Design should take centre stage in the transport debate

We spend a lot of time in design proving the value of our creative output to the client. It’s the stuff of design effectiveness awards.

This is to the good. But there are other areas where design has less tangible, but arguably more far-reaching, benefits for client and consumer alike, the design of public services being one of the most important.

Transport is such an area, and it is heartening to know that organisations such as Transport for London and train operator First Great Western are investing heavily in improving their rolling stock. TfL, in particular, has a good track record in its use of design, though transport policies in the capital may leave much to be desired.

The comfort of passengers doesn’t appear to have been high on the agenda for some rail networks for some time, leading to gruelling journeys in overcrowded carriages, particularly for regular commuters.

Add to this the delays provoked by seasonal changes and so on and there is little to tempt people away from their cars. It’s a vicious circle and no way to address the issue of carbon emissions.

A seminar to be held at the Royal College of Art on 19 May, entitled Moving Forward, will seek to address ‘new directions in transport design’. But while it promises to be a fascinating day with some of the leading lights in transport design taking to the stage, the programme suggests that the focus will be on car, train and plane environments rather than on transport systems. David Nelson of architect Foster & Partners is the only speaker championing people’s experience of transport.

If the debate could be broadened, with design of networks taking centre stage, then we might be getting somewhere. When London’s Transport Museum reopens in the autumn after a substantial refit, we might have more to celebrate than the ‘golden age’ of the train, the Routemaster bus and their like.

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