Paul Priestman on the future of travel through design

The chairman of PriestmanGoode talks to STIR about innovative designs in transport sector, and how design has become an important component in one’s travel.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Dec 12, 2019

Today more people are travelling than ever before. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, travel has become an important part of our lives. And with the world becoming more accessible due to technological advancement, the way we travel has also seen a paradigm shift. How we experience the spaces we travel in, via buses, trains, airplanes and so on, has become more and more imperative. That is precisely where design steps in, to create an experience that’s meaningful and memorable.

One such firm that is at the forefront of design and innovation is the global design company PriestmanGoode, led by designer and chairman Paul Priestman. The firm has worked on a number of large-scale projects in the fields of aviation, transport, hospitality, product design and infrastructure. People-centred to the core, it has developed multiple concepts that raise awareness and explore solutions to a wide range of issues including accessibility in air travel, mobility in older age and congestion in cities.

Cabin interior design for Turkish Airlines by PriestmanGoode | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
Cabin interior design for Turkish Airlines by PriestmanGoode Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

In the aviation industry, PriestmanGoode has worked with some of the best brands on cabin interiors and innovative seating concepts, including Airbus, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Transport for London and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. 

Recently, the firm also announced an exhibition, Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink, at the Design Museum in London. It explores how design thinking and material innovation can address the issue of waste in travel, and affect the supply of products and services. While the exhibition focuses on air travel, these ideas can extend across the travel industry and apply equally to the provision of products and services across all modes of transport. The exhibition is on until February 9, 2020.

  • 01 min watch Get Onboard’ – Refillable water bottle | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    ‘Get Onboard’ – Refillable water bottle Video Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The bottle has been designed for repeated but short-term use to address ‘impulse buys’ at airports |Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The bottle has been designed for repeated but short-term use to address ‘impulse buys’ at airports Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The square shaped-bottle is easier to pack, ship and store | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The square shaped-bottle is easier to pack, ship and store Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

Priestman, who studied Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art in London, has led a wide range of projects. He is also known for his award-winning future concepts and visionary ideas that encourage sustainable and long-term thinking. In 2015, Priestman was voted as one of London’s 1000 most influential people by the Evening Standard for the third consecutive year. In January 2016, he was announced as one of Britain’s 500 most influential individuals by The Sunday Times.

Here, STIR gets in conversation with Priestman, who talks about tackling waste through design, and how his company is responding to a changing world through design.

Meghna Mehta (MM): ‘Rethinking mobility in old age’ is one of the concepts developed by the firm; could you please elaborate on how this will change the idea of mobility for the elderly? How the product ‘Scooter for Life' was conceived and how it will help ease movement?

Paul Priestman (PP): The ‘Scooter for Life’ was a commission for the Design Museum in London, as part of an exhibition exploring design for older demographics. We wanted to explore what mobility could look like for older people, and to design a product that would give its users more independence. The idea behind the product goes beyond just individual benefits: by creating a product that encourages its users to lead fuller, healthier, more active lives, you are able to reduce pressure both on other transport services, as well as health services. The Scooter also tackles the stigma associated with traditional mobility aids. 

  • ‘Scooter for Life’ designed for the elderly | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    Scooter for Life’ designed for the elderly Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • ‘Scooter for Life’ is a brand of products that can change as your mobility needs evolve | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    ‘Scooter for Life’ is a brand of products that can change as your mobility needs evolve Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The Scooter aims to provide independence through mobility in old age
Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The Scooter aims to provide independence through mobility in old age Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

The design of the Scooter includes two large front wheels, which help stability. A large bag in the front would allow users to use it as a shopping trolley, and its foldable design means it could be easily taken onto a bus, or stored inside the home. Giving its users more independence, the Scooter also addresses loneliness, and is designed to increase intergenerational interaction. 

MM: The ongoing exhibition Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink discusses the issue of waste during travel. How has this been tackled through design?

PP: We looked at ways in which we could use new materials and design thinking to change the products and services along the supply change, as well as raise awareness for passengers of the amount of waste generated through travel, in a bid to encourage behaviour change. 

  • The meal tray has been designed with edible and commercially compostable materials | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The meal tray has been designed with edible and commercially compostable materials Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The water bottle has been made from cork and a commercially compostable bioplastic material | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The water bottle has been made from cork and a commercially compostable bioplastic material Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

MM: Having worked closely with the United Airlines and designing for them, how do you think design becomes an important component in one’s travel, growth of the airline company and towards creating a brand identity?

PP: United Airlines is one of many airlines that we have worked with over the years. Over time, we have become known for our ability to work across every aspect of an airline project, from brand and livery design to ground services, airport lounges, cabin interiors, as well as all products on-board the aircraft, like service, sleep and meal items. Brand consistency across the passenger journey is key to competitive advantage today. You want to create a seamless passenger experience from home to destination. As we have branding, design, trends and visualisation departments, and because we work across the whole of the travel sector, we are uniquely equipped to handle these projects. 

The United Polaris seat, designed by PriestmanGoode and United Airlines as part of Polaris cabin and lounge for United Airlines, offers passengers more lighting control and an additional signature reading light | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
The United Polaris seat, designed by PriestmanGoode and United Airlines as part of Polaris cabin and lounge for United Airlines, offers passengers more lighting control and an additional signature reading light Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

We have also worked with Turkish Airlines most recently to develop the airline’s complete customer experience within one of the world’s largest airports in Istanbul. This project includes both ground services as well as cabin interiors, ensuring there is a seamless design language across the whole journey. 

MM: Also having developed multiple designs through architecture for the Qatar Airways - the latest QSuite that accommodates a double bed and in addition a social space - how do you think the future of travel through design is evolving?

PP: The landscape of aircraft interiors has changed immeasurably in the last 20 years. We designed the first lie-flat seat for Virgin Atlantic in the late 90s, and ever since then, airlines began to use design for competitive advantage. In recent years, led by airlines like Qatar Airways, passengers have been able to enjoy increasing levels of luxury. The QSuite has been a real game changer as it offers a First Class experience in a Business Class cabin. 

  • Qatar Airways’ QSuite designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    Qatar Airways’ QSuite designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • Qatar Airways’ First Class Cabin designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways provides passengers tables large enough for work and dining | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    Qatar Airways’ First Class Cabin designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways provides passengers tables large enough for work and dining Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

MM: What particular design feature, through your experience over the years, brought a necessary shift in how people travel?

PP: Smartphones undoubtedly have transformed the travel landscape. They have enabled passengers to connect with brands on a much more personal level. Year on year, we are seeing more and more customisation of the passenger experience. There’s also much greater pressure on airlines and companies in the travel sector more generally (hotels, rail, etc.) to deliver a more personal service. Customers today are discerning; smartphones mean they have the world accessible at their fingertips. Customers now expect immaculate and immediate service from brands when they travel. 

  • Interior of a cabin at Turkish Airlines | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    Interior of a cabin at Turkish Airlines Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The level of privacy in Qatar Airways seats designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways can be adjusted at the touch of a button | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The level of privacy in Qatar Airways seats designed by PriestmanGoode and Qatar Airways can be adjusted at the touch of a button Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

MM: What design or architecture feature do you imagine to change the future of the travel industry?

PP: Interestingly, there has been a resurgence of sleeper trains in Europe, which is in part a response from passengers wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. While most night train services had stopped in the last decade, Austrian Federal Railways OBB has bucked the trend and invested in new Nightjet services. We have been working with OBB on the design of the Nightjet services, which includes new family rooms, First Class apartments for two people with a personal bathroom and Mini-Suites. 

  • A sleeper cabin for Nightjet services designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    A sleeper cabin for Nightjet services designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • The sleeper cabins designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways feature individual sleeping ‘pods’, with dedicated storage space | Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    The sleeper cabins designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways feature individual sleeping ‘pods’, with dedicated storage space Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode
  • Small tables between beds provide space for drinks and reading materials, designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways |
Paul Priestman | PriestmanGoode | STIRworld
    Small tables between beds provide space for drinks and reading materials, designed by PriestmanGoode and ÖBB Austrian Federal Railways Image Credit: Courtesy of PriestmanGoode

As long haul train travel develops, I think we’ll see more changes in the train interiors, not just at the luxury end of the market. We’ll see train interiors enhanced to meet the needs of today’s travellers, whether solo travellers, business travellers or families. 

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