Transforming Narrowbody Business Class
With their order of a new fleet of A321 Neos, JetBlue selected Acumen in 2016 to transform their cabin interiors and to design an all-new Mint suite, which would elevate narrowbody business class travel beyond even wide-body standards and will soon be available transatlantic. As part of the 4 year design development, Acumen invented the Mint Studio front row, the largest space available in a premium experience on a US airline.
JetBlue is one of the biggest disruptors in aviation, with an incredibly loyal customer base, and frequent ground-breaking innovations including their Mint Business Class product, launched in 2014. JetBlue’s original Mint seat was a firm favourite among America’s trend-setting young professionals. The product set a high benchmark for transcontinental business travel and the unique cabin layout also offered the first ever doors in business class, on the single Mint Suite.
Reimagine the Mint onboard experience
JetBlue engaged with Acumen to become their design ‘business partner’ and work with them to redesign and configure the interior of their new fleet of Airbus aircraft. With A321Neos on order for both transcontinental routes and to fulfil their ambitions for transatlantic services, it was an opportunity to radically rethink the JetBlue onboard experience. Fundamental to the brief was the desire to elevate the airline’s business class Mint experience even further.
JetBlue had selected the new Thompson Aero Vantage Solo seat concept that had recently been announced and was set to be the launch customer for the product. JetBlue had carried out extensive research on their existing Mint product and required the Solo seat concept to be reconfigured and tailored to meet the needs of their discerning customer base.
At the start of the project Acumen spent time with the JetBlue team in New York, attended the JetBlue University in Orlando, Florida and immersed ourselves in the culture and ethos of the people that make JetBlue so unique. Most importantly our design team were able to fly and audit the existing product across several flights. This immersion enabled us to build on the customer insights but also identify opportunities to enhance the product and cabin environment.
At the start of our creative journey, we interpreted JetBlue’s brand and vision into an overall design strategy to help guide our design work. Our aim was to create an onboard environment that would enable JetBlue customers to enjoy a seamless journey experience from ground to air. With customers demanding continuous connectivity and blurring the boundaries between work and leisure , we developed a design philosophy and approach which we called ‘Seamless Living’.
Working in partnership with JetBlue and Thompson Aero, Acumen took the basic footprint of the 2016 Solo suite and started a new design from the ground up, focused around the needs of the modern business traveller and their need to multi task and connect whilst onboard. We started by opening up the space as much as possible by removing the bulky stowages in the original concept, and replacing them with flat, more usable surfaces, that would enable the customer to eat, work and browse simultaneously, without ever compromising one activity.
However personal storage was still a crucial requirement that needed to be intuitive and tailored around JetBlue’s customer needs. We added a dedicated laptop stowage, an under ottoman space for handbags, a dedicated shoe stowage, a headphone hook, and a handy side stowage for personal items with a unique perforated lid - allowing customers to check they didn’t leave anything behind, and try to work out what’s written in morse code in the perforations.
All of this was wrapped in a smooth flowing aesthetic, with a clear delineation between the softer seat end of the suite, and the more practical, furniture like table area. Due to the small size of a narrowbody cabin, any boxy, straight lines can create a feeling of claustrophobia, so every surface was gently curved and softened.
The backshell, when viewed from behind, wraps in one continuous surface from the window to the aisle, enhancing the feeling of space and drawing light in from the windows. The doors subtly curve away from the aisle, not only softening the view looking down the aircraft, but also moving the top away from passing passengers shoulders and arms.
With connectivity being at the heart of the JetBlue brand, intuitively placed power ports, wireless charging, headphone jacks, USB connections and cable organisers were placed around the suite. The aim was to ensure whatever the customer was doing, they would never have to hunt around to stay connected. In addition, we incorporated a unique smart phone holder to allow customers to chat and browse whilst multi-tasking – a feature that over the 4 years development we had to constantly check fitted the latest smartphones.
Subtle mood lighting was also incorporated into the suite to give a more residential and cosier feel. The lighting can be customised to suit your mood between an “Awake” and “Relax” mode giving each customer a truly unique experience through simple and intuitive controls. We also added a “nightstand” area by the bed, where a phone can be plugged in to charge, with space for a water bottle and a second headphone hook.
The materials and finishes created for this suite were Acumen’s most daring yet, drawing heavily on JetBlue’s creative brand identity and influences from New York. Working closely with JetBlue’s designers, a bold yet subtly applied pattern was developed from the JetBlue brand language and is applied to the inner walls. Developed with the team at Kydex, the infused design fades as it runs around the back of the suite elongating the space and drawing the light from the windows in. Soft, textured suede, created in partnership with Tapis, also wraps around the seat creating an inviting and relaxing space, especially in bed mode.
For the first time on an aircraft, a contemporary ‘urban’ inspired “concrete” feature light illuminates the large table surface and ties into the mood lighting scheme.
The “concrete” is in fact a lightweight, aerospace certified material
created with Polystone, and took many iterations to create the correct
rough, imperfect finish.
The new Mint product incorporates doors on all the suites, delivering privacy for all. The doors are light in colour to maximise the feeling of space in the cabin and incorporate a bold pressure formed pattern, developed from the mint logo. The three dimensional pattern subtly shifts in definition in the changing light of the cabin throughout the flight.
In line with our Seamless Living design strategy, the suite décor reflects the fluid boundaries in contemporary live/work interiors, where residential and office environments are becoming closer in style through the use of soft textile finishes, contrasting textures and playful use of colour and pattern. The finishes have been chosen to reduce noise and cocoon the customer in a tactile and calming environment, which further enhances privacy & a feeling of well-being.
JetBlue also partnered with Tuft and Needle (specialist in bedding and mattress technology) to incorporate their Adaptive Foam® into the seat with a breathable, soft cover to create a cool and comfortable sleep experience. We designed the covers with Sabeti Wain to reflect the signature look and feel of a Tuft and Needle mattress.
The largest lie flat bed in a premium experience from any U.S. airline
JetBlue’s previous Mint product featured the single “throne” seat, which has much more space and privacy than the alternate double seats in the cabin layout. Acumen built on this idea and identified an opportunity to create a unique front row product by cleverly splitting the space between customers and crew. Because the rows of Mint suites start from a bulkhead it allowed a much more generous seat environment to be developed for the front row, that offered even more space and an enhanced experience.
The goal of the design of Studio was not to prescribe the space too strongly; we explored concepts solely focused on a larger bed, or larger table surface, but in the end it was felt that opening it up the space as much as possible, and allowing the space to be shared with a second passenger would create a truly “wow” experience. We therefore added the longitudinal second seat, which folds down to enlarge the bed surface. We then optimised the remaining space to offer a second pull out table, a personal stowage including a vanity mirror, a second concrete feature lamp and an even larger monitor.
Acumen worked with AIM to develop the Mint Studio design and its integration into the cabin. The new Mint Studio offers the most space and the largest lie flat bed in a premium experience from any U.S. airline, and experience goes beyond any business class offer.
The most spacious, intelligent and modern business class seat for transcontinental and transatlantic travel
The enhancements that Acumen made to the design of the new Mint Suite and the invention of the Mint Studio have proved to be very successful, and have now been adopted and incorporated into Thompson’s platform Solo product revealed in 2020.
“We are thrilled to have partnered with Acumen to completely reimagine the Mint cabin experience. Mint’s thoughtful design has resonated with so many customers over the years, and we are looking forward to bringing this next evolution of our award-winning premium product across the pond later this year.”Mariya StoyanovaDirector of Product DevelopmentJetBlue
When the new suite makes its debut on JetBlue’s A321 LD and LR aircraft, it will be the most spacious, intelligent and modern business class seat for transcontinental and transatlantic travel. The addition of the Mint Studio front row seats pushes business class beyond many first-class offerings. The new cabin design also incorporates the new welcome experience and a self-service snack and drinks station – called The Pantry designed by Acumen, which were launched on JetBlue’s A321 HD configured aircraft in Sept 2019.