Tell us about your qualification and career so far

Well, if you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have leaned heavily on my educational background, but now I would say my best qualifications are my working experience with airlines, their customers, industry experts, and learning how to engage with engineers. My career in aviation has taken me from payload engineering to sales and marketing. Before this, I pursued graduate degrees simultaneously in industrial design and experimental psychology while working for NASA, Lockheed Martin, and as an independent product designer.

Have you always been interested in aviation?

I have always been interested in aerospace, yes. While joining the space industry was my first choice, the Boeing aviation opportunity arose and I grabbed it since the space industry in the late 2000s was in relative decline. The more I learned about the aviation industry, the more it appealed to me. It is not only a business-to-business model; we also get to expand our thinking to consumers as well. Since everyone flies these days it’s a topic that people enjoy discussing so you can relate to most people with what you do for a living. Being involved in interiors makes it that much more poignant—everyone has an opinion about x, y, or z airline, seats, the boarding experience, IFE [in-flight entertainment], food. To put it simply, I was looking for a complex field, which combined my skills, talents and passions in nearly infinite ways. And in terms of my own personal convictions, I could not enter a consumer industry built on planned obsolescence. Our products last 20 years plus!

How does your neuroscience and psychology background help you in your current role?

Neuroscience and human factors psychology offers you a fundamental understanding of how the world works…. and the world is people-based, right? People buy things from people they like, and they buy for emotional reasons – in ways that often don’t make sense. I find it relatively natural to dissect the aircraft interior because even if I’m not an expert on each system, I lean on my understanding of human behaviour. It also helps me uncover creative and unique ways to describe and uncover the value within our products. But, I’ll let you in on a secret; the best education I ever received was gained by waiting tables and selling Girl Scout cookies door to door – let me tell you, there is no better way to learn to read others, to deal with uncensored rejection, and to get over your fear of talking to complete strangers.

Rachelle Ornan-Stone

Tell us about your typical day?

Some days it feels like I’m a mutant circus ring leader, professional juggler, data analyst, researcher, anthropologist, advertising executive and public speaker. Here is what might be thrown my way on a particularly interesting and busy day: Spend a few hours on updating a presentation on twin- and single-aisle airplane trends for two different airline customers; give an airline a walk-through of our Customer Experience Center –Boeing’s showroom of aircraft interiors – or on the flightline; answer a set of interview questions for an industry magazine; meet with a product marketing team to discuss new customer-facing materials for the Boeing 777X; compile talking points for next month’s UN space conference at which I have been asked to attend and speak; analyse the best way to configure an airline’s interior; have a conversation with a research lab on academic work that could be translated into the aircraft interior as a key product differentiator; run to the airport and catch a plane to support a sales campaign on the topic of interiors. As you can see, it’s pretty varied – and maybe I exaggerated a bit on being able to do all of that in one day but it certainly gives you a flavour. On occasion, I get a day sprinkled in here and there when I can play catch up, put my head down and work solidly, uninterrupted.

What are the most exciting projects you have worked on?

The most exciting, and frustrating, projects are those which have the biggest impact on the product and the flying public, efforts for which there are no roadmaps to success, and where I’ve had to get buy-in and leverage from nay-sayers.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

The most challenging aspects of my job relate to time management. If you are an innately curious person, and have a hard time saying no because everything sounds fascinating, then you’ll understand how it can be a problem. Another challenge is to figure out how to navigate a rules and regulation-based industry with ‘big ideas’ and to maintain the stamina and excitement to inspire yourself and others to continually push the envelope.

What do you enjoy most?

I love meeting people from other cultures. I love the challenges related to designing for a limited volume of space. And most of all, I love the idea that we are inherently all the same, wherever we come from and that we can even mingle because of air travel – it’s such a poetic, and impactful thought if we can realise the huge opportunity. We are only scratching the surface of psychology’s intersection with the airplane and how related devices, services, technology, and connectivity will impact humanity and reinvent the travel experience and change the world for the better. The airplane can literally be the vehicle of change.

What new innovations can we expect to see in spaceship and airline cabins over the next decade?

I predict that the power will revert back to economy class, and that the future travellers of the world will surprise us with their expectations, likely to be based on technology offerings rather than battles over seat measurements. With all of the options available for an individual to control his or her own personal experience by technology, we will see some really cool ways to add meaning to our lives during what used to be considered the ‘down time’ of flying. Business class travellers will be able to enjoy à la carte services; airlines will offer differential pricing schemes across all classes of service; they will perfect ways of catering to their customers on an individual basis and successfully charging for it. Leaner operations, higher revenues and more preference among passengers is a win-win. Major industry players will begin acting as entrepreneurial entities, and will seriously redefine what they manufacture and what they outsource, as well as finding new avenues for revenue in non-traditional offerings. With new market competition in the aircraft manufacturing business, we’ll all become more scrappy and creative. I’m hugely curious to find out how the sharing economy will rub off on the aviation industry.

I love how you asked the question about spaceship cabins too, as if they are run of the mill. They are in my mind because I’ve been thinking about it for so long now! I think initially we’ll see a naïve transition occur from a commercially conservative and functional interior supporting cargo and crew deliveries to the opposite extreme – “vanity”, novelty, amusement interiors designed by a nameplate celebrity with stylistic underpinnings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Epcot Center and The Jetsons. But what does an everyday ‘working’ commuter spacecraft interior look like? A cosy spacecraft? One designed for leaders of the free world to look into each others’ eyes, gain trust, deal with the new rules of personal space, and sign global peace agreements? We haven’t invented those yet. I look forward to seeing whether space tourists and airline passengers will migrate to the virtual world permanently (will a screen to the outside be an acceptable substitute for a window) or whether there will be a desire for the real view – even if just for the two seconds it takes to snap a selfie to say you were truly ‘there’.

Source: Flight International