JPA Design director John Tighe, who led the team behind the new seat, speaks with Australian Business Traveller about its evolution.
Designing for the future
Tighe describes the design of Singapore Airlines’s new Airbus A380 business class seat as “a labour of love” that’s been in the works since late 2013.
"We've been working on this project in total about four years (and) I think the real crux of that was more like three years.”
“The challenge (in seat design) is to predict the future. It's a constant thing we have to do, predicting passengers’ needs, and there's a long process before we even get anywhere near having the design to do your research.”
“We've got to create a seat that's relevant for many, many years. So a lot of that is about us constantly checking what the future scenarios are, making sure that we start with the right brief... otherwise you can be heading in the wrong direction and you just keep going for three years. Then it's going to be a long way off."
Space: the final frontier
One of the trends which JPA identified is an increasing demand for personal space in and around the seat – a desire which it sought to satisfy with Singapore Airlines’ new business class seat.
“A lot of our work was about space within this product. It was about giving the passengers as much space as possible, whilst ultimately getting a competitive product for the airline to run with."
"We’ve used this new composite structure to create quite a slimline construction and open up this extra space underneath the seat, to give the passenger more and more space."
"And from a design perspective, if you take a cross-section through this seat at any point, there's very, very little wastage – that isn't the case with most airline seats."
Keep your carry-on close at hand
Singapore Airlines’ new A380 business class seat includes room for a carry-on bag and a laptop bag or large handbag.
“You can get a standard size cabin bag in sideways here – you can put it in the other orientation, but sideways is nicest because it means it's not in your way. And then you've also got a space for a laptop bag."
"The A380 doesn't have the central overhead bins, which gives a really nice ambience to the cabin. So by doing this we can maintain this nice open cabin and not have those bins in the centre."
"Passengers can still use the side bins, because there's still plenty of space in those. But many passengers want to keep their stuff close to them so they can easily get to it."
Like Diamonds in the sky
JPA Design created Singapore Airlines’ original Airbus A380 business class seat (shown below), which it codenamed Diamond (which bears no relation to the Diamond family of business class seats from B/E Aerospace), and Tighe says this new seat “is definitely part” of that lineage.
“The Diamond seat that we created for the original A380 has been slowly evolved in different ways, and this is a new version of it."
"But the main difference is in the centre, where your toe boxes are away from each other, whereas on the older-type seats they're in the middle."
"There are a number of reasons behind that, but a lot of it was to do with allowing these privacy options which go all the way from full privacy..."
"... to what’s basically a double bed experience.”
“The bulkheads are the best example of it but for all of the seats, you've still got quite a nice experience where you're very much lying next to your partner.”
JPA Design dubbed the new business class design as “the monocoque seat” after its construction technique, which casts the seat shell in strong but lightweight carbon fibre composite.
"In its purest form, Monocoque is a one-body construction method, and we referred to that because this seat uses that technology in terms of the structure underneath."
"It doesn't have lots of substructures, lots of aluminium parts and bits connected and interacting. It's really one unified structure underneath there, which everything's attached to."
Tighe says he also considered more private business suites with sliding doors – similar to what Qatar Airways (below) and Delta Air Lines have done with their own latest products – for Singapore Airlines, but didn’t feel they were a fit with this project.
“Doors are definitely a trend and something we very much considered, and sometimes they can work very well, but there's a time and place for them. I'd encourage travellers to try them out because while it’s easy to sell them as a PR item because they sound great, a lot of the seats actually feel really claustrophobic with them."
"And to have a tangible benefit, they have to be very tall – otherwise, if I'm walking down the aisle, I can still look over pretty much all of the doors."
"Now sometimes doors work – I’m not pretending it’s a bad thing just because we haven't done it on this seat. It's a pros-and-cons kind of situation. And on this product we felt like we'd achieved enough privacy with what we created to not need them."
"And if you don't need it, that's weight maintenance and the downsides of claustrophobic and all these things that you don't have to deal with."
The new business class seat also includes splashes of colour which lift the design and the overall cabin – something Tighe says was inspired by the orange highlights in Singapore Airlines’ premium economy seating, but has been implemented in business class in a more measured and muted way, as have other tonal elements of the Singapore Airlines palette.
“This is definitely more muted. In premium economy, the brief was to reflect that it was a new class of travel for the airline – it was very much looking at a younger, a more aspirational market."
"In business class we've kept the same family of Singapore Airlines colours, which we already had on the Boeing 777 next-gen business class seat in a slightly more coppery tone."
"It’s actually a colour that Singapore Airlines have used a lot, but always in a slightly different way, and that’s a good thing because it shows the airline trusts the designers and gives them some flexibility."
"A lot of airlines use what we call ‘branding by numbers’. They says "Oh, you're using red. Okay, that has to be our Pantone red." Well no, that might not be the right colour for this particular situation. It's not about hammering your brand on top of people. It's about using these subtle versions of it and creating a brand ambience."