The Principles of Dieter Rams Helped a Start-Up Airline Transform the Passenger Experience

 A matte black aesthetic, kaleidoscopic ambient mood lighting, a custom 360-degree sound system—Jessica Pastor, senior design director at Aero, tells us how the new airline is reimagining the flight experience.

A crack team of aerospace engineers, design veterans from IDEO, and one of the co-founders of Uber have come together to push the experience of flying to new heights. After completing its first route, L.A. to Aspen, in April, Aero announced its next one from L.A to Napa Valley. In the grand scheme, a couple routes seem pretty small. But the start-up upscale airline is introducing some big ideas into the staid commercial aviation space. Shuttling from private terminals, the business model is to offer a premium experience for the cost of first class on a big-name jet ($1,250 per flight.)

But beyond the convenience and service factors, Aero is attempting something much grander: a total reinvention of the passenger journey. From the customization of the interior design to the introduction of situational mood-driven ambient lighting to a one-of-a-kind sound system, the company’s repurposed aircrafts offer an optomistic vision for the future of flying. Aero has to be the only airline in the world that gets its inspiration from architecture textbooks, midcentury furniture design, and heritage fashion houses.

Below, we get the download from senior design director Jessica Pastor who takes us through the creative process and dishes on the plane’s innovative features.

How did you rethink traditional airplane design with Aero? What are some of the biggest differences from what people might be used to? 

We really wanted to push the needle forward in an interior that is user-centric, immersive to the senses, and that makes guests feel at ease to try to recapture the joy of the Golden Age of travel. We simplified and removed unnecessary parts, making the cabin feel more minimal and elegant, while at the same time easing maintenance issues. 

A great deal of attention was paid to material transitions to make them as seamless as possible, currently iterating and improving our design while developing our feel of bespoke interiors. We obsessed over how form, texture, and color make us feel as users, and wanted to create a somewhat monochromatic interior painted with light to immerse and soothe our guests. 

One of the signature elements is the matte black aesthetic on the interior and exterior of the plane. Was that purely a cosmetic decision or was there a deeper reason behind it? 

We questioned pretty much every aspect of the journey, so the striking livery is not a random choice. Our designers inherited the love for pure black from our founder, Garret Camp, who transferred that love of a minimalist look from previously co-founding Uber. So why not a black livery? As a group of nonconformists, this seemed the right choice. We look to challenge convention in everything we do and want to be bold in our livery design. 

The interior lighting system almost crosses over into light therapy territory. How does it work, what’s the science behind it, and how is it different than some of the stuff on the market like the Dreamliner’s mood lighting? Does it help maintain circadian rhythm?   

Our lighting design was crafted around the activities happening for both guests and crew. We carefully studied the user journey and design around certain key moments. For instance, the first time passengers step into an Aero cabin, it’s a wow-moment with signature sounds and smooth lighting transitions that make the [boarding experience] memorable.

During the flight, we enable different activities in the same space. While we have task lights for reading, a subtle ambient and uplifting light will unnoticeably transition to brighter and warmer hues to create a more enveloping and warm environment. The peach tones make us kick back and increase the sense of wonderment, while brighter and cooler light may cue us to gather our belongings prior to arrival. 80 percent of our interiors are custom. A few elements that we considered during the lighting design process were the light color on the ceiling to increase opportunities for reflection. In contrast, the plush dark carpet is subtly threaded with the Aero colors, prompting passengers to board or exit the aircraft.

How does the Bongiovi Acoustic Lab sound system, whose 360-degree panel lines the interior shell, improve the passenger journey? 

The combination of the sound system paired with the hand-stitched leather piping gives the sense of sleekness and speed when illuminated with the light. We wanted to build the sound system within the walls to give a truly immersive experience in-flight.

You looked to architecture textbooks, midcentury modern furniture design, and heritage fashion houses for inspiration during the design process. How did those influences guide the look and feel of the aircraft? 

As one of the fathers of industrial design, Dieter Rams heavily influences what we understand as “good design”—the use of color, texture, and form to guide the attention of the user in an intuitive way. The Eameses acted as my North Star, [serving as a reminder] that my role as a designer “is basically that of a good host, anticipating the needs of the guest.” 

Both of them flourished during that Golden Age and made design shine in an era when human-centered design was an alien concept. I believe that design can play a crucial role reimagining the future of travel, especially now after a pandemic.

Looking to the future, are you guys already ideating updates or additions to the design of the plane? Will you continue to iterate?  

By giving a second life to a jet, we are making the design process a bit more circular and sustainable. We are constantly learning and improving our cabin, treating it like a system of products and running them through developmental cycles to continuously improve craftsmanship, maintenance, and design. This ultimately translates into a jet that ages well and a thoughtful environment that enables a fantastic experience for our users.

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