London-based studio PriestmanGoode is preparing the world's infrastructure for its urban future. Perspective caught up with its co-founder Paul Priestman during Business of Design Week to learn about the details
The chances are you've probably flown or ridden on the work of Paul Priestman, designer, co-founder and chairman of PriestmanGoode. The award-winning London studio specialises in transport infrastructure and is at the forefront of innovative airline and rail network design, as well as consumer goods that respond to a changing world. PriestmanGoode is making waves with its designs for the Hyperloop – airline-speed train travel in a vacuum tube – Qatar Airways' multi-function Qsuite, the London Underground upgrade New Tube for London (NTfL) and the Scooter for Life, designed to encourage movement at all ages.
The London studio specialises in transport infrastructure and is at the forefront of innovative airline and rail network design, as well as consumer goods that respond to a changing world
The reasons and ways we travel have changed drastically over the past generation. What are the biggest changes you've had to respond to?
Traditionally we've been designing moving objects – the high-speed rail in China, the New Tube for London (pictured below) – but design is becoming much more interlinked. So, for an airline, we're doing everything from the online experience to the lounge to the aircraft.
Mass transit now means you can have vehicles 10 minutes apart with thousands of people on each train. People used to fly between London and Paris. Now they take the train – in numbers [equivalent to about] 20 747s every hour. [The train] can be a pleasant experience but it's also true mass transit. And cities are choosing to define places by their transport systems. In Hong Kong, you have to take the Star Ferry. In Amsterdam, you must try a bike. Transit is starting to embody the character of the city.
Traditionally we've been designing moving objects… but design is becoming much more interlinked. For an airline, we're doing everything from the online experience to the lounge to the aircraft
Why is infrastructure, particularly rail, so important now?
Cities are dying from pollution and congestion, and they're not functioning. They're in danger of collapsing. Governments are stepping in but it does take long-term investment. There's a debate over whether people will even need to travel for work in the future, what with technology. Some companies in America are treating the commute as part of the workday. Populations are ageing, which plays into health and mobility. There's an idea that maybe we should encourage walking just a bit further to rail stations, so you need to build fewer of them.
What makes a good train interior?
One that has flexibility, privacy and allows you to do things you couldn't in the past, be it work or play. It should be quiet and bring benefits over and above any other form of transport: you don't need to put your laptop away when you leave the station, you can get up and go to a restaurant car, and security, at least currently, is less rigid. It's pleasant. And no matter what people say, it's unnatural to be in an aluminium tube 38,000 feet up. And trains are more responsible to the environment.
What about aircraft?
Planes are about modularity and flexibility – like the Qatar Qsuite we designed (pictured below), which is a business-class seat that converts into four seats for families. You have to think about longevity. Unlike most consumer goods, which are designed to be obsolete after six months, public transport is the opposite. You design in a modular way so that when new technologies come in you can swap out one for the other but the main structure remains the same. You have to think for the future. We have to think about how we can be more effective and efficient with what we build.How does designing for China's high-speed rail compare to the NTfL?
We do a lot of work on cultural significance. I don't design a train the way I like it – it's not for me. A high-speed train in China has to have boiling water in every vestibule; the interiors need to be more textured and dynamic. Europeans like Scandinavian minimalism, which to Chinese riders looks cheap. You have to find the [unique] characteristics and respect them. If you're designing for five or six different airlines they need to be significantly different because it's their equity, it's their brand. You're boarding a bit of the country. It's fascinating.
You've designed a functional scooter for seniors and talked about efficient transit networks and making cities work.
How do these elements go together?
It's all interlinked. Previously we designed the inside of a train, now it's the entire experience – and it can make a big difference [for users]. If we think about lights, weather, crossings and make [walking] to a rail station the more efficient choice, it takes the pressure off infrastructure. And we get healthy. We're designing systems now and that's a good thing.