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Dream time

Design consultancy tangerine takes a holistic approach to cabin design. Ian Harbison reports

Matt Round, tangerine Chief Creative Officer, says that the company’s first venture into aviation was back in 1998, with the invention of the first ever fully flat bed in business class for British Airways, which launched in 2000. However, the current range of activities is much wider, including construction/development, consumer products, hospitality/leisure, office products, retail, telecommunications and other forms of transport. This cross fertilisation not only drives innovation, it has practical advantages as well – several projects yet to be revealed go from the lounge to the aircraft, while the redesign of first class carriages on the Heathrow Express high-speed link had obvious synergies between rail and air.

He describes the British Airways project as a new customer experience, a complex project that can take up to 36 months. In this case, the concept was ground-breaking, incorporating forward and rear facing seats that converted into 6ft beds while maintaining an eight abreast configuration, which was achieved in just 16 months with the design team co-located the at their offices. Space management is one of the key skills required for this type of project, he says. The entire team moved to the manufacturer’s facilities, allowing design and engineering efforts to be integrated. He remembers an initial discussion where his suggestion to lower the seat to make passengers comfortable from the moment they sat down was initially rejected by the engineers, who wanted the space to stow equipment boxes. He comments that there is much greater understanding these days between the two sides. In fact, tangerine has contracted in engineering support when it has been working on technical seat elements.

There are three strategies that come into play for these types of projects – experience, configuration and value. The first is aimed at what the passengers will feel. The second maximises the capacity within the space available, which can only be achieved by exhaustive comparisons between seat types, where tangerine’s depth of experience is highly valuable. Finally, value is the return on investment for the airline, just 12 months for British Airways for a development cost of £200 million.  

Five years later, British Airways came back for a redesign, when tangerine introduced a tiny change to the angling of the seat that produced a 25% increase in the width of the bed without reducing the number of passengers in the cabin.

Another good example of space management was a project in 2015 with Virgin Australia, with its premium travel experience, ‘The Business’. This was fitted to Airbus A330-200 and Boeing 777 aircraft but, on the latter, incorporated a distinctive bar area, created in collaboration with AIM Altitude. This was placed in the Door 2 area as an entrance feature and space was maximised to allow for a premium face-to-face service, with flight attendants serving drinks from behind the bar.

The company sometimes work with OEMs on innovation projects. With Rockwell Collins and Thales, it helped design a concept Economy seat. The seatback has an outsized 22in split screen while keeping the seat within weight limits to avoid an expensive recertification programme. This not only responded to a trend for passengers to watch and browse simultaneously, but thoughtfully let small children watch their own programming on the lower screen. He comments that social trends and passenger behaviour, such as BYOD, are important considerations for new cabins.


This was important to Cathay Pacific when it selected tangerine in 2013 to create the cabin colour and trim for its Airbus A350-900 cabin and design the economy class seating. The seatback in economy class has a combined shelf and storage area that provides somewhere to place tablets and other devices, stowage for small personal belongings and a drinks holder. And in contrast to many projects where premium cabins take precedence, tangerine developed an innovative six-way headrest for economy that provides significantly improved lateral support, crucial for rest and sleep when seated in an upright or recline position.

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