Inspiration: how to reach high flying creativity

This article is a translation. The original was written by Andrés Hatum for La Nacion.

The key to understanding how London design studio Factorydesign is revolutionising the aviation industry.

In Chiswick, West London, we find Factorydesign, one of the main creative design agencies which focuses on aviation. Here I meet with Creative Director and partner Adrian Berry. “Within a 20km radius you will find five of the main design agencies working in the aviation industry. We know them all, and are all competing for the same thing. 60% of global airline design projects are undertaken by these five agencies.” With a team of designers, engineers, aviation specialists & project managers, Factorydesign has created designs which have revolutionised the passenger experience.

Berry is an engineer and worked in design & architecture agencies until, along with his partners, he founded Factorydesign, which has designed products and cabin interiors for some of the world’s major airlines such as British Airways, Delta, SAS, Aer Lingus & Etihad, among many others. “Our first aviation project came about because we lost another. We had put forward a bid to work on a Boeing 747 for BA, but didn’t win it. However, they then phoned us to say they had something else for us. We initially thought it was a consolation prize, but no: they wanted us to design the interior of Concorde.”

“Creative design requires time,” explains Berry, “and as such we decided to focus on working with airlines, as those projects are long term and allow us to demonstrate as much creativity as possible.”

What are the keys to devise creative designs in an industry which is known for incremental rather than disruptive innovation?

Integrated solutions for the client: “We provide an integrated solution for the whole cabin. In this way, the airline can focus solely on the creative process, as can the suppliers. Many people think that a plane is made of one piece. This is true for the mechanical part. However the inside is all  made separately – and has to then come through the door of the plane!”

One incredible project for Factorydesign was the interiors of Etihad’s Airbus 380, the airline of Abu Dhabi. “Once we had designed the cabins and the rest of the plane we worked with Airbus and their suppliers to ensure we could achieve these designs. Once this was established, we started working with each one. At first they saw as us enemies, we weren’t doing what is normal in the industry. However when they saw the results they began to accept us with enthusiasm.”

Transforming brands and experiences: “Our primary goal is the power to understand the brand, the history of the company, the context, how to work alongside them. We try to identify each of these things.” Berry’s design ethos is to focus on the passenger experience and the airline’s interaction with them. “It’s not just about creating a beautiful product: we need to be asking the right questions to interpret the ideals and values of the company we are working with. To be creative requires clever questions.”

Collaboration: “Never underestimate what has been done before. You have to team up with the company.” Collaboration is essential to Berry: “We develop creative design to make sure the full passenger experience is good. The complete experience, from browsing online till they arrive at the airport. The most important part is when they are actually inside the plane. We test our products before they are fitted onto the plane, like a theatre rehearsal, even the fabrics & upholstery we use. Without the collaboration of everyone involved, we would forget that anything could be possible.

Incorporating industry-changing innovation: “To achieve disruption in the industry, a pretty design is not enough. You need to think about changing the face of the industry. This is more difficult and can be met with resistance, however this is what needs to be done to make an impact.” Berry commented on this with regard to Factorydesign’s work with Etihad: “When you get on a plane, any plane, it’s boring. The aisles are boring, there’s no continuity within the plane. We try to introduce small details, such as the on-board bar we designed for the Etihad A380. Nobody enters a hotel through the kitchen. The first thing you notice on a plane is the food, and how it smells. So we thought about how to combat this, how to change the experience of entering the plane.”

How to inspire a company to create unique designs for airlines? “Inspiration? You can think about creativity as a series of miraculous inspirations. I believe that is a complete process, where firstly you have to understand what you are being asked and write a proposal. This consolidation of ideas lets you understand timing, costs and everything that needs to be done. Then, you have to sit for a week to understand who the business is and how it works, how they are perceived, how they are seen by their customers. This is the first step. You must understand and observe to be able to see where the best opportunities are. From here starts the creative process”, assures Factorydesign’s number one.

Breaking the rules: Factorydesign ensures that one of the keys to their business is their ability to break the rules of the game in such a traditional industry as commercial aviation.

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