Aviation cabin design demo image fabric used for header hero image
January 17, 2024

Revitalizing brands through cabin design

United Airlines Polaris Business Class Seating


For a multitude of reasons, airlines are flying their airplanes longer than they used to, spanning more cabin refreshes — and rebrandings — than in the past. With seats and other cabin elements increasingly customised and branded, especially in premium cabins, ensuring that interiors design remains relevant and on-brand throughout the life of a cabin, across brand changes, has never been so important.


A first really smart choice for designers is to use a palette of similar tones rather than one particular brand shade within the cabin, and especially in and around the expensive seats. A great pathfinding example of this is United’s Polaris business class, where a variety of blue textures and colours in the seat bridged the gap between the previous blue-and-gold United branding on introduction in 2016 and the current blue-and-blue branding introduced in 2019.


This is beneficial not just in evolution terms as new brand generation-specific colours swap in and out of style at an airline. Designing seat elements to intersect with different colours, materials and finishes rather than the same ones can reduce the visual impact of many a production quality issue, avoid the necessity to pattern match, and break up repetitive visuals.


Air Frances Hippocampe Business Class Seats


Another smart choice, especially for airlines with history, is to use vintage elements that hold a place in passengers’ hearts and minds. Air France’s hippocampe (the winged seahorse nicknamed crevette, or ‘shrimp’) is an iconic example here. Featured as part of the feature lighting on the airline’s most recent business class seats, this sort of historical brand equity is a welcome nod to history and an opportunity for airlines to differentiate their cabins.

Where proudly displaying the full airline brand is important — and there are certainly places where it is, including within cabin bulkheads and at the primary boarding doors — designing for replacement over two decades is essential. Numerous examples of aircraft abound where the airframe is more than a couple of decades old, yet multiple cabin refreshes have left the bulkheads original, featuring branding placards or other elements that date back two or more brands. Designing this kind of modular branding to attach simply, and even more vitally to detach simply, is important.

Greige Airplane Cabin Seats Design BLAH Airlines Boring


One pitfall to avoid is the boring and easy option of going for greige, that mixture of off-white beiges and greys parodied so aptly by Virgin America as BLAH Airlines. With all the colours, materials and finishes available to designers, this just ensures that the cabin never feels up to date or on-brand.

Designers should be careful and use restraint around newly introduced brand elements, or those that feel like they might be on the discard pile during the next refresh. These risk aging poorly — the cabin version of looking at a galley full of well-loved aluminium inserts with three generations of the airline logo stamped into the metal. While fun from an airline history buff point of view, this isn’t exactly the look cabin designers are going for.

Updated Plane Seat Header Fabric Ultrafabrics

Semi-hard products, like seat covers or headrests, are a smart place for this type of brand element: a stitched version of an updated brand featured at the shoulder, for example, can be updated at a refresh and rolled out to a fleet as required. If this is stamped into the thermoplastic of the seatback, however, updates are substantially more complicated and expensive.

Using new or trendy pieces of branding on frequently replaced soft product items rather than hard products like seats or bulkheads can also be effective. Pillows, blankets and headrest antimacassar covers are a great place for branding focus, especially for that perfect first impression.

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