ThinkStation is a series of 11 interactive workshops developed by Design Council and Network Rail, giving passengers and other key stakeholders the chance to shape the future of station design. Sabina Mohideen,  Programme Manager at Design Council highlights explains what’s in store for our participants over the weeks ahead.

Good design is central to our desires and experiences; from the perfect pair of trainers to a phone we can use instinctively to navigate the world. Key brands the world over recognise that the fusion of function and form is key to a great user experience. The way to achieve this is to focus on the design of a product, so it is attractive and feels great to use.

Given this, it should go without saying that organisations should prioritise good design. But this is not as common as we would like it to be. If you think of the times that particular objects, places and processes have inconvenienced you, you will realise how true this is. Certainly, I can come up with a not-so-brief list of things that have bothered me by the end of each day and, while that may say a lot about me, I’m fairly certain it’s a common experience.

So, the fact that Network Rail, one of the UK’s largest infrastructure providers, takes design seriously is a cause for real celebration. Recently its commitment to design was embedded in its processes through the development of nine principles, summarised in the document Our Principles of Good Design. Design principles such as ‘identity’, ‘heritage’, ‘innovation’ and ‘contextual’ are now key considerations in the way Network Rail approaches its projects.  

This could not excite me more. When it comes to heritage alone, I’m immediately reminded of how proud the UK is of its railways, evident in the way they are showcased in so many TV shows and films, from Agatha Christie adaptations to the Harry Potter franchise and everything in-between.

But hang on… are quaint Victorian stations and majestic railway arches what we mean when we use the term ‘heritage’ in relation to the railways? This is what I immediately think of, but is there more to this? And what about identity? What does that mean? And passengers? That feels obvious: that’s me. But it’s also my friends, colleagues, family, strangers. We all have different priorities and will have different interpretations of what these principles are, and how we think they should be manifested in Network Rail’s assets.

With this in mind, Network Rail has teamed up with Design Council to develop ThinkStation – a series of workshops running over the coming weeks, which invite a wide range of stakeholders, passengers included, to help design the station of the future. Design Council’s experts will do this through a series of creative and interactive activities spread across the day. We will first break down our responses to a particular principle and then indulge in a bit of future-gazing, before building up a vision of how we think this principle should be manifested in stations of the future.

We are delighted to be joined in this exercise by a number of keynote speakers, from the TV broadcaster Tim Dunn, to the Head of the Clore Leadership programme Hilary Carty, to gender and disability advocate Hannah Barham-Brown. The speakers will set the tone for each day by helping us to broaden our horizons on what the principles mean.  

I have no doubts that Network Rail’s commitment to put passengers first, combined with its determination to incorporate good design in practice, will reap benefits in terms of our stations of the future. In turn, ThinkStation participants can look forward to seeing them being built and feeling proud that their thoughts helped shape the station of the future. A station that, based on evidence, could be the glory of the UK for centuries to come.

Design Council and Network Rail will be running ThinkStation workshops throughout December 2019 and January 2020. You can find out more and express your interest in taking part here. 

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