Will Airbus champion design management?

We will have to wait five years to see the result, but Airbus Industries’ A3XX is set not just to transform air travel the way Jumbo Jet did, but also bring design in its broadest sense closely into the mix for commercial airplanes.

The project, which boasts London product design group Priestman Goode and global product star Ideo among an impressive array of international design consultants at concept stage, promises to bring together engineering and product design from the outset. This is not a branding exercise, but as solid a product brief as the award-winning Eurostar train. And like that project, which involved French designer Roger Tallon on the coaches, a Belgian group on the toilets, London interiors group Tilney Shane on the buffet car and Leicester product consultancy Jones Garrard on the actual train, the A3XX team is truly international.

Airbus has also, literally, taken a flier – though no real risk – in employing design groups not too immersed in the airline business. Priestman Goode, for example, has worked on planes before, for Virgin Atlantic, but it wasn’t charged with the entire interiors job. It worked alongside Lorenzo Apicella, Pentagram’s architectural partner.

If there is a criticism of the Airbus project, it is that the various design groups do not appear to be aware of each other’s input. Customers may choose to fly in different parts of the plane, but the base line for the design ought to be the same.

By being encouraged to share ideas, even at early concept stage, designers perform better, an example being the Heathrow Express from London’s Paddington station to Heathrow Airport. When they don’t, you risk a result like the Millennium Dome, where the opportunity is missed, however good the creative talent involved. Let’s hope Airbus proves a better example of sound design management.

Buck passing is hardly team spirited

Talking of the Dome and shared projects, it is very sad to hear the likes of architectural giant Lord Rogers passing the buck for the shortcomings of the final result. In media interviews he has said his team was not responsible for content, yet his personal involvement has been in the entire scheme. Similarly, his former partner Sir Norman Foster appears to have gone rather quiet about the Millennium Bridge, leaving structural engineer Ove Arup & Partners to answer media questions.

Surely creations on the scale of the Dome and with the vision of the bridge are a team effort. What a pity two of our greatest designers haven’t seen fit to support their fellow creatives in adversity.

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