Simplicity of thought – Aircraft Interiors Showcase 2023

tangerine explores how simplicity of thought propels a brand and elevates the customer experience. The new designs for Finnair achieve a distinct but subtle Finnish experience across all elements of the service, from ground to air


Finnair Business Class Seat

Brutal simplicity of thought, is the beauty of simplifying an argument to its essence,” said Maurice Saatchi. This is a philosophy that Tangerine’s chief creative officer, Matt Round, recognises. Round, who cut his teeth designing for galleries in London’s fashionable Kensington district at the start of the 1990s, has since been responsible for creating some of the most successful aircraft cabin interiors, most notably British Airways, Gulf Air, JAL, and now Finnair.

He believes that inspiration for an airline strategy should come from a deep dive into its culture and the mindset of key stakeholders. “It’s about identifying the DNA of a business and finding valuable insights with the potential to inform the design of a new experience,” he says. “Getting to that point takes a great deal of design thinking and guts, with buy-in from the airline, all the way from the CEO to the cabin crew. This was shown in our experience of working with Finnair.”

In February 2022, on the dawn of the post-Covid era, Finnair launched its new long-haul premium cabin interior. The €200m investment by Finnair resulted in new line-fit A350 and retrofit A330 aircraft, including extensive design development of brand-new seating for both business and premium economy, with the airline becoming the launch customer for both products. It was a brave move by Finnair’s board, and David Kondo, as the airline’s head of customer experience, was instrumental in driving the changes.

Finnair Business Class Cabin

The pitch went in Tangerine’s favour as Round reimagined Finnair’s brand concept of ‘Nordic Way’ with his own interpretation called ‘Nordic Freedom’.

“Finland has a heritage of designers, architects and brands,” says Round. “Building on that culture is so ownable for an airline. And then combining it with offering passengers the freedom they so desire when flying led to the new vision.”

Finnair’s existing ‘Nordic Way’ concept guided what the airline was doing as a brand. The vision of ‘Nordic Freedom’ translated it into a customer experience concept that set the tone for something aesthetically and culturally fitting in a practical, functional and delightful way.

Culture became the source of inspiration for Round and his team. They relocated to Finland, spending time with airline’s cabin crew, designers, engineers, marketeers and passengers, to gain a deep understanding of the Nordic lifestyle and gather insights that would be used to build their vision. There was no eureka moment. Not everything comes out of one workshop or single strand of thinking. Instead the concept grew from all the different sources of insight.

“Quite simply,” says Round, “insight starts to permeate your thinking.”

One of the unexpected outcomes from the workshops was discovering that people didn’t just want a re-creation of the familiar; indeed the response to source imagery was ‘it’s too Nordic’. Passengers expected the vision to be elevated, to go beyond the predictable. The starting point, the team realised, was high. Many of Finnair’s customers have homes with beautiful interiors where design is ingrained, so Tangerine’s job was to go further.

Finnair Blueberry Bar, Helsinki Airport

In tandem with the design of the new cabin interiors, Tangerine was also part of the team designing the interior of Finnair’s new premium lounges at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. It was of vital importance that all the elements of the brand worked coherently across the entire travel experience.

“We had to get to the heart of what matters most to passengers and create moments of magic that would live-on in people’s minds. It is the combination of big ideas and subtleties that make the difference to a passenger’s experience,” says Round. “As a designer you tend to look at these things in microscopic detail and decode them to create new ideas. This is a subliminal quality that is in designers’ gift to recognise and interpret.”

Finnair Lounge, Helsinki Airport

The term ‘Nordic Freedom’ evokes feelings of wide, open spaces, and Finns appreciate a grand view. Tangerine ensured there was a vista across the Finnair lounge from each of the intimate and distinct areas within it. Subtle demarcation provides clear points of difference and creates a varied pace as one moves through the lounge.

Passengers have the freedom to choose between a range of different experiences, from grabbing a quick coffee and cake while rushing to the gate, to a la carte dinning or even a sauna for those with more time. Clean lines, and iconic pieces of furniture from the Nordic design greats such as Arne Jacobsen and Eero Saarinen, are mixed with bespoke designed furniture and calm pockets of space to create a homely feel.

Finnair Galley


For Tangerine, ensuring continuity of the brand experience across the lounge and onto the aircraft was vital. The sense of quality and the essence of Nordic Freedom needed to flow seamlessly through the designs. The rich colour palette, the notion of freedom and the spirit of Nordic design blend together, forming a strong connection between the service on the ground and in the air.

The entrance to the cabin is evocative of a residential interior. A deep-blue wall contrasts with the light woods of the elegantly detailed sideboard, and a round, back-lit vanity mirror lifts away from the wall, giving a soft graduation between light and colour, as if hung as a home décor object.

The wood-effect credenza is designed to offer up different moments of the service throughout the journey. Coffee and cake – a Finnish favourite – gives way to a duty-free offering of Finnish design classics, while a ‘Taste of Finland’ offers Finnish tapas
to round off the evening. These homely connections for the passenger double as an ancillary revenue opportunity for the airline.

The iconic Ultima Thule glasses from Finnish glassmaker Iittala were introduced by Finnair on its New York route over 50 years ago. Today they are housed inside a glass cabinet in the self-service bar. Behind them is a surface treatment with a metallic shine that reflects light back into the cabin, adding texture to the surfaces, making them look richer and more elegant.

Finnair’s business class seat is based on Collins Aerospace’s Airlounge platform, which was conceived for B777 – an aircraft that is significantly wider than Finnair’s A350s and A330s. The platform was unresolved but showed great promise. Together with Collins and Finnair, Tangerine overcame the challenges. Originally the seat had a movable side to give added privacy, but the design team found that by extending the shell out beyond this, they could create a soft, curved shape that envelops the passenger, cocooning them in their own space. Not only did this shape eliminate the need to include a door, it resulted in the benefit of giving the passenger two extra inches of living space across the width of their seat. The design language was crafted to express Finnair while enhancing the emotional and ergonomic comfort of the seat, getting every feature and form in just the right place.

Finnair Premium Economy Seat

The HAECO Vector premium economy seat also became a special development for Finnair, as launch customer. The design features a completely new and bespoke backshell with additional storage space for the passenger, and significant energy went into enhancing the ergonomics of the living space.

On the soft product side, Iittala and Marimekko – both icons of Finnish design – brought their own unique gift to Nordic Freedom, aligning with the vision created by Tangerine.

Overall the effect for Finnair is award- winning. With passengers returning to the skies, it seems that the airline’s brave strategy is set to pay off.