Third class design

by Nick Ramshaw

I travel by rail a lot. Up and down to London. On to Lingfield via Victoria, for a current client. From Stockholm to Copenhagen, on a recent holiday. I’ve done my time on the majestic steam trains of Rajasthan, the Amtrak in New Mexico and Texas and numerous urban journeys through the great cities of Europe. And I’m a veteran of Edinburgh to York to Leeds to London trips with my last job.

Railway design is something I not only notice, but take a real interest in. Whether its the identities like the timeless British Rail logo or the superlative design of the original Shinkansan (bullet rain) in Japan, railways are a hot-bed of good design and a great opportunity for designers to make life easier for the consumer. That’s what design is all about after all, isn’t it?

British rail logo Shinkansen_1966
Every time I go to London, I am stilled impressed with the classic piece of information design that is the Underground map. Something so complex, yet so logical and intuitive. This classic design has not required revision over the years and enables everyone, whether resident or visitor, to understand everything they need to make that journey. Try the underground for size in Tokyo, and believe me, you’ll dream of having such a helpful map… as you get lost at least 4 times a day.

  • Train travellers, more than anyone, need good clear information design to be confident they are on the right track (literally) and got the right ticket. Despite lots of talk about the simplification of ticket types in the UK, this is an area the train operating companies still have lots to learn. You need a degree in ticket options to know when off peak starts (and it differs on train to train), whether you can get on a specific train or whether you need a separate seat reservation. The combination of ticket types, travle conditions and price bands beggars belief. Just look at my tickets from a journey last week and the various codes, and you start to get an idea of confusing they are. Any idea what STD means, or Anytime S or SEAT tickets? Does any permitted route mean any permitted train? And what happens if you miss the train?

    My challenge is to the authorities to really make it easy for us travellers. Put the customer first and design a ticket system that is straightforward and easy to understand. Easy to normal human beings that is. Tell us what trains we can use, in a way that makes sense to everyone, whether its their first journey or they use the railway everyday. And include all the information we need in a form we understand.

    It can’t be that hard. Really, it can’t. We’ll do it for you if you need some help.

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