A new approach to ‘premium’

By Hugo Jamson

A lot has been written about how the millennial mindset is causing seismic shifts in consumer behaviour and consumer desires: studies suggest that people are spending more on intangibles – on events, travel and experiences – and less and less on material possessions. This is especially true among younger generations with fewer people owning cars, property or content and the nature of work shifting ever faster from the long to the short term gig.

Social media has transformed us into guardians of our own, personal brands where what we do and how we feel has more cachet than what we own. Online retail models give us instant and endless choice and the scope to personalise just about any purchase or experience. The notion of premium, of quality, of the sought-after is radically changing in response to these shifts as the things to which we ascribe value begin to change. If premium is no longer tied to traditional notions of luxury or success, where does all of this leave us as designers who need to develop, craft and design for these new and emerging behaviours? What does it mean to design for a post-millennial world and a new approach to premium or best-in-class?

These are big questions and reflect big societal shifts. Through our work across transport, hospitality and product design, we’ve identified a series of signals that suggest new imperatives in designing for changing attitudes towards the premium, the standout, the most attractive product or service amongst the competition.


In the post-millennial world, the visual cues that we typically read as being ‘for men’ or ‘for women’ are being challenged, broken down and re-formed. Notably in the workplace, traditional ‘feminine’ values such as engagement, inclusivity and sensitivity have become as familiar as traits traditionally seen as being more ‘masculine’.

Yet much of the visual and tactile vocabulary of transport design (to take one broad example) is taken straight from a traditionally male expression of the world – with business class seats designed like thrones for high-powered CEOs, with boardroom materials and finishes that feel inherently and crisply ‘masculine’. Likewise, the dominant formal cues in transport design always whisper ‘high speed’, ‘power’, ‘performance’, ‘control’.

Continued movement towards greater equality in our society, often fuelled by younger generations, is reflected in consumers’ increasing desire and expectation for openness and inclusivity. As we look towards a future with autonomous vehicles, more fluid approaches to vehicle and home ownership and new ways of living, working and doing business it means that universal, human factors like adaptability, empathy and legibility become far more important than gender-specific cues of premium design and service.

If we no longer have control over the speed of our car, why celebrate its performance (through its design) as an extension of ourselves?

If we no longer have control over the speed of our car, why celebrate its performance (through its design) as an extension of ourselves? When people no longer own a space 
or vehicle in the same way, what design languages and cues should we employ to communicate, attract or celebrate? Forms are becoming softer, more universal and primitive – more open to varied uses and interpretations – more androgynous. Interactions (both physical and digital) are defined more by sensitivity and intelligence than by pure form or style. Textures and colours continue to shift towards the ambiguous, sensorial and rich.

This is what we describe as an androgynous, more genderless approach to design, one that is starting to resonate more and more with consumers, becoming central to what we perceive to be a growing future of fast-evolving consumer cultures.


As ownership of ‘stuff’ cedes ground to experiencing singular moments, the definition of premium changes: It becomes something shared rather than individually owned, a function of people coming together, or indexed to the emotional value of 
a moment. From dining, to work spaces, to transport environments we see a clear shift from the idea of premium as a private and insular experience, to one where openness, exploration and conviviality are key.

The formality of traditional fine dining has been transformed because people aren’t as easily wooed or awed by the veneer that often surrounds these kinds of experiences. The best seat in the house is now often at the bar in the heart of the action, where traditionally you were sat to wait while your starch-linen table was prepared. We now want quality and conviviality without the gloss, and if designed well, that blended space between staff and customer that can elevate the whole experience further, allow it to take on its own energy, and become far more ‘premium’ and engaging than being tucked away in a quiet corner.

In the world of work and the rise in co-working spaces where intern can be sat next to CEO, the traditional hierarchies and boundaries within companies, and even between different companies, have been removed. A blended, more communal space / experience where enrichment, support and provision for serendipitous opportunity is increasingly considered to be much more valuable than having your own discreet office.

There’s a direct correlation between this kind of need and the way that transportation spaces should be designed: design that facilitates a feeling of transparency, warmth, openness and inclusivity; that encourages communal moments or working experiences and flexible, alternative ways of using space. When designing for the ‘new premium’, designers need to work with a sensitivity to people’s changing perception of improved quality: a product or service that helps break down barriers, rather than build them.


With too many services, spaces and products we are expected to adopt behaviours that work best for a brand as opposed to those that feel best for us – that suit outmoded business models or capabilities in lieu of developing new products, services or experiences that take shape around us and our needs at a given moment. Those that get it right, that demonstrate a new adaptability to shape a commodity around the nuance of people’s varied behaviours, have the opportunity to offer a new kind of resonant moment.

A couple of examples in designing for transport: The dining experience on board aircraft can be often heavily prescribed, instead, self-service could be considered a far more premium experience for the post-millennial traveller. It’s about increasing ownership
 of time, improving accessibility and the ability to have what you want when you want it. Service should where possible flex, be malleable and adapt in ever more effortless ways.

Similarly even with a finely crafted and luxuriously upholstered business class seat, we still have to move and sit the way the airline wants us to, our axis of movement is strictly prescribed. A seat that can provide greater flexibility with how it can be used is of much greater value in the post-millennial approach to premium, even if other perks have to be sacrificed in order to achieve that. How might the familiar travel experience (in any mode) be improved if we think adaptable rather than linear space?

The best products and services are the ones that conform to us, or better still flex to meet our needs pre-emptively, evolving to offer a sense of the bespoke even within a mass market experience.


At its simplest this is about finding a new and seamless way to deal with scenarios that just haven’t really worked well before, or are falling out of synch with today’s consumer expectations. Rather than craft new experiential veneers that cover over cracks in a flawed system, we should explore the power of a beautifully considered pragmatism.

While a beautifully designed thing is still something people will always be drawn to, design that breaks new ground in delivering elegant and frictionless simplicity is an increasingly sought after and critical commodity.

Contemporary taxi app and ride-share services may not be the most premium experiences by traditional standards of ‘luxury’, but the flexible, effortless solutions they give consumers are far more valuable and ‘premium’ than chauffeur-driven limousines or even car ownership for today’s post-millennial consumer. There’s a kind of beauty and elegance in the pragmatism that the design of services like this bring to a situation by removing barriers, making an often rigid experience as flexible as possible, and giving the consumer a service that may previously have been unobtainable.

There will always be a demand for luxuriously beautiful things and experiences, but people are increasingly shifting focus towards something that just works flawlessly. That can be an experience or service working well, not just an object. A trait of this ‘new premium’, then, can be described as objects, experiences and services that have an ‘emotional utility’ about them; a ‘beautiful pragmatism’.

While a beautifully designed thing is still something people will always be drawn to, design that breaks new ground in delivering elegant and frictionless simplicity is an increasingly sought after and critical commodity.

The ideas set out here are by no means a finished set of principles for designing for new notions of ‘premium’ – it’s just the start of what I’m sure will be a much broader conversation. That said, the insights and learnings I’ve touched on here are very much informing our approach to design and we’re excited to keep an eye on how these developments evolve over the coming months and years.

Hugo Jamson is Creative Director of product design studio New Territory; Illustrations by Josiah Emsley.

The post A new approach to ‘premium’ appeared first on Creative Review.

Source:: Creativereview.co.uk