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Inside Lufthansa’s design process for its new 777X business class

How do you design an all-new business class to last for a decade across multiple airlines within the same group? It’s about partnerships, expertise — and people, Lufthansa’s head of passenger experience design Guido Woska tells Runway Girl Network.

“The design principles for us are not defined by the brand itself per se, because we design for three different brands, so we have common design principles,” Woska says. “Those five principles are simplicity, human touch, meaningfulness, integrity, seamless. All of these things are something that we want to keep in mind, and of course we always start from a human perspective. Our design principle at the core is human-centric.”

Woska’s design group comes at problems from a different direction from operational or maintenance colleagues: the key is to start from somewhere that is purposefully oriented towards passengers rather than towards the proverbial metal of the industry’s hardware.

“That starts with proper research,” Woska explains. “We have an insights phase and at the end of that phase we get a very good vision statement of where we are going to go. Then we have an ideation phase, where we use different tools that lead to a very proper concept stage in which we say, ‘this is exactly what, for example, a lounge to go should consist of, this is how it should be operated, this is how it should be accessed, what should drop out of it when you press the button’. Then we go into a prototyping phase, in which the output can be a physical prototype, a digital prototype, a service blueprint — whatever it is, something we can test with passengers.”

Only after this point does the process move into business cases and the involvement of wider colleagues. This creates a passenger experience version of a ‘minimum viable product’, one that is actually deliverable and can have a decent business case produced.

“In something such as a seat redesign, which has a lot of complexity and also a lot of nitty-gritty details when it comes to materials that are certified for air travel, we don’t do this alone,” Woska emphasizes. “We have an external design partner for several reasons. One is that we want the inspiration from somebody who works outside of our own world, and also we need the expertise in engineering, in how to use materials that work together.”

Iterating and refining the seat beyond its most simple rendering is a key part of the design process. Image - Lufthansa

Iterating and refining the seat beyond its most simple rendering is a key part of the design process. Image: Lufthansa

Lufthansa brings passengers into the process very early, with initial concepts in wood and other materials to display space concepts, ask potential travelers how they might feel about sitting at a certain distance for passengers, and so on. But then it gets into the real compare and contrast nitty-gritty.

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“When we designed the new business class product that’s going to be due with the 777, what we did is put our final concept in there along with, I would say, almost half a dozen or so of other top premium products that could also be chosen right away, and we asked passengers in the end which of the concepts they would prefer, without telling them which is the one that we think we would do as a Lufthansa brand. And the majority of them went with the concept we designed, which is a sign that the process before – in involving people in getting closer and closer to the final concept – is totally right,” Woska says.

Putting that product up against the competition is a key phase, but it then also needs to be customized to reflect the individual brands of the Lufthansa Group, along with their design principles.

“There are nuances in what somebody would expect,” Woska says. “If you see the new business class on the 777 for Swiss, naturally there has been a lot of wood and wooden materials being used. It’s part of the DNA where that brand comes from. It would feel very awkward to just copy-paste that onto the Lufthansa brand when the material mix is something else.”

Creating a seat that meets the needs and design language of multiple airlines is no mean feat. Image: Swiss

Creating a seat that meets the needs and design language of multiple airlines is no mean feat. Image: Swiss

Lufthansa is working with partners, including design houses and its seatmaker, to refine and finalize the seat, and it’s here that meshing the sometimes opposing gears of design, certification and production need to grind. With the delays to the 777X program, though, ensuring that this design then fits across more of the airline’s fleet may well be the key challenge.

Lufthansa provided tickets for the Flying Lab to enable this interview

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2 Comments

  1. Acacia Bloom

    Not quite sure how Lufthansa will justify the long wait before it replaces its really outdated business seat. The new 777 is nowhere near being introduced into service. That was serious bad planning to update the business seats based on the new 777. What about all the other “old” aircraft? Most of its competitors have already introduced direct access business class seats. Lufthansa is trailing badly behind.

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