MIAMI — Luke Hawes is a designer, partner and director at Priestmangoode, a design firm based in London. His firm has become one of the go-to places for airlines and aircraft manufacturers looking for a new design and branding, and he heads up all environment work, including airline cabins, airport terminals, retail projects, and hotels. His clients include Lufthansa, Airbus, TAM, Turkish Airlines, Thai Airways and South African Airways. He spoke with Airways about how the firm got its start in the aviation industry and why so many in the business seek the company’s designs.
Airways: How did the Firm First Get into the Aircraft Interior Design Business?
Luke Hawes: In the 1990s, we had a few projects that promoted us in the business. Our first project was Virgin Atlantic’s first Upper Class seats. It was the first airline to have a seat to bed mechanism, and it set the tone for aircraft seating design. The seat took it from being lumps of plastic to real furniture design. It was a changing point for us.
We then met the senior management team at Airbus and they asked us to a do mockup of what was then the A3XX, a double-deck concept aircraft. We had three months to design and build it. It was used as sales tool for airlines in an aircraft that became the A380.
But our major breakthrough was in 2000, when we contracted to design the A340-600 for Lufthansa, and since then, we have worked with them for the last 15 years. Those three projects launched us into the airline business guns blazing.
Your Client List Reads Like a Who’s Who of the Aviation Industry, Including Qatar Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa, Air France, South African Airways and Embraer. Why do you Think your Firm is so Popular in the Industry?
I think ultimately it’s our reputation. The word-of-mouth about us is good. There’s a huge supply base out there, and we have a reputation of treating them with respect, but also challenging them. The list of airlines is exhaustive, and they are all are very different. What we’re able to do is cover everything from branding and product design to implementation. We deliver what we design. We work with airlines and manufacturers on designs that enhance their brands and reflect their culture.
Our designs represent the culture, lifestyle and icons in a nation that we bring to life in an aircraft in a contemporary way. We want them to be appealing to people around the globe. We can take an airline’s identity and come up with a bespoke look.
When an Airline Comes to your Firm for a Design, Can you Walk me through the Process?
Each project is very different. Some airlines want standalone projects and some want us to be brand guardians and affect the passenger experience. Our design is focused on onboard products, but we do extend that to items including uniforms and ticket counters. We start with a two- to three-week trip to the airline’s home to explore the area. We look at things like local architecture and nature — anything we can get inspired by.
We work through concepts until we get approval from senior management, then create an implementation schedule, under the directive of Airbus or Boeing, and comply with all milestones. It’s a strict process and we’re there all the way through, so whatever management approves, we deliver. Our promise to our clients is to make sure we deliver everything they want in that first aircraft.
Each project is unique and varies in complexity and scope. It takes about six to nine months to design and 24 months to deliver.
What are some of the Trends you’re Seeing in Aircraft Interior Design?
Most of our clients are the bigger airlines in the world, and they’re always looking for a difference. I see more integrated cabins and vendors who can fit and deliver that. At the moment, we have projects where Airbus or Boeing will give us the architecture of the plane and we fill it with vendors, but sometimes they don’t always fit.
Airlines are also looking at how we use space and weight. Despite fuel prices coming down, airlines are still looking to use space wisely by making seats more lightweight, along with looking and functioning better. We’re always asking suppliers to come up with innovative products to do this.
What do Hope Passengers Experience with your Cabin Designs?
Fundamentally, it has to be a calming and comfortable experience. I hope our design details give passengers a sense of upgrade and enjoyment. Seat design is major part of the passenger experience, but we also look at subtle features, which make a difference. And these features also promote the airline’s brand. Our goal is to have the passenger deboard with a good memory of the airline’s brand.