In 2008, Etihad Airways embarked on a worldwide search for leading design agency partners to design their future cabin interiors for their new fleet of Airbus A380s, the first of which went into service in December 2014.
After a global pitch process, Etihad chose to adopt a consortium approach and formed the ‘Etihad Design Consortium’ or EDC. The EDC incorporated three companies: Factorydesign, Acumen and Honour Branding. Honour Branding was tasked with coordinating the project, Acumen to design the onboard seating across First Class, Business and Economy, and Factorydesign to design the passenger experience, as well as cabin interior elements such as lounges, galleys, lavatories, welcome spaces and other passenger destinations.
The process for creating an aircraft with an interior of this complexity and sophistication is a long one. The journey began with key members of the EDC flying to Abu Dhabi for emersion. The key reasons for these trips were to get to know the region’s historic and cultural influences, as well as seeing modern Abu Dhabi and its vision for the future. This provided an ‘essence’ of Abu Dhabi that could be reflected in the design work.
An extensive and global customer research exercise was undertaken, identifying who was flying with the airline and for what reasons, as well as exploring key areas of the passenger experience that could be improved. Many customer insights were gained from this process, helping to define a brief and strategic vision for the new onboard products and services. Etihad was already delivering a service that was inspired by some of the world’s best hotels and so the initial brief built on this. The EDC were tasked with creating an interior that brought the individuality and exclusivity of a ‘Luxury Boutique hotel experience – that embraced Arabian modernism’.
The concept stage followed and generated a huge volume of ideas challenging every aspect of the guest experience and cabin interior. The concepts developed exploited the attributes of the A380, whilst making the best use of the space available, to deliver a ‘wow’ product that also met the commercial requirements of this flagship aircraft.
Factorydesign Business Class Lavatory Concept
Factorydesign Business Class Lavatory Render
Factorydesign Lobby concept
Factorydesign Lobby render
Over the subsequent years the designs evolved broadly using a feedback loop (as shown in the diagram below). Concepts generated (and later partial full scale working mock ups) were fed to the various stakeholders at Etihad for feedback, regarding guest experience maintainability, commercials, and so on. When feedback was received, designs were improved accordingly and fed back into the system until approved by all stakeholders. From here, the design was taken to the manufacturers for their feedback and modified/adapted as necessary. This process was repeated until all parties were in agreement and we reached a stage where the concept had become a production item that had retained its original design intent.
In order for this process to work as smoothly as possible, close collaborative relationships were developed between the airline, designers and manufacturers at all stages of the design and manufacture process. This collaborative approach drove innovation and was a departure from the more traditional, linear approach, where loose design sketches are produced by the designers at the beginning of the project and then interpreted by the manufacturer.
The results of these successful collaborations can be seen flying daily between Abu Dhabi and London.
Watch this video tour of the reimagined Etihad A380: