One cannot say where the history of design started. Did it start with the beginning of time how nature designed itself through evolution? Did it start with prehistoric people making cave drawings, or did it only start with the creation of something more tangible than a drawing? The earliest weapons and watercrafts were designed, but when we think of design today, we usually think about the aspect of a product or service that is appealing to the senses and not the functional aspect of it.
In the case of aircraft, it is easier to see the beginnings of design. How easy this is to judge is relative because the first flight all depends on definition whether that be gliders, powered models without humans aboard, to a powered flight with a human aboard. Documented, but unproven cases of flight date back to Ancient Greece and China. What we do know is that Leonardo da Vinci created aircraft designs in 1496.
More significantly, George Cayley built a glider that carried a human in 1854. Thereafter, in 1891 and the following five years, Otto Lilienthal made a few thousand untethered glider flights with successful landings. These incremental innovations all led to the Wright brothers creating a powered aircraft that was flown with Orville aboard in 1903.
During the early 20th century, there were numerous firsts in aviation all over the world. In any case, these aircraft were all designed to fly, or in other words, to function well. After that, design improvements and technical improvements were made, such as Henri Coanda’s jet propelled aircraft in 1910. It was only nine years later that the first airline company was founded, creating a whole new market. In that same year, John Alcock and Whitten Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919.
Over time, design has changed from something more focused on function to something more focused on aesthetics. Before these aesthetics came into being, there were a few other milestones in aircraft design. One notable one was in 1947 when Chuck Yeager was recorded as being the first to break the sound barrier. One last major milestone in airline history to date is one that did not become obsolete due to newer innovations, but due to other reasons. This was the Concord, which made its maiden voyage in 1969.
Focusing on the airline industry, we can see that time has changed many things. Aside from the dates previously mentioned, commercial passenger aviation undertook major changes as well. The first years of commercial flight are characterized by luxury and can still be considered regal compared to today’s first class fares. Everything was designed and implemented for the sake of a nice design and experience.
This was before the modern times of commercial aviation. After budget cuts, toughening competition, and the need to exceed profits, the majority of airline customers were left with the bare minimum allowed by law and common standards. Nowadays, airlines are seeing the need to invest in design again until the evolution of design in the airline industry will be at the Total Consumer Experience (TCE).