Nigel Goode, co-founder of leading aviation and transport design consultancy PriestmanGoode, speaks to Globetrender about why optimism and innovation in travel are vital during times of crisis. He also discusses the ‘humbling experience’ of space flight and the future of aircraft interiors.

When and why did you launch PriestmanGoode?

Paul Priestman and myself partnered in the late eighties to form PriestmanGoode. We had met while at the Central School of Arts (now Central Saint Martin’s). Paul had set up his own studio upon finishing his degree at the Royal College of Art, and I had built my career working for a number of leading design companies.

We both had a similar view on the importance of design for positive impact. We initially focused more on consumer products for companies like Belling, taking very much a user-centric approach to design, and creating products that not only were more intuitive to use, but were more efficient to manufacture and set our clients apart from their competitors. That approach remains at the heart of our work today.

Following work on many consumer products, we began working with Virgin in the late nineties, designing the Virgin Pendolino train, as well as the first fully lie-flat seat for Virgin Atlantic. That was the start of our work in transport, an area we’ve since specialised in working for countless airlines, airframe manufacturers and suppliers.

What have you learnt about innovation in all your years of being a designer?

Innovation is the lifeblood of what we do. Without innovation, without the drive to make things better and more efficient and to really push the envelope, design is just styling and has limited longevity.

For me, the focus isn’t just about products, it’s about innovating across all aspects of a company, across a whole brand. That’s why PriestmanGoode’s team encompasses such a broad range of expertise: design, strategy, branding, customer experience and visualisation.

We work with our clients across their entire business – for airlines, that means we’re not just designing the cabin interiors, but all brand touch-points throughout the journey, including digital products, airport lounges, check in services etc, as well as brand identities and liveries. This holistic approach means we’re able to create consistent brand visions that really set our clients apart from their competitors.

I think it’s also important that you lead the way as a company; practice what you preach so to speak. PriestmanGoode has always been agile as a business, and quick to identity new opportunities. This is why we’ve grown from a design consultancy to a multi-disciplinary design agency with varied expertise.

We also made the transition to becoming an employee-owned company a few years ago. We wanted to empower our team and enable everyone to share in our success. It’s been a really positive move, and has created a culture where everyone feels more invested in the success of the company.

How do you come up with new ways of thinking and problem solving?

Well firstly, we have an extraordinarily talented team of designers who come from all over the world. This cultural diversity means we bring a range of perspectives to every project, and a range of expertise as well.

Beyond that, it’s about turning things on their head and not following the status quo. One of our strengths has always been to take learnings from one industry to see how we can apply them to solve problems in other industries.

We’ve become well-known for our expertise in designing small spaces, from aircraft interiors and trains, to hotel rooms and co-living spaces. And all our design is insight-driven. We’re perpetually looking at the world around us and seeing what challenges need to be address from mobility for the elderly to congestion in cities.

Why is innovation critical to moving forward, especially in times of crisis?

Companies that don’t innovate, don’t move forward. Innovation, and the ability to be agile as a business is key in times of crisis. We’re already seeing how companies large and small are adapting to current challenges to keep their businesses afloat, and while many of these changes have been very quick to happen, I think we will see long-term impact and perhaps a change in focus for many companies.

There have been many conversations around the fact that companies that focus on ESG (environmental, social and governance) have so far fared best in this crisis, and I think this will drive a long term shift towards more conscious consumerism.

What are the most innovative travel-related projects you have worked on in the last couple of years?

There are too many to name all of them. But some highlights include working with United Airlines and Aegean to create complete brand visions across the whole passenger journey; Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, with whom we’ve designed a passenger capsule for this new form of transport; QSuite with Qatar Airways, which allows four passengers travelling in business class to sit and socialise together, and the first double bed in a business class cabin; and OBB Nightjet, the new sleeper trains for OBB Austrian Federal Railways – I think this is a really interesting time for night train travel, in Europe in particular.

As we come out of this crisis and people start travelling again, we’ll see much more of this, as consumers look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to short-haul travel. And we’re also working on commercial space travel, following some of our earlier work in that arena [they designed the World View capsule, pictured below]. We should have more news on this soon, so watch this space.World View capsule, PriestmanGoode

What do you predict for the future of space tourism?

Space tourism is such an exclusive area. It’s going to develop as a super luxury experience, as the ultimate in pure adventure, but I think there’s going to be an almost philosophical aspect to it. There’s something about space travel that is very much about a humbling experience, looking at the wonders of the earth and our place in the universe.

What do you predict for the future of aircraft interior design?

There has been a lot of technological advancement in the performance of narrow-body aircraft, traditionally used for shorter routes (across Europe or domestic in the US for instance). These developments will allow these aircraft to fly long-range, so we’ll have smaller cabins on longer routes, and this is going to be a big driver for the design of cabin interiors.

The current Covid-19 pandemic is also going to accelerate some changes that were in the pipeline already. Sustainability has been gaining momentum in the industry, and consumers are going to be looking at airlines to respond quicker now that we have been able to witness very quickly the impact that reductions in air travel have made on the environment. We’re also going to see an increase in the development of new materials and finishes with anti-bacterial properties.

In terms of the different classes, I think there’s going to be more development in premium economy – particularly on narrow-body aircraft – and less business class travel. Business meetings will continue to happen digitally, as online technology has changed the perception of what essential business travel really means, and this will certainly have an impact on the industry, at least in the next 12-18 months.

What role will sustainability play in aviation going forward? How have you been contributing to this?

As I’ve mentioned, there was momentum building around this discussion in the industry already. For the first time, large aviation conferences around the world were including sustainability as part of their mainstream programmes, signalling a shift in the industry view. Many companies have individually signed up to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and what we need now is cross-industry collaboration.

While three months ago, these changes would’ve very much been part of a long-term plan, I think the current circumstances will move everything at a much quicker pace, as consumers look to large companies for leadership in more conscious travel and sustainable behaviour.

What do you predict for the future of co-living? Tell us a bit about the work you have done in this space

The sharing economy has changed attitudes towards ownership, particularly in younger generations, so we’re seeing a rise in co-living projects in large cities around the world. We’re working on a vast project in India (20,000 beds across three sites) with Embassy Group.

The new co-living community, Olive, offers purpose-built, contemporary living in a market where there is very little choice. We’ve used our experience of designing across other sectors to create a space that gives users the privacy they need when they want it, and all the facilities of a luxury hotel. This project is really going to raise the bar of co-living for young people.

Why is optimism important when it comes to solving problems?

Problems are something that nobody really wants, but they’re a great catalyst for innovation.

Design for me is fundamentally about optimism, as it’s about taking something and seeing how you can improve it, how you can make it more efficient, more user-friendly, less wasteful, how can you change behaviour through design.

Design is nothing if not optimistic, and I think the current crisis the world finds itself and some of the innovative ideas that have come out in just the last few weeks is testament to how much innovation comes out of difficult times.

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