Sunday, October 29, 2017

SOAPBOX // Column // New NS train design fail

With her Dutch roots complaining is in her genes. Every month she writes a little piece about things that keeps her busy. Things that make her wanna scream “Nooooooooooo”

This week I attended the annual Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. And it is always a delight to see so many brilliant minds at work. Projects about sustainability, small footprint living. Social interaction. All topics I love and care about. It is wonderful to see new design solutions making our society safer, cleaner, more efficient and more playful. But this week NS, our Dutch railway company, decided to also take part in Dutch Design Week. They were eager to show the new train.

As a designer I usually work around a theme and I can understand if a designer gets carried away by their own passion. This is a story about a designer that loves bouldering. I think.

I entered the new train and immediately noticed the climbing wall in the hall way. I was thinking ‘wow they actually have come up with something cool to kill time in the train. I love a little 'play' in public spaces, making simple things a little more enjoyable is part of a good design. It was a surprise element, a fun solution for a daily commuter! Of course I wanted to try it out but the NS ‘sales man’ told me the wall was not supposed to be a real climbing wall and I was not allowed to climb it. “It is placed on the restroom door, it could never hold an actual person” he said. Say what? Giving me candy and then taking it away? No! I see climbing hold, I want to get in there!

The wall was just ‘inspired’ by a climbing wall and the holds were actually hooks to hang coats and bags. In the hall way. Hanging coats. Where there is no place to sit. Hang your belongings. People! This is not how your customer uses a train! They see a climbing wall: their going to climb. And if people are in fact looking for a place to hang their stuff it won’t be near the exit or on the toilet doors (hygiene alert!) they won’t be leaving their stuff unattended. They might want a hook next to their seat. Maybe?

For me this new interior showed how functionality was completely secondary in developing a public space. So embarrassing. The climbing holds producer might have had a sweet deal with NS during this design process. Probably the only party that does benefit from this... The user of the end product should always be priority. Design solutions are only solutions if they are solving a problem. Understanding the needs of your customer is key. These are the first steps to take in a design process. NS, if you ever need some more insight about functional design by an experienced traveler, and understand what they would love to see incorporated into the train interior, please contact me. The outcome now is, well, an unfortunate bad design. Embarrassing at the least.