experience that much better for riders. Our form language has been important to us since we first sketched out Vahana on a napkin, and it’s remained a constant presence throughout the process. This is just the first phase of many on the quest towards making Vahana a reality. We’ll continue to show you the process here on the blog, please follow along.

- Zach Lovering