August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Commercial Airplanes

Take your seat

Boeing partners with college on new seating identification concept


You might not think that helping airplane passengers locate their assigned seats would be a big challenge for airlines. But carriers have told Boeing that past seat identification designs have created passenger anxiety and confusion, which can result in higher flight attendant workloads.

A concept: follow the signs

The Boeing Payloads Concept Center in Everett, Wash., partnered with Western Washington University to create a new seat identification system concept. The proposed system features four levels of signage.

First level: Aisle
First level: Aisle

  • Provides initial guidance
  • Easily orients passenger to correct aisle
  • Considers line of sight, readability
  • Integrates with architecture

Second level: Mile
Second level: Mile

  • More specific guidance to seat
  • Takes passenger to cluster of seats
  • Viewable from forward and aft
  • Adjusts to meet seat pitch

Third level: Row
Third level: Row

  • Guides passenger to specific row
  • Invisible unless needed
  • Incorporates call/indicator lights
  • Design reduces visual pollution

Fourth level: Seat
Fourth level: Seat

  • Located on headrest
  • Angled for visibility from aisle
  • Fits flush with seat top
  • Lights with attendant call button activation

To help passengers more easily find their seats, the Boeing Payloads Concept Center (PCC) in Everett, Wash., partnered with Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, Wash., Create a new seat identification system concept. The PCC worker to with 11 senior industrial design students who researched and developed proposed new systems. Boeing engineers and PCC members selected the winning concept from several ideas presented by the students. The concept selection team, called Touchpoints, designs and develops passenger interaction points for airplane cabin interiors. Boeing Interior Architecture leadership is reviewing the project and is expected to make a decision this month about using the concept.

“The concept-development phase has been an extensive process,” said Rich Simms, a Boeing senior industrial designer assigned to the PCC. “Members from the PCC continually worked with the students to assist with refining and developing their oncept.”

The students’ design goal was to create a seat identification system that reduces passenger nervousness and the likelihood that passengers will sit in the wrong seat—alleviating flight attendant workload. The new system also had to minimize cost and overall weight of the airplane. The students’ requirements—and project
evaluation criteria—included passenger ease in finding seats, as well as visibility of seat indicators with overhead stowage bins open or closed. The signs also had to be easily understandable for people of different cultures, genders and ages.“Overall, I believe the project incorporates a pleasing solution that clearly communicates to passengers without taking away from the interior architecture,” Simms said.

Before beginning to design the new seat concept, the WWU students evaluated functionality issues and analyzed U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations.


The students focused on key areas, such as visibility and viewing distance, for entrance markers, section “mileage” markers, row markers and seat medallions. They also evaluated the typeface, text weight and contrast used in the signs. For example, the students proposed using a typeface known for its effectiveness in crowded and noisy environments.

The entry, mileage and “monument” (lavatory, galley, storage closet) markers the students designed for use throughout the cabin are made of a two-piece, snap-fit housing that contains full-spectrum light-emitting-diode (LED) lights that illuminate the sign from the side. The light intensity is adjustable to offer different effects for boarding and in-flight. There is a static, nonlighted version as well. The mileage signs have lenses that can be removed and replaced if seating pitch is reconfigured.

To eliminate visual distractions and help passengers avoid hitting their heads, “the students designed row markers that complement, as well as integrate, the architecture of airplanes,” Simms said. These are inset on the cabin sidewall where it meets the over head bins; they provide improved row identification.

“PCC leadership was immediately excited about the students’ proposed concept,” said Dell King, a WWU professor who’s spent 21 years teaching senior industrial design students. “They could see the value in it and should be able to use some aspects of the project.”

Collaborating with academic institutions is part of the PCC’s mission, which also works with internal organizations and outside companies to inspire changes in the airplane interiors industry by driving new products to market. This is the second project the PCC has completed with WWU students. Last year, a team of 12 students collaborated with Alaska Airlines on design concepts for a sleep kit, seat amenities and a new passenger-service unit.

“I was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and professionalism,” Simms said. “Their talent is very important to showcase, and it helps them build for their future, possibly even at Boeing.”

For more information
To learn more about the Boeing Payloads Concept Center, visit (Internal only link) on the Boeing Web. To find out more about the Industrial Design program at Western Washington University, visit on the World Wide Web.



Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.