All points considered – Railway Interiors Magazine 2023

The designers at tangerine work hard to fulfil operators’ commercial requirements, while also immersing themselves in the passenger experience to create holistically considered design.


Today, train operators seek to entice travellers away from other modes of transportation and encourage them to embrace longer journeys via rail. While rail travel already offers numerous advantages, the ultimate aspiration is to evoke a genuine and heartfelt love for the railway experience.

There are many stakeholders, who together, are vital in orchestrating the customer experience, from rolling stock manufacturers to train operators to the ticket desk at railway stations. At the heart of this is the designer. It is they who will set the vision and curate the customer experience.


At tangerine the approach is to take a holistic view and balance the needs of the passenger with the commercial demands of the train operator. “As designers we must transcend the traditional focus on interior objects in isolation such as seats, windows, door panels and even passenger pain points,” comments Weiwei He, director at tangerine. “What is truly essential is to break free from the confines of designing objects and instead focus on creating an entire captivating experience for the passengers.”

To truly understand the customer, designers must immerse themselves in the journey and see it through the travellers’ eyes; considering what’s on their mind, what worries them, and what the reason is for their journey. “Then we will be able to use the designer’s instinct to curate the best experience that fits into their lives, leaving us free to find the best method on which to deliver it,” says He.

CRRC Sleeper Carriage


When Chinese rolling stock manufacturer CRRC approached tangerine to design a high-density sleeper train, the firm put substantial effort into defining a typical passenger. This was envisaged as a young female college student returning home from university. In imagining her overnight journey alongside more than 60 strangers in one carriage, the firm focused on crafting a ‘cosy hostel’ experience; striking a balance between seat count, safety and personal space. The design concept centres around hostel-style, open-plan pod beds, ensuring direct aisle access for all passengers. This is for ease of use and to give them a greater sense of safety. The pod beds are arranged in a staggered layout to optimise space, with heavy curtains to provide the desired level of privacy. Each passenger enjoys their own space with an individual window, climate control and a convenient meal table. “The private space that we have curated exudes a relaxed, homely feel while incorporating a sense of coolness with modern technology,” says He. Food and beverage also play a crucial role in enhancing passenger wellbeing. To cater to this aspect, China Rail provides a takeaway service for passengers on certain routes, whereby travellers can pre-order their desired food and drinks from various stations along the way. Having arrived at thatstation, the meal is delivered right to their seat or pod space. This allows tangerine’s conceptual passenger to enjoy breakfast in bed, further enriching the cosy hostel experience.


“As airlines are increasingly removing a better customer experience,” says He. “People who travel in premium class on an aircraft now demand the same on the ground. This gives us, as designers, greater flexibility to consider the whole end-to-end experience, fitting the train operators’ aspirations who are looking to find solutions to attracting more customers.”

A herringbone concept for premium rail travel

HERRINGBONE SEATING Caring for a passenger’s need to work, rest and play has inspired tangerine to design herringbone seat concepts within the carriage interior, which has echoes of lie-flat beds currently found in business class on aircraft. “Unlike aircraft flying across several time zones, most rail passengers prioritise a comfortable seat rather than a bed,” says He. “We provided operators with the flexibility of adjusting the seat pitch, ranging from a deep recline, a zero-gravity position, to a completely lie-flat bed, accommodating the varying preferences of different routes.” “Creating an exceptional rail experience for the premium traveller doesn’t need to focus on the luxurious or the eyecatching,” continues He. “Very often less is more, and creating s simple. joined-up experience can be seen as a premium by many. “

A first class Heathrow Express carriage showing a single seat layout

The UK’s Heathrow Express is the fast train service that whisks passengers from London’s main international airport into the heart of the capital city. Commissioned with redesigning the first-class carriage, tangerine’s focus was on creating a seamless experience.

“Our research revealed that the target customers are business travellers who usually travel alone with one piece of cabin luggage; powering up their devices and working for the 15-minute train journey into London,” says He. “We wanted to design an environment that wouldn’t draw their attention away from their busy schedule.”

“For the first time in UK rail interiors, we removed seats to allow a one-to-one seating configuration,” He continues. “This makes the aisle wider, and provides easy access and space for the cabin bag to be stowed next to the seat. Two large screens show the Heathrow Airport departure and arrival information. We want our passengers to have a trip without even noticing it.”Every rail journey is different. The design team at tangerine works hard to understand the requirements of passengers and operators alike, to balance commercial factors with the emotional needs of travellers. “With our creativity and expertise, we are transforming both aspirations into the best passenger experience,” says He.