Luxurious Magazine Meets Ian Dryburgh, Founder Of Acumen Design Associates

Photograph of Ian Dryburgh, Founder Of Acumen Design Associates - Interview

Ian Dryburgh founded Acumen Design Associates in 1981 as a multidisciplinary design consultancy. A named inventor on patents spanning many industry sectors, his commitment to innovation is the bedrock of the brand.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, he has enjoyed award-winning success in a wide range of industry sectors from the Marine to Aerospace, FMCG, Life Science, architecture and high-performance products. With a broad market knowledge and strong brand awareness, Ian brings a unique perspective and insight to any new product development program aiming to achieve market leadership. We caught up with him to find out more.

LM: How did you get into design?
ID: I studied at Lanchester Polytechnic – one of Britain’s first Industrial and Transport Design degrees and the only one in Europe to focus on transport. I discovered quickly that a formal education in industrial design is just a disciplined approach to problem-solving – it resonated with me. Whilst working at the Mercedes-Benz styling studios, their uncompromising mantra ”the best or nothing” informed everything I designed, and subsequently became Acumen’s ethos.

LM: What are the works that you are most proud of?
ID: Of course I am immensely proud of the ‘Bed-In-The-Sky’ – this was a landmark design job – not only for Acumen and British Airways but for the aviation industry as a whole. However, it was my earlier work designing the Malibu 47 and Portofino 31 Powerboats for Sunseeker that opened the door with British Airways. Following this, we also developed an extensive range of performance deck hardware with Lewmar for the America’s cup – these products won the Dame Award in 2000 and are still popular today.

A full sized single bed in one of the Etihad cabins

LM: How did the first flat-bed change the offering of airlines once it was introduced?
ID: Aviation design is marked by occasional huge leaps forward in design that are then replicated by airlines over time. When British Airways rolled out the first fully flat bed in the sky in 1996, every commercial airline began the scramble to try and catch up. Over time, most airlines began offering flat beds in first and then business class. We are now seeing a trend emerge of airlines decommissioning first-class offerings in favour of business class and super business class, as a more commercial viable option for premium services. However last year another huge leap took place. The Residence by Etihad offers a private three-room VIP suite in the sky, bringing the commercial experience something close to private aviation. Only time will tell if other airlines begin to adopt this approach.

LM: What was revolutionary about the First Class seating for Etihad? Where did your design inspiration come from?
ID: Acumen has always taken an empirical approach, building from the ground up to create designs that truly disrupt convention. Etihad Airways stated its ambition to be the best airline in the world and its vision was to create the individuality and exclusivity of a luxury boutique hotel experience that embraced Arabian modernism, so we spent a great deal of time at the start immersing ourselves in every aspect of Arabian culture. Since the development of flat-bed products in the mid 90s, the basic format of wide-body First Class products has remained unchanged; a seat-to-bed mechanism with close-fitting furniture, arranged across two aisles.

Fundamentally, the single-aisle of the ‘First Apartments’ gives significant real-estate back to the passenger. Providing them with more choice in how and where they relax, eat, sleep, and entertain guests. Many of the fabrics and materials within the suite were custom-designed. With a subtle reference to modern Arabian architecture and classic Arabic themes – reinforcing the brand identity. The unique patent-pending layout of nested forward and aft facing seats creates a number of spatially different environments.

This has been enhanced with the introduction of three different colour schemes to create individual ‘boutique-hotel’ style suites. In a market where First and Business Class Flatbed products have become increasingly similar. The First Apartments have firmly reinstated the class differential.

Picture showing the interior of a private cabins luxury lounge on an Etihad aircraft

LM: What are the key considerations when designing seating for a First Class cabin?
ID: Fundamentally, First Class should offer the passenger an entirely un-compromised flying experience. During which, the passenger is refreshed and inspired. Premium passengers expect a certain level of sophistication from the interiors that they fly. And will subconsciously compare the level of detailing and facilities provided to the high-end automotive, marine and hospitality environments that they interact with every day. So the comparative benchmarks are high.

Another fundamental factor is the influence of brand identity in the design process. When designing for a national carrier, it is imperative to understand the identity of not only the airline but also to understand the DNA of a nation. This is often done through cultural emersion trips and frequent flyer workshops. It helps us to understand what passengers want and how local customs may affect privacy requirements, seat positioning, passenger features etc. This process is often structured and procedural and always generates a unique set of parameters and design brief.

LM: Is there anything that will top the luxurious offering of the A380?
ID: The Etihad interiors were created and implemented by the world’s best-selected talent. Driven through with the vision and unwavering nerve of a brave and tenacious client. That is a potent mix and the results speak for themselves. In this respect, it is hard to see how this will be topped in the near future. However, just like the Bed in the Sky, these benchmarks are there to be beaten, and the gauntlet has been laid down…

LM: What is next for you?
ID: We have a core team of senior staff with unparalleled experience in aviation. This puts us in the extremely fortunate position that we get to work on some of the industry’s most premium commercial interiors. So this will hopefully continue. The Residence by Etihad has been a natural and wonderful emersion into the world of custom VIP jet interiors.

Inevitably, this has created a potentially new business venture. We are currently involved in some very exciting discussions along these lines. But, as is all too often with these matters, the detail is confidential.

LM: Are there any designers that have always inspired you or that are real role models?
ID: Raymond Loewy, an all-around creative! From cars to coke bottles, few designers today span such a range of products and brands.

LM: What is your definition of luxury?
ID: Ingenious design with an elegant simplicity.

LM: Do you always fly First Class now that you know how luxurious and comfortable it is?
ID: Ironically, I do not like flying in a flat-bed! I prefer to fly in a semi-recumbent position unless the bed is wide enough for me to spread out.

LM: What are your favourite destinations to fly to?
ID: I love the Australian outback. Lunch at Cottage Point Inn – a prime waterfront dining location on the Hawkesbury River. Where diners can land right in front of the restaurant by seaplane direct from Rose Bay.

Acumen Design Associates – Where and how?

Acumen Design Associates
Holborn Hall
193-197 High Holborn

Tel: +44 (0)203 026 4560
Email: [email protected]

Simon Wittenberg

Senior Editorial Contributor

Born in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and now based in London, Simon Wittenberg is the senior editorial contributor to Luxurious Magazine® reporting directly to Paul Godbold. A specialist in the automotive sector, he has now expanded his repertoire to encompass all aspects relating to luxury and lifestyle. Simon has worked with some of the world’s most iconic marques such as Lotus Cars, Ferrari and Tesla Motors. His passions include luxury goods, motorsport, fine dining and travel.

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