Auckland Transport are driving three huge projects at the moment, as Matt describes here, that together amount to nothing short of a total revolution in the delivery of Public Transport in Auckland and therefore in the very shape and experience of the place. I’m sure their resources and personel are stretched a great deal so I guess its’s no surprise that something that appears obvious to those of us on the outside can be overlooked. But still I am compelled to draw attention to what seems to be a missed opportunity in the whole approach to the design of the new Electric Trains.
Of the three big changes; Integrated Ticketing and Fares, the new Network Plan, and Electrification of the rail system, only the last one comes with a new physical presence. It seems clear to me that the trains themselves should be designed to embody the sum of these changes, should be conceived of as the physical manifestation of this revolution. In short should look revolutionary. They should be thought of as communication devices in and of themselves; that they need to freight this idea as much as they do their passengers. Here is an earlier discussion on the role of design in this area.
Because a big part of the plan is to expand the role of rail in Auckland to a much wider number of people than are using it now. A significant feature of the new system, one which involves all three changes, is the promotion of the idea of combining travel on two or more separate trips linked by a transfer. And in particular, especially for longer journeys, the idea of catching a bus to one of several strategically placed and rebuilt bus-train interchange stations and moving from bus to train to complete your journey. So the new trains will have an expanded role and are the most visible point of what is in essence a conceptual shift.
Yet there seems to be little attempt to think of ways that this new equipment could have an important role in shifting the public towards seeing the image of PT in Auckland in a whole new light. Instead we are offered a form and livery that looks like it is focussed on meeting the expectations of the existing customer, not on attracting any new ones as well. This approach might be sufficient in London or Tokyo, or some other mature PT market, but that is not where we are in Auckland. Any change in equipment or service in AK needs to involve consideration of its appeal to the next customer as well as the existing one. A customer that doesn’t yet know that they might become one.
I guess it’s unlikely that we could get Rob Fyfe we he leaves Air NZ at the end of the year to join AT, but could we do this thought experiment: How would the Air New Zealand under his management use the the design of new kit to reinforce core brand ideals and attract and keep new users?
Obviously by making sure it works well, but also by putting thought and energy into making sure the appearance embodies all the great changes that the new gear delivers. It’s got to be good and look like it’s good too.
This from the Better by Design website on Air New Zealand:
Think experience not product
Experience is the management of both physical and emotional cues. That means considering not only how things work but also their reason for being. To design a product in isolation, without a wider appreciation of the broader experience and ‘theatre’ of the brand, is therefore something of a folly.
Please let’s make these trains look like the step change that they actually are: this is a break with the past so let’s make sure the trains themselves look like it is. Way too similar to the current old bangers.
Air travel is just public transport after all and often a crammed, expensive, and stressful experience. So what do the good airlines do to ameliorate that? Two great things AT could take from Air NZ: A keen customer focus and an awareness of the important role of design in that.
So what should be done differently?
To me there is something infantalising about the over preoccupation with safety yellow in the mock-up. Can’t we be treated as adults on a train? We really can’t find a door unless it is hi-vis? If that were really the case it wouldn’t just be necessary on trains but everywhere: all cars would to be day-glo too. And inside? It feels like you’re in a kindergarden in there. What does this say? Trains and PT are for some kind of less able sub-group of the population?
Perhaps it is a function of the mock-up process but the whole thing has an air of Playmobil about it, is this intentional? To make the trains appear fun and ‘child’s play’? I don’t know, but I’d love to see an adult version, and one that wants to the best in the world.
Start by losing the yellow; it has no meaning for Auckland. I’m sure people with restricted vision can be accommodated more creatively. Ponsonby Rd is now full of matt black cars and there are no health and safety regs making them go day-glo. Can we have some input from some other design professionals to complement the train engineers? Trains for this century please. This is a fresh start so let’s have one. This to me is their ‘reason for being‘.
The train and bus system is in a competition for users principally with private car travel and some of that race is about ideas and emotion as well as the vital delivery of better service. Airlines are also in a very tough fight for customers and they certainly don’t miss a chance to reinforce their offer through design.
Don’t we want to hear people say ‘those trains look cool; I wanna ride one’? 500 million dollars; we’ve got to want sell the experience as well as provide it, don’t we?