As a part of our Terminal Velocity series, we asked several designers how they would improve upon the experience of traveling. San Francisco-based product design firm Ammunition often works with big brands such Adobe, Polaroid, Barnes&Noble and Williams-Sonoma. But after exploring the luggage space while designing Octovo, a line of traveler-friendly wallets and bags, Ammunition partner Matt Rolandson found himself mulling over the problem of air travel. Here, Rolandson tells Co.Design associate editor Margaret Rhodes what he and his firm cooked up. —Eds
A big theme for the Octovo project was this idea: What is travel all about? The point should be celebrating the idea of travel and the sheer enjoyment of it. When compared to the actual day-to-day perceptions of the travel experience, though, we see a big difference. The norm in air travel is coach and it’s not the most empowering experience. From an accessories point of view, and a space point of view, it’s a confining and disempowering. Here, we offer some concepts that could impart a sense of empowerment to people when they travel.
One idea is about giving the whole experience the finger. With the pod, you’re saying this is me, this is my space and I paid for it—and I don’t want to deal with any of you. It’s just a tent. Flying can be so painful from a sensory perspective. Maybe by enclosing yourself in your own piece of architecture that you can bring aboard the airplane, you can give yourself a sense of place that you feel some control over.
This is definitely a concept creation. I’m not going to look anyone in the face and recommend they wrap themselves in a tent. But for the purpose of making a statement, it’s basically a protest design. People shut out the rest of the airplane. It’s the coach shantytown version of the first class pods that airlines like Cathay are getting.
We’re interested in this because it’s absurd and critical. It’s saying, "Flying is so bad I’d rather put myself in a tent than deal with your bullshit. We’re declaring our own nation state."
It's a stupid idea! But it’s not really an idea, it’s a statement.
Most of us who travel in coach pass through first class, and the message is: "Hey it could be really great, but it’s not going to be, so good luck." It doesn’t set a great tone. We’re thinking of simple things people could do to assert a level of dignity. It’s about bringing your own first class experience into the dining part of traveling on an airplane. The idea for this is to complement some of the more thoughtful things that airlines are doing around food.
They’re realizing that there’s a need and market gap to provide amenities on the ground that people can take on the plane. As a practical matter, people are bringing their food with them already. This kit is about making a bit of theater around the dining ritual in coach.
We want it be this very minimal kit that’s a table top service. It will have a tablecloth, napkin, a glass for water, and a glass for another drink. There will be plates where you place your food, so even if you have a sandwich and some chips, you could change it in a way that seems more elevated.
The third variation on this has to do with the strange, abstract, isolated feeling people have while they’re up in the air. The air is awkward—you’re physically constrained in the plane and there’s a disconnected feeling. What’s ironic is that people are often mentally hibernating during a flight, but it’s pretty extraordinary. You’re several miles above Earth, and underneath there’s interesting stuff. So how can we provide a tool to show the geography? What are the stories below? What’s happening there now?
Those little progress maps in the in-flight entertainment system are essentially glorified progress bars. It just tells us how long we have until it ends. But there’s an opportunity to get to another layer of data. We could provide the passenger with the experience of what’s happening on the ground and feed their curiosity.
On a flight a captain will come on and say, "If you’re seated on the left hand side of the place you’ll see we’re passing over the Grand Canyon." There’s an amazing world down there.
I would absolutely recommend that this product piggyback on top of the technology that people already carry with them—like phones and tablets. Flyers can gaze out the window and then see the overlay of the cool stuff going on geographically down below. It’s trying to make the trip a little more captivating.
*Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article mistakenly said Ammunition designed the Nike Fuelband.