In 2013, JAL signed to purchase its first Airbus aircraft – the A350, for its next-generation flagship. Encouraged by the Japanese government’s drive to increase inbound international passengers by 40 million in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, JAL issued an international tender competition to select a design partner.
The brief was to express JAL’s corporate philosophy, the “traditional innovative spirit of Japan” in the design of the new fleet, featuring First-Class, Class J and Economy Class cabins.
The winning pitch was led by tangerine’s Chief Creative Officer, Matt Round and Creative Lead & Head of Japan Business, Yuichi Ishihara. Tangerine’s detailed knowledge of Japan, having worked with Japanese companies for almost three decades, combined with their expertise designing for renowned global businesses, assured JAL that the London-based design studio was the perfect fit to help them realise their goals.
JAL’s ambitions were to grow their business and create a lasting impression on both their domestic and international travellers. The design challenge was how to create an onboard experience that caters to the tastes of the domestic market while appealing to the desires of the international passengers that the airline was hoping to attract.
International visitors to Japan are generally fascinated by the country, but they don’t always understand the rituals and values of Japanese culture. Tangerine’s design needed to both exhibit Japanese authenticity and appeal to international passengers without alienating the home market.
tangerine’s Chief Creative Officer, Matt Round said: “We created a design strategy, ‘Infused Essence’, that captures the essence of Japanese culture and identity and embodies it in a contemporary travel experience aimed at Japanese and international passengers.”
‘Infused Essence’ is expressed throughout the aircraft. A subtle evolution of the airline’s livery introduces winglets dipped in JAL’s signature red. The colour diffuses gently into the white of the plane’s wing, signifying an infusion of tradition into the modern day.
There is an emphasis on the ‘soft side of the customer experience’, a focus on the intangible elements and careful consideration of subliminal behaviour and feelings that truly enhance the customer’s experience.
On entering the cabin, passengers are greeted by smiling staff, set against a backdrop of a deep JAL red wall with the distinctive Tsurumaru logo in gold above them.
The mood of the cabin is welcoming and spacious, yet cosy at the same time. It is the first and only A350 to feature dark side walls. The dark colour brings a more intimate feeling to the cabin, contrasted with a pure white ceiling and overhead bins that reflect light into the space.
The division of the interior space is reminiscent of the way that divisions of space in Japanese culture are created through suggestions of boundaries rather than physical borders. Texture also plays a significant role in Japanese spatial design, so it seemed natural that the rhythm of the cabin interior should be created through changing textures.
The exclusive First-Class cabin sets the benchmark for premium domestic travel in Japan, with aesthetics subtly evoking Japan’s heritage while pointing towards the future. At the front of the cabin, the wall features a pleated architectural form inspired by origami, which beautifully diffuses the feature lighting.
Tangerine redefined the seat geometry of a Jamco First-Class seat to deliver significant improvements in passenger comfort at every moment of the flight. This was achieved by lowering the seat height and changing the angles of the seat pan and seatback.
The ‘Infused Essence’ design strategy informs the character of the seat design, with ordered geometric forms creating a distinctive visual signature of angled shapes, contrasted with the soft and subtle natural forms of the seat cushions.
As a relationship with nature is a key part of Japanese culture, tangerine’s challenge was to bring elements of the natural world into a manufactured environment. On a sunny day, natural light shines through the hatched pattern of the semi-translucent privacy screen, casting shadows into the cabin interior. Texture is integrated into the seating design through the grain and stitching of the e-leather wrapping over the top of the seat shell to create a distinctive signature for JAL.
“You can see natural imperfections in the leather, which stops the seat looking hard and functional. The appreciation of imperfections in natural elements is an intrinsic quality of Japanese aesthetics,” says Round.
This same motivation influenced the choice of a stone-like material for the First-Class cocktail tables, each with its own unique natural pattern.
The curtains that divide the cabin classes are the innovative result of experimentation with production machinery. Vertical micro-pleats combine with horizontal impressions in the surface giving form and texture to the textile.
The design language flows into Class J, with distinctive geometric shapes applied to the end bay and through the application of aspects of a shared colour palette. A JAL red bulkhead at the rear of the cabin draws one’s eyes through the space.
The width of the Recaro seat is emphasised by splitting the seat covers into two distinct colour blocks of burgundy and inky blue-black. “A combination of real leather and fabric is used for the seat, creating a rich sense of touch through the transition in material qualities. Soft woven fabric on backrest aids passenger comfort and the use of real leather on the seat pan and headrest provides good support and durability,” says Ishihara.
This approach to colour and material quality is also used in the Economy Class. When passengers enter the cabin, the impression is composed and monochromatic. As they turn to sit down, this changes from tones of grey to crisp white, with a flash of red on the seat back literature pocket. The effect gives an increased feeling of space within the economy class cabin.
Great care and attention was also given to the bathrooms. Instead of trying to make the airline bathroom feel large by adopting the usual light colour tones, tangerine took inspiration from small Japanese spaces, which often use a combination of dark colours and textures to create a sophisticated space. The walls of the bathroom are dark brown with a metallic copper overprint, mirroring the custom dark brown PU coating applied to the aircraft interior walls to create a unified design language. These colours and textures are contrasted with the pure white of the sink, the pale oak grain pattern on the vanity unit and the subtle lighting on the stone-like floor, creating a serene experience for JAL’s passengers.
Ishihara says: “Across four years, tangerine formed a deep collaboration with JAL to implement the ‘Infused Essence’ design strategy. Working with people across different divisions of JAL, we helped to manage the project and the airline’s suppliers to ensure a high-quality result.”
Round says: “tangerine set a vision that represents JAL across the whole customer experience for people travelling in every cabin. We have captured the essence of Japan and expressed it in JAL’s own unique way to entice its domestic travellers as well as widen the appeal to the international market.”
The client says:
JAL Representative Director and Chairman Mr. Yoshiharu Ueki says: “The cabin interior expresses JAL with a sophisticated taste. It is a wonderful achievement.”