Re-imagining the passenger experience with an eye for delivering tangible improvements requires not just more design “but better, great design” that sits at the very heart of innovation and not “as the wrapping paper that often ends up being the ‘lipstick on a pig’”, design expert Geoff McCormick suggests.
McCormick, who serves as director of experience-led design at UK design firm The Alloy, believes that designers excel at understanding the complex interplay between physical ergonomics, emotional ergonomics and the tools/technologies required to deliver the requisite experience. As such, he suggests that designers – not management or even engineers – need to sit at the heart of the innovation process.
“To be clear, this is not about a better seat or a nicer cabin, but a better experience,” he says. “Long ago I spoke with one of the guys who developed the cabin for the [Boeing] 787 Dreamliner. The most profound comment he made was to say that by the time someone stepped onto an aircraft they were exhibiting the same physiological symptoms of either committing or being the victim of a crime – intense emotions. His job was to try to dial them down, to make them relax just a little.
“So, his job was to try and mitigate the dreadful airport experience. There are countless tales of awful experiences – delayed planes where the passengers sit in their seats next to the gate while nobody tells them what is going on. In this age of constant communication and connectivity this does not work, it is just not good enough. I know why this happens, but I also know that existing technology like social media, and new technologies like the ‘Internet of Things’ mean that airlines and airports could know where any specific passenger is at any given time, and that getting passengers to the right gate, at the right time will become much, much easier.”
McCormick opines that inflight entertainment is among the elements of the passenger experience that could use a rethink. Mentioning IFE to people “will immediately conjure images of small(ish) screens and handsets – is that all we really want? Can we not be entertained in other ways? Can we not explore the use of passive displays to play a game of space invaders on the cabin ceiling, or use augmented reality to provide the ‘superman’ view of sitting on the nose of the aircraft? What about being able to interrogate the landscape using a virtual magnifying glass? I know all of these will have been explored in some way, and I know there are issues, challenges and problems with them all. What is needed is joined up thinking that seeks to provide a smooth, consistent passenger experience, and this is where experience led design and innovation steps up to the plate.”
It’s no secret that communications challenges between engineers and designers are extremely common. To compound this is the concept that airlines, airports and their complex value chains need to collaborate more effectively to deliver better experiences, says McCormick.
Who or what can assist in better communication and collaboration? “Designers have the skills required to understand and define better user experiences (journeys in every sense). True collaboration means that no single solution or technology can lead, the driving force for innovation has to come from the user experience, and design skill-sets are the tools most likely to achieve this,” he says.
McCormick has worked as a business consultant in the design industry for over 10 years. His experience covers a diverse range of sectors, from petrol stations to aircraft. Do you agree with his assertion?