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In Profile: Tim Fagan, Aerion Supersonic

Aerion Supersonic have been shortlisted for the Private Jet Design – Concept Award in The International Yacht & Aviation Awards. Read more about the Head of Industrial Design & Cabin Experience, Tim Fagan, below:


Name: Tim Fagan

Company: Aerion Supersonic

Position within company: Head of Industrial Design & Cabin Experience


Tell us a little about your background in design:
I studied Industrial Design at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I have been designing aircraft interiors since very early in my design career. Initially I worked in the commercial aircraft segment – developing cabins for regional turboprop aircraft. Though my responsibilities were Industrial Design, I had the opportunity to get involved in the technical development, painting, certification, manufacturing, and operations side of aircraft cabins.

I transitioned to business aircraft in the mid-2000s, which was eye-opening and super exciting. A lot of the technical knowledge and experience I had gained in commercial aviation was very applicable, but now within the context of the luxury and customization of business aircraft.

I have had the opportunity to not only work in the development of complete cabin systems, product updates and all-new aircraft programs as an Industrial Designer, but also in customer-facing roles for business jet completions, working directly with aircraft owners to define and personalize their aircraft to their very specific needs. I have led Industrial Design and Customer Facing aircraft completion teams and having that experience in each of those sides of the business really reinforce the other.

I joined Aerion in late 2019 to lead the cabin development of the AS2, which will be the world’s first supersonic business jet. The program is hugely exciting – we are really creating a new path in aircraft development. This will truly be an aircraft of and for the future – giving business jet travelers more of what they want: More speed, more comfort, more connectivity, more beauty, more calm, more focus, more time! And all of this while being kind to the planet. Aerion really is an all-star team, with knowledgeable and driven people from all around the industry who have a history of developing and launching aircraft – tons of expertise in their disciplines, and a shared ambition to really change how people travel.

How would you describe your personal design style?
I would say my personal design style focuses on experience – first on user comfort, refinement of functionality, and on all details of physical interactions between the user and the space. I very strongly believe in starting any design by prioritizing comfort, ergonomic considerations, and the overall physical experience of the user – these factors shape your overall experience.

Once these key geometry points are established, they form a framework for the form-giving and styling of the space. This creates a natural feeling where the forms and functionality are closely linked. Having developed my design career in business aviation, it is also a part of my instinct to leave space and opportunity for customers to inject their own design vision and style. This can be anything – form language, textures, finishes, and can express itself in simplicity or embellishment.

As aircraft designers we need to create striking, beautiful, and compelling cabin vision, with opportunities and invitations for our customers to adapt it to their own personal style.

Where does your design inspiration come from?
I believe that design inspiration needs to be closely linked to the design brief: Understanding what the product needs to be. Any product is meant to facilitate the lives of the user and must offer a specific experience – the job of the designer is to maximize this experience and functionality for the benefit of the user.

In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?
Technology integration is a strong theme that is constantly influencing design not only in business jet and luxury interiors but also in architecture, automotive, and many other industries. The important consideration is being able to integrate new technology in a way that is meaningful and intelligent.

It is tempting to take new technology and immediately incorporate it into a design – but by doing this as a designer you can start to lose track of the pure functionality and experience of your end product.

Technology and connectivity should be used in a way that improves the lives of the intended individuals using the product. The way to do that is integrate it in a way that brings real value to the user’s experience onboard the aircraft, not just technology for technology’s sake.

In luxury aircraft design it is important that everything must be refined and elegant, but you must also consider the integration of technology as important business tools for the passengers who fly them.

Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2020 and beyond.
1) Simplicity in technology implementation: There is sometimes a tendency in design to chase technology in pursuit of the next trend. I think a theme of luxury design in the coming years will be focused on the carefully considered implementation of technology. Loading technology into a product without first considering its impact on the user and the overall experience disturbs the overall design intention and can seem gimmicky and superfluous – the opposite of elegance and purity. A core principal of luxury design is in refinement and restraint – not with the aim of limiting advancement, but more a sense of graceful consideration of new technology.
2) Design for the Environment: Design for the environment is becoming increasingly well-understood and feasible to incorporate at many levels of design and manufacturing. As designers we are uniquely positioned to lead this, incorporating sustainable materials, considering product life cycle, developing environment-conscious manufacturing processes, and partnering with environmentally conscious suppliers. As designers we can and should lead the way.
3) Don’t change what isn’t broken: There is a tendency in design to want to change and improve every feature of a given product. This is understandable, especially for designers of ambition who want to take advantage of design opportunity to effect positive change. However, part of the design process must incorporate research into the current ‘gold standard’ for a given product type. The aim is of course not to be derivative, but to always build on what has come before and direct design efforts to the areas of true opportunity for improvement.
4) Hidden Technology: Technology that appears when needed and then disappears when it is not, is a theme that is very interesting and fits well in the design of luxury environments where curated, refined, and elegant user interactions are the objective.
5) Design ambition: Every design project is an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life – to improve their well-being, their productivity, their connection with the world. The design activity is really one of caring for the user. The design process should question and understand every moment of interaction between the user and the design, and be deliberate about each moment of interaction, every sensory detail, no matter how small.

If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design schemes, what would it be?
As an aircraft manufacturer that offers completed cabin interiors, we design not only every feature, functionality, cabin arrangement, detail, and interaction of the aircraft interior, but we also must plan and create space for the personalization of every aircraft that is expected by each customer.

This is an interesting balance – our core visual and experience DNA cabin must be exciting, compelling, beautiful, and instantly recognizable as Aerion – while at the same time inviting our aircraft owners to incorporate the features and details that will make the aircraft truly their own.

The customer-facing design team is embedded within the overall cabin development team with our Engineering and Industrial Design teams and suppliers at the earliest stages of development, so that the aircraft development program and the aircraft-by-aircraft design activity is perfectly connected.

Which products/services could you not live without when designing?
I really enjoy the complete Industrial Design process, but I think one of the most important elements of physical design is the relationship between designer ‘wielding the pen’ and the designer adapting the sketch to 3D. Sometimes this is the same person, or it may be a team, but the transition between the energy and ‘life’ of the 2D design to the precision of 3D surface definition is a critical moment for any design.

Part of the magic of sketching and hand-renderings is that there is artistic license involved – perspectives, volumes and details can be ‘cheated’ a little to create an emotional response and best serve the spirit of the design. In the transition to 3D, these details need to be fully and specifically defined. Being very precise with surface definition while maintaining the spirit of the design inspiration is not easy to do, so this interaction within the design team is one of the most important steps between design vision and reality.

How important are The International Yacht & Aviation Awards?
The International Yacht & Aviation Awards have emerged as an important event – there is no other award series that specifically recognizes design excellence in the luxury design segments of yachts and business aircraft. The categories reflect aircraft and yacht manufacturers, as well as the designers that envision and customize those vehicles to make them truly special for their owners. The engagement and excitement of the community voting for the winners creates excitement and awareness of the amazing vehicle design, so there is a very positive communications element to the awards – allowing vehicle owners and those of us in the industry to keep up with the best of current design

What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently leading the development of the Aerion AS2 cabin. This is a hugely ambitious undertaking, and one that we believe will be a truly historic aircraft. The AS2 will be the first ever supersonic business jet, and the program combines the absolute leading edge of aerodynamics, materials, avionics, and aerospace technology with the absolute leading edge of luxury. Our aim is to create an all-new vision of aircraft interiors – understanding the history of business aviation while being unrestrained by current convention. We will introduce technologies and features that will be seen for the first time in any aircraft, blended with the absolute pinnacle of handcrafted luxury. In the same way that the speed of the aircraft will be a step change to anything that has come before, so too will the cabin experience deliver experiences that cannot be found anywhere else.

What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
The AS2 is in a development phase that is focusing on maturing the aircraft overall – we have a configuration that will meet the extremely ambitious performance targets for the aircraft, and the current development activity is focused on overall systems integration – making sure that all components and systems within the aircraft are functionally and physically integrated. This is an important time for the cabin development, as the cabin sizing, variability, primary functionalities are established for the life of the aircraft. We are also refining the cabin experience intent – what is our Design ‘DNA’, how will we combine technology and luxury in a way that is instantly recognizable as Aerion.

Lastly, a few things about yourself:

Your most treasured possession?

One object that I enjoy almost every day is my favorite guitar – a Martin 000-15M that is an absolute joy to play. It’s a very simple and unadorned guitar – pared back to the simplest possible instrument, but with beautiful materials – solid mahogany body, rosewood fingerboard, a simple rosette and small inlay details in the neck. The wood and overall build is absolutely beautiful, and it has a warm mellow tone – very resonant for a medium-sized guitar. It makes me happy every time I play it.

Your favourite holiday destination?
I do like to travel, but my ideal holiday is to go to the lake with family and friends and spend time fishing, swimming, canoeing, being by the campfire, and just enjoying the outdoors. Cottage country in Canada is where I am most relaxed.

Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar?
I love to travel and eat, but I’m really most at home and comfortable in a nice Pub. It’s just an environment where I’m most comfortable – simple quality food, cozy environment. I grew up and went to university in Ottawa, and there are dozens of pubs and eateries in the Byward Market area that are really outstanding. It is a beautiful and historic open-air market with close proximity to galleries, museums, parks. It’s still a favorite area to spend the day when I return to Ottawa to visit friends and family.

Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?
An ideal afternoon is skiing and spending a little time at the chalet afterwards. Our family grew up with east-coast skiing in eastern Canada – a bit icy but always a good time. Now that we are based in Reno we have access to the Sierra Nevada and west coast skiing – more powder, more vertical – awesome. It’s a sport that you can do with your family and can participate for your entire life.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I have often thought that had I not been a designer I would have liked to be a medical doctor. I am fascinated by the interactions of the physical and chemical mechanisms of the body. The knowledge to understand, diagnose, fix, repair and maintain the human body for the benefit of our human health and wellbeing is such an important contribution to society. The number of medical specialties and the depth of knowledge that has been developed in the field of medicine through history is really astounding.

Aerion Supersonic have been shortlisted for the Private Jet Design – Concept Award in The International Yacht & Aviation Awards.

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