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What if Lab: Nederlandse Spoorwegen

26 April 2017

What if … fellow passengers could improve the enjoyment of your journey especially at peak times?

At the ‘What if Lab: NS’ this year the ‘opportunities and threats of the increasing number of train passengers’ are hot topics. More than half the population of the Netherlands already lives in cities and around 1 million people a day travel to their destinations mostly during peak times (06:30-09:00 and 16:00-18:30 hours). That means that during ‘the rush hours’ passengers often have very little space in the train. Personal space is almost always invaded by another passenger. In this limited ‘own’ space passengers determine to a great extent each other’s travelling pleasure, but also cause irritation. Many problems connected with travelling by train are implicitly to do with inter-personal irritation. Check out the “irritation” Top 10 here.

In the future the urban population will continue to increase and so too the demand for mobility, between and to and from the cities. Poignant questions are ‘What do the various types of passengers find irritating in other passengers?’, ‘What would the different types of passengers appreciate in other passengers and how could we stimulate interaction between passengers who would like that, without bothering passengers who do not wish interaction?’ Questions to which we do not yet have answers. What we do know is that technology and innovations will fulfil an increasingly important role in this and will ensure that mobility will become faster and more comfortable, but will mobility also become more sociable as a result? 

The majority of the passengers still perceive their travelling time as a necessity: you want to get from A to B. NS wants to ensure that passengers can get the most out of their travelling time, so that they experience the time they spend travelling as ‘their own time’. Time for themselves that is connected with or in harmony with that of the time of another. NS offers passengers who are open to this a place where they can meet other passengers pleasantly, so that they can travel and arrive in their own time with a feeling of being connected. Through increasing congestion, this me time is under pressure.

The challenge

The challenge that NS has set is the design of social intervention in the category (social) travel time spent in the train. NS seeks ideas/designs to ensure that you as a passenger can get more out of your travelling time in relation to the other passengers. The meeting with other passengers makes your journey more fun, more pleasant or more useful, through which time spent in the train is experienced as less of a necessity.

Do you think that you can bring passengers closer together? Design solutions to offer passengers a more pleasant train journey in a congested train? Register now! 

Registration and procedure

You can register up to Friday 26 May via this link. Three designers will be selected from the registrations who will participate in the ‘What if Lab: Nederlandse Spoorwegen’. They will be informed of this by Tuesday 30 May. The three selected designers will be given six weeks to develop a concept in cooperation with NS. They will present this concept to a jury of 10 at the end of July. The jury will select two designs that will be worked out in detail in the run-up to Dutch Design Week (DDW).


Registration for the What if Lab: NS is possible for professional designers, design studios and student (teams). 

When registering, we request that designers provide a reference of 2 to 5 relevant previously executed projects and a motivation in which you indicate why you would like to participate in the What if Lab: NS and what your unique added value is as a designer for this project. You do not yet have to present a fleshed-out design solution.

Please note: it is not possible to save entered details on the registration form and to return to it later and finish completing it. Therefore we advise you to prepare all the information / text in a word processing program like Microsoft Word before you set to work in completing the registration form.

Description of relevant projects: max 150 words per project.

Motivation for participation: max 600 words

Images: JPG. The images must have a minimum number of 600 pixels across their width, 72 dpi. The images must be no larger than 2MB in size.

Dutch Design Week compartment: The winning idea in practice

The winners will present their designs in trains to Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week and will be present in the trains to explain their design to the passengers. We will create a Dutch Design Week compartment in which passengers can see and experience each design. The designers explain their designs to passengers in the compartment. In brief: your own platform on rails! The customer experience in this Dutch Design Week compartment is actively measured and shared with the designers. 


NS offers the three selected designers a reimbursement of € 2,500 for the concept development. For the two designers who are invited to work on an intervention that will actually take place in the train NS is offering an additional reimbursement of € 2,500. This reimbursement is a fee for the hours worked (excluding the cost of materials).


On Friday morning 12 May NS will organise a kick-off for interested designers in the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht. This provides a look behind the scenes at NS, various experts on train travel perception will talk and you will have an opportunity to ask questions about the design assignment. Interested in attending the briefing? Please register using this form link.


A train has to comply with strict requirements and regulations. To ensure the practical applicability of your design is as great as possible, please take the following into account: 

  • Create a design that can be applied and removed in the form of an ‘experiential blanket’.
  • No changes to the ‘hardware’ of the train, such as the moving of furniture, anchor points, cupboards, walls, etc. The train may not and cannot be reconstructed. So base your design on the current train interior. For example, NS is not looking for new type of seating. 
  • It is important to focus on all the senses and, in doing so, be able to cater for able-bodied and less able-bodied passengers.
  • Consider the various angles that make the design practical and feasible: customer, comfort, cleaning, maintenance, safety, cost, etc.
  • Flexibility to be able to change throughout the day/season/year is important to be able to cater responsively to customer wishes (needs) and (at least to keep in step) with innovations.
  • Wi-Fi is available in many trains but take into account that the bandwidth is limited.
  • In connection with safety, passengers must still be able to see outside. So please leave the windows free. A sticker is a possibility, but do not cover an entire window. 
  • Testing in a train is possible, but only in consultation with NS.

Intellectual property

NS will acquire the intellectual property rights for the two winning designs. The What if Lab: NS winners will transfer completely and without restriction and free of charge the (intellectual) property with regard to the design.

NS will, if it decides to develop one of the concepts any further, in the first place enter an exclusive dialogue with the designer to investigate if he/she can develop this concept any further. 

Time line

Kick-off: 12 May

Deadline registrations: 26 May

Announcement selection: 30 May

Masterclass for 3 selected designers: 2 June

Presentation and evaluation by jury: 14 July

Dutch Design Week: 21-29 October


If you have any other questions, please contact our programme manager Dries van Wagenberg.


Each day NS conveys more than 2.5 million passengers sustainably throughout Europe from door to door by train, bus, tram, public transport bicycle or alternatives like the Zonetaxi and Greenwheels. With 33,571 employees NS (with subsidiary Abellio) is active in the Netherlands, England and Germany. The Thalys, ICE and the NS International InterCitys are attractive and sustainable alternatives to flying and long-distance foreign journeys by car. 

In the Netherlands NS conveys about 1.2 million passengers by train to their destinations without traffic congestion or parking problems each day. The NS trains are climate friendly too. NS Stations is the stations company in the Netherlands. Together with its partners it ensures a pleasant and lively station environment where parking, working, living or short stays are all possible. NS also looks after the trains: from cleaning and maintenance to complete modernisation.

Useful documents

To keep you properly informed, NS has compiled a number of documents. They explain more about customer perception and how people spend their time in the train. 

Want to be properly informed for writing your motivation? Check out the following PDFs. 

The power of a pleasant train journey.pdf


paper Needscope.pdf