We improved NAIA’s pre-flight experience through Design Thinking

Before I came in full time to On-Off Group, I was one of their Design Thinking Training Attendees.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was just a regular marketing professional who’s not good at any forms of art. I thought Design Thinking is a way to be more aesthetically creative or to channel more creative thinking for visual designers. It never occurred to me that “Design” can also be an innovative concept.


All of the attendees were grouped into two and was given a Design Challenge to solve. We got the “How Might We Improve the Pre-flight Experience in NAIA”

Back in 2016, NAIA landed as the 5th Worst Airport in Asia. These were the days of “laglag bala”, overcharging airport taxis, and 2-day delayed flights. And as someone who often travels alone, I have my fair share of woes and anger.

We interviewed people to dig deeper. We emphatize with them. On the 2nd part of our interview process, I became the interviewee. I told my group about the long cues, the lack of parking spaces, the occasional lack of personnel to ask, and that one time when I lost my phone and I have to deal with six airport personnel before I can find it.

“If I have a magic wand,” I said, “there will be lush couches and no more delayed flights.”

We synthesize our interviews. We wrote down key takeaways and cornerstones. Then we grouped together the quotes with the same thought.


In the ideation stage, we are armed with post-it notes and sharpies. We are ready to solve NAIA’s pre-flight problem.

At first, the ideas came slow. One post-it at a time. One of our group member wrote “better couches”, another one wrote “Sleeping quarters”. After a few more minutes, we found ourselves writing down ideas like “Hot air balloon”, “Rollercoasters”, and “Tarot Reading”. It’s a ripple effect.

Some of my favorite ideas from our ideation stage were the “interactive video game” – where you play a team game with another stranger from the airport; “Book Cart” – where an airport personnel with a cart full of books goes around and offers you something to read while waiting; and the “sleeping couches” – couches that are so comfy and luxurious that you wouldn’t mind waiting at all.

We all voted what we thought are the best ideas. And the ideas that got the most number of votes are  the“book cart” and the “micro-learning session” (for 20 minutes, you get to pick a class through the app and attend it).


We did a low-fidelity prototype. We created the ideal Pre-flight experience for passengers using clay, foils, and a bunch of crepe papers. Then we created the app out of bond papers shaped like a phone.

We all agreed to let Phil test it. We asked him what he would do while waiting for his flight. He got a book from the book cart, read a little and checked his app for his flight details. He later booked a class using the same app and got a notification about his gate number. Phil was satisfied with the overall experience.


During the training, what struck me the most is how we diverge and converge one at a time. I came from six other organizations prior to On-Off Group. And I think I’ve seen enough internal processes and team meetings that I already know what dead ideas look like. During our training, Phil said it’s because the teams are diverging and converging at the same time.

During the Design Thinking training, we came from a point of uncertainty. We all have different versions of the ideal pre-flight experience for passengers. But in the end, we all solved the problem by building each other’s ideas.

Marco Manuel