Southwest Airlines has revealed a redesigned aircraft cabin interior for its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, deliveries of which begin next year. The design is intended to be distinctive in the competitive US domestic and transcontinental air travel markets, and to communicate Southwest’s brand.
The interiors have been designed by created by the Tangerine consultancy, which won a competitive international pitch process. The Southwest team were impressed by the range of options that illustrated how the airline could build on its heritage and communicate its maverick spirit via the refreshed cabin interior.
After being awarded the contract, representatives of Tangerine’s London studio travelled to Southwest’s HQ in Dallas, Texas for a two-week immersion trip to speak with employees from across the business. They held conversations with a wide range of departments, from marketing and customer experience, to communications, inflight crew, engineering, sustainability, and more, including CEO Bob Jordan.
Tangerine says these conversations instilled the design team with valuable insights into how the cabin interior design could contribute to the success of the business and help achieve Southwest’s goal of ‘being the most loved, most efficient and most profitable airline’.
Tangerine then held a series of workshops and one-on-one interviews with existing and prospective Southwest customers. Research themes covered passengers’ perceptions of colour, aspects of comfort, and their aspirations for the onboard experience. The key priorities of Southwest’s passengers were identified as a cabin space that feels feel calm and cosy, while also having a sense of energy. These insights shaped how Tangerine would respond through its creative process.
Southwest and Tangerine took a rigorous approach to testing the proposed cabin concepts, the process including customer workshops, quantitative research, 2D and 3D mockups, and collaborative reviews with the airline’s leadership in order to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of each concept.
Based on these insights, the chosen design route was based on a concept that brings a calming sense of nature into the cabin with a look and feel that is ‘distinctly Southwest’. It was then time to progress towards industrialisation, so Tangerine worked closely with Southwest’s supply chain and technical operations teams to conduct many rounds of physical sampling, including pattern, colour and material, to ensure the right tonality was achieved in the cabin while maintaining reliable operation in service.
Details of the cabin feature BL3710 economy seats from Recaro Aircraft Seating, featuring a multi-adjustable headrest cushion, an ergonomically enhanced seat bottom, a backrest with lumbar support, and a new armrest design that maximises seat width. Southwest selected this seat based on feedback from testing, workshops, and comfort studies. Tangerine added a design with a pattern on the artificial leather dress cover evocative of rays of sunlight falling on surfaces, linking back to customer feedback that they wished to connect with a sense of nature to bring calmness.
Southwest’s brand colours are communicated throughout the cabin in deep blue tones, with a newly introduced sky blue accent. The airline’s instantly recognisable Southwest heart motif is debossed on the headrests and also subtly emerges from the carpet’s fluid woven pattern.
“We needed to help Southwest stand out amongst other US carriers”, said Matt Round, Tangerine’s chief creative officer. “Our proposal expressed the unmistakable energy of the airline and gave the cabin interior environment more heart”.
From pitch the signoff, Tangerine got to the soul of Southwest during the 18-month programme, gaining a deep understanding of both its business objectives and customer perception, to ensure the cabin design met all needs.
“By working closely with Southwest and all suppliers involved, we were able to ensure the design intent was executed in the cabin to the highest possible quality. The stunning result is a testament to what can be achieved through a collaborative spirit from all those involved”, added Round.