Standing Out from the Crowd: Interview with Lift Aero Design Founder

Standing Out from the Crowd: Interview with Lift Aero Design Founder

DALLAS — The commercial aviation industry is a cutthroat and competitive place. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are all battling for a slice of the pie, a pie that often yields limited returns. 

In order to attract customers, airlines as well as aircraft manufacturers will try to differentiate themselves from their rivals. Some will utilize the services of aviation design and consultancy studios to develop groundbreaking innovations covering all areas, from aircraft cabins to flight attendant uniforms, airline liveries, and airplane seats. 

One such company is Tokyo/Singapore-based Lift Aero Design, which has recently been involved with designing the stunning livery of FlyAtlantic, the new Belfast (BFS)-based low-cost (LCC) transatlantic carrier that plans to launch services in 2024.

Airways recently caught up with the company’s founder and Managing Director, Daniel Baron, to discuss all things aviation design. 

Philippine Airlines’ new business class cabin was introduced with retrofit of its Airbus A330 cabins. Photo: Lift Aero Design.

LC: So, tell us a little about the story behind LIFT Aero Design. How did the company come about?

DB: Background: I have been living in Tokyo for many years. I had been working for a design studio that specialized in the transport and hospitality sectors, with most clients in Japan.

In 2009, I started up LIFT Aero Design, a boutique aviation design studio serving both foreign and Japanese markets. A few years ago, Singapore-based Aaron Yong joined the company. Over the past 13 years, we have done brand design, cabin design, and customer experience projects with various airlines around the planet.

Some of Lift Aero’s latest work is the new seat covers for Orbis Flying Eye Hospital. Photo: Lift Aero Design

Tell us about the process behind coming up with a design. How does the creative process work from idea to execution?

The essence of good airline design is to accurately communicate the client’s positioning in a way that resonates with customers and clearly differentiates the brand or product from competitors. So the creative process commences with a long discussion with the client about their goals for the brand and the business.

We discuss the target brand proposition, business model, route structure, aircraft types, revenue strategy, current and future competitors, vision for products, etc. We then create a mountain of ideas for the logo, livery, and visual system (or cabin interior). We toss most and refine others, then toss again, whip up new ideas, and refine again.

The secret sauce of good design is the iterative process itself. It eventually leads to “OMG, that’s it” moments. Those are the designs we show to the client. We then revise further as necessary, and once the airline signs off, we start with the development of visual system applications, aircraft paint samples, etc.

Bamboo Airways (QH) eye-catching livery, taken In Cam Pha Mines, Vietnam. Photo: Lift Aero Design

In the case of Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways (QH), for example, the founders understood that the country’s rapidly growing middle class wanted something in between the two main players (a conservative government flag carrier and an LCC).

The corporate identity, livery, visual system, and cabin for Bamboo were designed to reflect the airline’s boutique positioning of “fresh, innovative, and full service” while clearly communicating “safe and reliable from the get-go”.

The mark, which features a bamboo forest and leaf neatly incorporated into an aircraft tail, was designed to be instantly recognizable even without “Bamboo Airways” and to resonate both with Vietnamese and foreigners. Along the way, shapes and colors were tweaked to ensure that the mark evoked a sense of poise, pride, positive energy, and balance, the very values that Vietnamese people hold dearly.  

There’s lots of work currently concerning sustainability in aviation so tell us about how LIFT Aero Design incorporates sustainability into its designs and processes. 

If the client is a startup whose founders have little airline experience, we help them understand the bigger picture, i.e., how various stakeholders are approaching sustainability, and the usage and cost implications of the various options from livery paint to cabin materials. We then help them identify short-term and long-term priorities. 

Air Seychelles (HM) A320neo business class cabin. Photo: Lift Aero Design

The industry has changed a lot since your formation in 2009. From low-cost and legacy airlines, we now have more hybrid carriers. How has Lift adapted to this change?

We have worked with airlines of all flavors, small and large. The value of this is knowing the right questions to ask at the first meetings, which, in the long term, saves clients a significant amount of time and money.

While business models and positioning may be different, the fundamentals are similar, i.e., delivering novel ideas that resonate with customers, staff, and shareholders.

Tell us more about PARADYM. Have you had any interest from airlines? 

As Covid’s grip put the world on hold, like everyone else, we were sitting around without much to do. We felt it was a good opportunity to develop something completely different that addressed the needs of airlines, lessors, and travelers for greater versatility in configurations.

The second iteration of PARADYM, as a flexibility multi-product for wide bodies right now, has been well received. We are talking to a few airlines about future fleets and retrofits. 

The future of aircraft seating? Lift Aero’s PARADYM. Photo: Lift Aero Design

How did the project with FlyAtlantic come about? Can you tell us more about what you have in store for the airline, its cabins, etc.?

I first met some of the team when they were based in Cyprus. Later, that discussion evolved into one about a Belfast-based airline. 

About the design, the sheer volume of annual traffic over the Atlantic is astounding. So we wanted a tail design that celebrates the flow of people and goods between continents, the mixing of cultures, the new friends made, that crazy weekend in New York or Paris, or that business deal that got done because you showed up.

That drove the decision to use a black-and-white geometric graphic made up of long and short lines. They may be routes or destinations or a cityscape or stepping stones to a new adventure. A DNA, of sorts, of what inspires us to buy that ticket and go. 

What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

Working on Hong Kong’s hometown LCC, HK Express (UO), was extra rewarding because we were able to design the corporate identity, livery, cabin, and uniform. The result is a level of consistency across all touchpoints that is sometimes difficult to achieve when multiple design studios are used. I’m immensely grateful to our friends at HK Express for that opportunity.

The project was also rewarding because the designs resonated so positively with Hongkongers. The results were steady growth with very healthy load factors, which is what successful design is all about.

HK Express (UO) was Baron’s favorite project to work on. Photo: Lift Aero Design

Where would you like to see the company in ten years?

We are truly dedicated to long-term relationships. It’s never brief or superficial. Our clients know that they can trust us, that we understand them inside out, and that we have their best interests in mind. The same goes for our supplier partners.

Our aim is to grow as a niche boutique agency with whom people want to work because we are passionate about delivering excellent design and genuinely care about their goals and aspirations.

Featured Image: The stunning cabin of Cebu Pacific’s (5J) new 459-seat Airbus A330neo. Photo: Lift Aero Design

European Deputy Editor
Writer and aviation fanatic, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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