Free from the structural limitations of aeroplanes, travel lounges offer a rare opportunity for carriers to create a memorable customer experience. David Davies, design director at DDSB, discusses the airport lounge design process, and the company’s latest project in Amman.

Could you please give us some background about yourself as a company?

David Davies: DDSB is a London-based brand design company with over 25 years of business acumen in leading-edge design. We’ve worked all over the world, and partnered with airlines from Australia, Europe, the Far East and South-East Asia to create lounges, aircraft interiors and branded cabin experiences.

What are the key points to consider when designing an airport lounge?

Two very distinct sets of people use airport lounges; business travellers and holiday-makers. Striking the right balance between luxury and functionality so that both are happy is central to the design process. You need to offer uptime and downtime experiences, with a mixture of intimate and more open plan areas.

In terms of features, food and beverage continue to be a key element – the sort of people who use airport lounges often travel regularly and have a very good understanding of hospitality, so the level of quality needs to be exceptional.

Underpinning all this, airport lounges also need to feel separate from the main concourse, away from the maddening crowd. With the increasingly high quality of the general coffee bars and retail shops, especially in new airports, this new level of sophisticated offer has become increasingly challenging.

Does brand identity also play a part?

Yes. One of the most difficult parts of our job is to simultaneously encapsulate the nature of an airline brand as well as the country it represents into a design. The reason it’s so challenging is that big airlines tend to want something that identifies them as contemporary, international and world-class, while countries and regions always have a far more individualised identity. Getting the mix right between these two involves careful and sensitive consideration rather than the occasional local pattern or artifact.

How do you create an international and a local feel?

As designers, we rely quite heavily on our intuition to achieve the right balance, and we try to develop that by immersing ourselves in the company we’re working for and the country the lounge is in.

What we often end up doing is putting a series of three-dimensional sample boards together. This involves pulling in a number of different colour shades, textures and materials that signify both the brand and the country we’re trying to encapsulate. So we might take some natural stone that are typical to the region, see how they look with everything else on the board, then, if we like them, we’ll polish and hone them to suit our design and incorporate them into the lounge.

It’s important that you retain a sense of subtlety when using objects in this way to represent a nation. You wouldn’t want the British Airways lounge to be filled with pictures of the Beefeaters and the sofas covered in Union Jack cushions. When you do get it right though, the overall effect can be fantastic.

Which aspects of Jordanian culture have you tried to recreate in the Amman lounge?

Having immersed ourselves in the local culture, we quickly realised that Jordanians are naturally very friendly. Not only this, many travel regularly and when they see somebody they recognise, they’ll stop to talk. Accommodating this level of sociability required a very different approach to our previous designs, where the lounge was primarily an area to escape from other people.

In Amman, the Royal Jordanian Crown Lounge design incorporates a number of areas where people can meet and interact. There are big tables for families or groups to sit around and chat, and groups of furniture arranged in a sociable layout. We’ve also taken the journey through the lounge into account; although there are some screens, it’s mostly open so that passengers will be able to see and greet people they know. That’s not to say there’s a complete lack of privacy, however – we’ve ensured that some more personal spaces are also available for those that want them.

Have you extended that sociable element into the dining facilities?

The catering services are designed so that passengers have the choice of either a peaceful solo dining experience, or sitting as a group. So the restaurant space, which we call the Olive Terrace Bistro, has lots of tables that can easily be pulled together to suit a larger group. We also have an olive terrace bistro, where customers can sit down with friends and have anything from breakfast foods to dinner, and a citrus grove juice bar offering customised juices.

What sort of IT services have you provided?

There’s Wi-Fi throughout the entire lounge and spaces with computers for people to use. We’ve been careful to limit these to quite specific areas though; we want to give customers the choice of either using our equipment, or finding a quiet corner and getting their own laptop or tablet out.

How does the original space you are given influence the final lounge design?

Part of the reason all of our lounges are so unique is we’ve always been given very different spaces to work with. In Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we started off with large empty concrete spaces from which we had to carve rooms, focal points and an airport lounge journey.

In Amman, the space we were given was on a mezzanine. The ceiling is quite close and is made up of dramatic vaulted arches. It feels very open and we responded with bespoke furnishings with lots of individual personality and shape.

How have airport lounges evolved over the years?

When airport lounges first appeared, they were little more than a series of single chairs, a drinks voucher, some cheese and biscuits, and an opportunity to escape the main concourse.

Since then, services have improved dramatically. We have learnt a lot from hotels and other areas of the hospitality sector. Many now have spa facilities, along with excellent bars, and separate coffee areas and restaurants. This quality improvement has had a real impact on the lounge dynamic; the average passenger dwell time in lounges we have designed has increased from around 20 to over 40 minutes.

Airlines have also realised that unlike the aircraft itself, where you’re really quite limited with what you can do, the lounge is a place where you can create a unique brand identity and a memorable experience for the passenger.

Do you think these trends will continue?

Services will continue to improve, but future trends will include a more five-star hotel experience with more sophisticated dining options as well as more tailored spa services.

Creating a unique ground experience for passengers is a way of differentiating airlines from their competition and obviously the creation of a more seamless ground-to-air entertainment and business service is a given.

At DDSB, we ensure the check-in process, the subsequent passage to the lounge and then onto the aircraft is as smooth and seamless as possible for the guest and the airline brand, ensuring that all elements complement each other.

Airline brands are becoming more interested in offering this kind of seamless experience for their passengers. In turn, the passengers are also looking for more ‘me’ time, looking for either a private and peaceful space to refresh and revive or more sociable spaces depending on their mood, time of day or whether they are travelling for business or pleasure.