Designing for the Skies, By Ollie Haas'12


My love for commercial aviation started at a young age

It was during one of my earliest flights between Austria and Uganda (my two home countries) on a British Airways 747 that my five year-old self decided he would one day work for an airline. I remember being absolutely captivated by the experience of flying; an excitement that kickstarted my current collection of 800+ inflight magazines from airlines all over the world, that led to countless hours studying airline news and timetables, and that sparked a never-ending quest to sample exciting new airlines, aircraft and airports.


 Posing with Nikki, Cathay Pacific's second aircraft, gracefully parked outside of the Cathay City headquarters

It was this passion that inspired me to embark on a journey that landed me my current dream job in Hong Kong. I set myself the challenge of trying to find an opportunity for applying my experience as a designer to the aviation industry - a combination that I knew would be quite difficult to find. I polished portfolios, resumes and cover letters, and sent these - often blindly - to my favourite airlines all over the world. For my top targets, I sent out physical packets that included a small book titled "Ollie's Story", which chronicled my love of aviation, along with my educational and professional experiences to date. One of the recipients of these packages was Cathay Pacific - Hong Kong's largest airline and winner of the prestigious 2014 Skytrax Airline of the Year award. In a wonderful example of good timing, Cathay was in the process of setting up the "Innovation Centre", a brand new IDEO-style internal design studio that works together with the airline's diverse departments (think: cargo and aircraft maintenance, to cabin-crew training and inflight services) to innovate at every level of its operation.

Ollie-airport.JPG Entrance to Cathay City, celebrating winning the best airline of the year award for a record fourth time

Fast forwarding a number of months and multiple rounds of interviews, I arrived in Hong Kong in July and joined the Innovation Centre as a UX Designer. My average day looks something like this: I board one of the company shuttles or the swanky Airport Express train out to gargantuan Hong Kong International Airport where Cathay City headquarters is located. Commuting out to the airport every day definitely gets a mark of approval from 5 year-old Ollie. I then proceed past the Douglas DC-3 aircraft painted in vintage Cathay Pacific titles, through to the large work campus that is bustling with energy even at this early hour; smartly dressed flight crews walk swiftly to debriefing areas where preparations are made for flights to all corners of the world. Cathay City houses a number of practical amenities that were absent from my previous bootstrapping startup days: large (and cheap!) canteens, fancier restaurants and bars, a supermarket, bank, gym, medical centre and even a staff hotel.

Ollie-B777.JPG The mighty aircraft simulators located next to my current office

We proceed onward toward the office, which is located in a spare room of the flight training centre; a building that houses the large aircraft simulators where pilots do their regular training. The Innovation Centre is set up like a design studio with open-plan tables, large iMacs, a fleet of whiteboards and a fake-grass "picnic area" used for discussions, reviews and ideation. Our team develops innovative web- and mobile applications in collaboration with other Cathay departments, along with exciting concept prototypes that demonstrate where the airline (and the industry) could head in the future. Reminiscent of my experience at Olin, my current project has me designing new web- and mobile-apps, writing code, tinkering with electronics, building 3D models, understanding business cases, and doing user research on the airport complex. Outside of regular project work we are also given time to explore other projects that align with our own interests and ideas. I am planning on using this time to work more actively on the topic of sustainability in the aviation industry.


Complementing a great work experience, I have also very much enjoyed the move to Hong Kong - an entirely new city for me. I enjoy the fantastic blend of modern cosmopolitan and slower-paced traditional lifestyles. Although somewhat of a concrete jungle, there are a great number of beautiful parks, hikes, beaches and islands that are only a stone's throw away on the fantastic public transportation system. And then there's the incredible food, nightlife and cultural diversity which confirms Hong Kong's position as one of the world's greatest cities.

Ollie-Hong Kong.JPG You never get tired of Hong Kong's amazing skyline

On another Olin note, I've also enjoyed the chance of catching up with fellow alum Leighton Makoto Ng '06, who has done an amazing job of showing me around the city and was also kind enough to put me up at his apartment while I was looking for a new place.


Thanks for reading and drop me a line if you are ever in Hong Kong!



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