top of page

. . . Continued from main page

This is something I think all designers strive for...


. . . and while I think we have to acknowledge that Ferrari has historically achieved it at a high level, aircraft interior architects are constantly working toward that level of achievement as well – but all within a considerably tighter timeframe and regulatory environment.

It’s also worth noting that yacht interiors, while certainly within the mobility realm, is not really so closely connected as aviation and automotive. I mean certainly they are in terms of the customer base for each. In that way they are one and the same. But from a purely design standpoint, largely they are different animals. Why? Because of scale. Most large yachts are essentially architectural interiors. They really don’t pose the scale and ergonomic challenges of a jet interior or a car. So, in that sense, the smaller the environment, the closer the kinship and the more commonalities in design approach. Top-tier business aircraft, high-end motorcars and rail all are dealing with much the same set of parameters and therefore the development steps, protocols and methodologies are similar across all three spaces.

Another look at this inexorable connection between automotive and jet design was covered in a recent article by none other than Runway Girl Network, one of the premier digital aviation publications focused on connecting air transport intelligence with the passenger experience.

Here’s what RGN’s recent article had to say on the subject.

Evolving Automotive Interior Design Provides Lessons for Aviation


By: John Tighe


Aviation has been known to take certain design cues from the automotive industry, and new technologies are making both sectors resemble each other more than ever. As airlines look to the next generation of aircraft cabin design, how might their interiors complement the luxury offerings available in cars? 


Runway Girl Network sat down with veteran transport designer John Tighe to discuss changes in both sectors and what’s on the horizon. Tighe was a design director for JPA Design before moving to work with Bentley via his own design company. 


In many ways, he notes, automation will make cars more like planes as occupants will in time be able to engage in more entertaining or productive activities than simply driving. But while radical changes in design can be fitted into a familiar environment, “consumers can only tolerate innovation in different areas step by step.”


The Tesla Model S, for example — which boasts autopilot features — “was revolutionary in some areas, but traditional in others,” says Tighe.

And the electric BMW i3, which was considered too ahead of its time when it debuted, ultimately came into its own towards the end of its life as other producers caught up, making it seem more mainstream.

Parallels can be drawn to innovations in aircraft seating. Collins Aerospace’s nest-like, no-recline AirLounge seat, for instance, replaces the now ubiquitous lie-flat design with a fixed shell seat and ottoman.

Like the automotive industry, airlines are having to adapt their products to meet emerging passenger segments. The new front row business-plus seating trend in aviation is a visible example of how this segmentation can be transposed. Another is the rise of premium leisure, which requires a variation of service.


“Mercedes is known to be good at this, in one product such as the S Class which has a core appeal as a subtle luxury product, but is also offered as a Maybach for extrovert luxurians, and as an AMG for sportier, often younger customers,” notes Tighe.

The designer’s own work with Bentley also serves as a good example. “We need to use the heritage of the brand, whilst transforming its appeal to work for new customer demographics, which are very different and broad in their tastes. It’s difficult to navigate, but we’re finding the right paths.”

On the entertainment front, carmakers face an important question — should they compete with the tech giants to produce their own software, or just use a pre-existing product such as the CarPlay OS? If they do the latter, suggests Tighe, “they are losing part of their brand identity and development”.


This is something with which airlines will also increasingly have to contend as passengers seek to stream their own OTT entertainment subscriptions over inflight Internet systems versus using the installed IFE system with cached content. How might this effect premium airline brands, in particular, where differentiation is a larger part of the experience?


For both industries, there is a risk in offering the very latest technology on the assumption it will stay mainstream. Apple’s technology evolution has served up many a conundrum in aviation, for instance.


There is also something to be said for novelty when seeking to attract the premium passenger — whether in aviation or automotive.


“Ride sharing is a good example of this. Uber was revolutionary at first, but now it’s part of modern life. Attracting premium customers becomes harder once everyone is using it,” notes Tighe. There are opportunities to provide alternatives to ridesharing, such as luxury ground transfers. But the renewed focus on building brand engagement on the ground could spur the development of other complementary services beyond travel, according to Tighe.

“Through this, you can design brand ecosystems that ensure luxury throughout the user experience.”

Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 3.40.02 PM.png
John Tighe - Bentley Motorcars

It’s interesting here what Tighe says about the risk that both aircraft and automotive companies face in terms of offering the very latest technology on the assumption it will stay mainstream. Be it CarPlay for automotive OEMs or OTT subscription based content vs. traditional IFE in aircraft. These are again examples of how automotive and aircraft design are closely linked. They both grapple with many of the same issues – but in large measure automotive design still seems to lead the way and as we discussed in the beginning, it’s predominately because they have much larger customer bases across which to amortize the cost of such intensive research endeavors. In short, they generally arrive at the answers more quickly and have a broader proving ground (set of buyers) upon which to make their decisions.

If that’s true, the certainly it’s easy to understand why the aviation design community so often take their cues from automotive designers. It’s not always about how cool the aesthetics might be – but how the various trends and components have been tested and accepted by their customers, and a much larger customer base at that.

In the below article published by James Tanner at Factory Design, we can glimpse yet another perspective on the subject. Even though published back in 2017, most of his corrolations and predictions are still relevant.


This cross-pollination across all transport industries not only enhances the quality of travel experiences in general. It also means that without even realising it, passengers will be able to experience the same levels of comfort throughout a journey which may comprise several different modes of transport. Long journeys – having to move with luggage from car to train to plane – are stressful enough, and it is the job of designers to remove some of this stress. Especially for economy passengers, that one extra inch of legroom will make the world of difference, and in turn the airline or train company are able to fit larger numbers of seats without compromising on their passengers’ comfort. Rail and automotive industries can also get huge benefits from

employing techniques that have originated in aviation,


April 3, 2017 by James Tanner


When it comes to the transportation industry, automotive design has always been more progressive than most. Quick product turnaround and a focus on the customer, along with a different regulatory environment, means designers benefit from less restriction in innovation than in the aviation, rail and marine industries, able to consistently push boundaries. However, the lines are slowly beginning to blur.

There are several reasons behind this disparity, a huge factor being cost per product. Developing suitable materials and running repeated certification tests is costly and time-consuming, risking taking a project over budget and behind schedule. In such a competitive industry as aviation, agencies are forced to curb innovation in favour of approved materials and standard formats. The cost of life of products and small production numbers have a significant effect on innovation. Luxury cars, for example, are able to host a wide variety of fabrics and composites due to production scale and consequent cost spreading. Another factor is maintenance; a personal vehicle will only be occupied for reasonably short periods of time, and by few people. An aircraft staff must manage and maintain every surface in the cabin, all of which endure constant use from hundreds of daily passengers, over a lifecycle of several years. The fabrics and leathers must be tough and durable enough to withstand the intense wear.

The crossovers between all transport industries are starting to advance each other. Materials such as aluminium provide huge weight-saving opportunities, which of course benefit the aviation industry more than most. Demonstrating these crossovers, recently Factorydesign collaborated on our first train seat design, alongside Transcal and Acro Aircraft Seating. Rather than being made of steel & plywood like usual train seats, this seat is made of aerospace aluminium & the seat back of composites, meaning the seat can be ergonomically profiled which makes an important difference to comfort levels. The fusion of ideas from designers and engineers across all transport industries is beginning to open up a vast wealth of new possibilities. The majority of Factorydesign’s team have backgrounds in automotive design, and have been able to apply this passion and expertise to enhance the calibre of our aviation work.

The design of business class seating has drastically steered away from the dull and heavy appearance of decades past. The introduction of lie-flat beds, the focus on personal space and the vast customisation available through seat manufacturers have propelled this sector far from what it used to be. The larger areas of real-estate available to passengers means styling can be taken to a level that business class passengers are used to experiencing in their luxury vehicles. Even as far back as 2001, when Factorydesign was working on Concorde’s final interiors, director Adam White notes that the design elected for was “akin to a seat of an Aston Martin, in terms of appearance”. Airlines lead design direction with the expectations of the passenger, aligning the in-flight experience with the lifestyle and comfort that they are accustomed to. This is demonstrated perfectly in the “hotel in the sky” cabin of the Four Seasons jet. The soft white leather on each of the 52 seats is manufactured by Poltrona Frau, famous for their upholstery of top-tier supercar interiors including Ferrari and Maserati. The quality of the leather and precise stitching on each seat clearly exemplify the way luxury automotive influence is entering the aviation design world; this particular leather supplier has been collaborating with a select few prestigious airlines over recent years, including Etihad and Singapore Airlines. This introduction to higher levels of material quality is another step towards improving the passenger experience, as expectations heighten in the face of this growing trend. Travelling can be stressful, so the aim is to ensure a seamless transition from one transport to another, making the passenger feel relaxed and at ease.

Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 4.10.14 PM.png
Screen Shot 2023-08-17 at 4.07.20 PM.png

for example, where space and saving weight are of the utmost importance. The crossover between industries has become slowly more evident over the years, with sleeker, chicer architecture in every cabin – the focus, as in automotive, all being around the passenge

They should feel naturally comfortable in an environment that should enhance their experience, especially on a long-haul flight. The attention to detail inspired by automotive design aesthetics help to raise the level in both micro and macro ways. Designers use styling techniques to create a huge difference to how the seats can appear, such as modern lines and curvature. A very recent example of this detailing is Delta’s new flagship A350 business class, the One Suites. The use of stitch patterns, ergonomically constructed surface changes and features were integrated to create a clearly defined language, a world away from the bulky, block seating of the past. Attention to detail and aesthetics are a major reason behind why some airlines and manufacturers are choosing to collaborate with luxury automotive companies to provide fresh visions and contemporary styles to breathe new life into their cabins. Just this week, Boeing announced their new partnership with leading automotive supplier, Adient. Mercedes has developed a VIP cabin concept alongside Lufthansa Technik. In forming such partnerships, design agencies hope to provide a fully streamlined experience across the passenger’s entire journey – from their home to their car, to the airport, to their destination.


Almost all industrial designers, regardless of what other space they may be working in, are enamored in some measure, with automotive design. It will likely always be that way, mainly because you don’t have to be rich to own a nice car. Many people have strong connections to the cars they drive and then of course there is the extended echelon of ‘car people’ – people (predominately males perhaps) that are obsessed with cars. So, in some ways, it’s simply easier to have a visceral, emotional connection to motorcars vs. private jets for the masses – and that of course includes the jet designers among us.

But whatever the breakdown or the reasons, there will likely always be a strong connection between jet and automotive design. In many ways, the jet community needs the cues they get from automotive design in order to sort of fill the gaps that would otherwise lie outside their timely reach because of the shorter design cycles and regulatory environments.

And beyond all those studied analyses and parallels, we’re left with fact that badass high-end car interiors are just plain cool  – no matter how many jets you own!

Screen Shot 2021-04-29 at 9.53.08 AM.png
bottom of page