Crossing borders by train

What can be improved for international train travellers?

Do international train travellers arriving with the Thalys from Paris understand how to exit the station through the closed gates in Rotterdam? How does the German Deutsche Bahn ticked vending machine work at the Roosendaal station? Where do you have to check out with your ov-chipkaart when traveling to Antwerp? Do you have to check out at all? What service do travellers need when a train is cancelled? And where do they expect to find it?
To improve the customer experience of international train travellers, you first have to understand exactly what goes wrong. We conducted research for the Technical University of Delft.

Interviews and observations

We combined research methods to construct an overview of the problems faced when traveling in and out of the Netherlands by train. We interviewed stakeholders and made several international train trips.
In the trains we spoke to international travellers and at the stations we interviewed service personnel. And we made a lot of observations, logging how and where travellers look for information, buy tickets and navigate the stations. And (attempt to) cross the physical barrier of the ov-chip gates at the closed stations.

The international customer journey

We found many opportunities for improvement. To structure all findings, we created a customer journey for international train travel. There is no universal series of steps that each customer of international train travel goes though, but there are distinct phases to categorise issues.

A report at different speeds

Different people have different needs when it comes to research results. A high-level overview is crucial, but the factual experiences of customers add another dimension to the problems. And an in-depth understanding of the details is vital for selecting appropriate solutions. So we described our findings on three different speeds.

The big picture

To provide an overview of the problem space, we created a poster. It shows the different phases in the customer journey and lists the issues that we found in each phase. For each issue it gives clarity about the target group experiencing the problem and the impact it has on their customer experience.

A highway of user experiences

In our report all even pages are filled with pictures and illustrative quotes from travellers. They offer a detailed and sharp picture of how actual customers experience the issues we found, and what impact they have on their travel and their mood.
By placing these illustrative items on every left page of the report, they form an information highway that is easy to scan when flipping through the report. This offers some valuable first-person insights to readers who are pressed for time and focus on the executive summary, conclusions and recommendations.

Detailed insights

An understanding of the details is necessary to be able to come up with good solutions. That’s why we describe our findings in detail, outlining the user goals in each phase of the journey and how the issues we found prevent customers from reaching these objectives. Apart from all findings, the report also offers a detailed description of the methods we used. And of course the conclusions and recommendations that could lead to improvement of the customer experience for international train travellers.

The closed payment border at station Roosendaal can be an unexpected barrier, as we found out from a traveller arriving in the Netherlands from Belgium: “What do you mean I need my ticked to open this gate? I just threw my ticked in the bin on the other platform.”

An actionable report

The Dutch railway company NS and NS international immediately started work on the actionable conclusions and recommendations in our report. Within weeks the poster of the customer journey map had evolved into a to-do poster, with notes scribbled next to the different issues to indicate what actions would be taken on the short term to improve the customer experience for international train travellers to and from the Netherlands.

Many thanks to Jasper van Kuijk, Bas Rijnders, the service personnel at station Rotterdam, Roosendaal, Heerlen, Arnhem, Enschede and Venlo and all the international travellers that were kind enough to share their experiences.


is a no-nonsense UX bureau.

As creative engineers, we love complex challenges. We design solutions that feel logical for users. We focus on quality. We choose to be a small agency, so we can give each client our full attention.
We bring over 20 years of experience to each project.

Bart + Meike: engineers with a focus on people.
Meike Mak design researcher and UX specialist—industrial design (with honors), TU Delft. Meike likes to submerge in the experience of the user and is a trainer in UX research and interview techniques. She loves mountains, squash and board games and is the mother of Willem.
Bart van Lieshout designer—architecture (with honors), TU Delft. Bart worked 10 years as an architect, designing complex buildings such as hospitals. He is fascinated by grids and typography and always in pursuit of elegant solutions. Bart sings as a tenor soloist in classical music. His daughter is called Domino.

Our specialty is fact-based design.

We base our designs on facts and insights. We research the needs of the people who are going to use the product or service. And we merge these user needs and ambitions with our clients’ ambition in a concept.

Concept a strategic foundation for the design. We sketch solutions for the core user interaction. From here we design the main functionality, outlining principles and structure.
A solid concept is half the battle. It forms the basis for prioritising and planning features, helps to convince stakeholders and guides the product roadmap. For agile teams the concept provides a clear high-level context, essential during large or complex projects.
We always start with sketches and add detail with our clients as we iterate. This helps idaes to stay agile and prevents rework in expensive production steps.

We help ambitious organisations to make online projects successful.

Our work is often of strategic importance to our clients, so we can only show a selection.
  • Design for online services of a pension administration

  • Ideation for purchasing tools for the government

    Ideation generating ideas and solutions. Together with the purchase professionals from the Dutch government, we created a clickable prototype to demonstrate how large purchasing projects can be facilitated.
    Take a closer look.
  • Design for a website and mail service for lawyers

    Ontwerp a clear plan of what will be created. Based on the insights from user research, we created sketches, visual designs and prototypes. The site went live in 2017 and together with the in-house development team we realise a constant flow of improvements and extensions.
    See what we designed. And why.
  • Design Sprints

    Design Sprints is a format developed by Google Ventures to create a user validated prototype in only 5 working days. The ideal compact (and low-cost) innovation kickstart for corporates with challenges and ambition.
    Design thinking and teamwork.
  • Concept for a new public service portal

  • Implementation of UX research for a sports brand

  • I.A. for a telco app

    Information Architecture a design for the organisation of information. What information will be displayed where? What screens are necessary and what form of navigation aligns best with the user goals and needs? A well though out I.A. forms the basis for a successful interaction design, layout and visual design.
  • Coaching in-house UX teams

    UX-rescue help for design teams and product teams in doubt or in trouble. Sometimes it’s hard to see if your working in the right direction. Is this the best solution for the problem? Or are you fixing the wrong problem?
    With the refreshing perspective of outside professionals we help teams to identify their problem and choose an adequate solution, empowering the team to get back to work with renewed energy and focus.
  • Strategic pressure cookers for teams

    Strategic pressure cookers facilitating sessions with stakeholders and business owners to outline a clear product vision. Strategic sessions result is a shared understanding and insight of the bottle necks, challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
  • Branding for a dental practice

    Branding the identity of your organization. Your business card—literally. What impression do you want to make? What are the core values of your business and how are they best displayed in your corporate identity?
    Read more about the typeface, layout and logo.
  • Design and code for a bridge club website

    We build websites on a regular basis. This keeps our knowledge up-to-date about what can be achieved in the browser—and how much effort is involved. We believe that good design takes into account how things are made. Online products are not clickable images, but responsive layout systems that work well on small and larger screens alike. So we need to understand the code that makes the design.
    Illustrations and website for a bridge club.
  • User research in public transportation

    User research finding out how users experience something. In this case how international train travellers experience the Dutch OV-chip card. What challenges and problems do the travellers face? Do foreign visitors understand how the system works? And how to get past the gates at their destination?
    Find out what we found.
  • First website for mbstudio

    First website always challenging. What to put on your website when you’re setting up a new business in the evening hours?
    This is what we opted for in 2016.
  • Naming our company

    If you like to base decisions on facts, and advice your clients to conduct research, then how do you choose the name for your company? Fact-based of course! Complete with sketches, prototypes and user research.
    Read all about it.
  • Arcadis
  • Binck bank
  • Boom juridische uitgevers
  • Centraal Bureau Rijvaardigheid
  • ING
  • knab
  • Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken
  • Nederlandse Spoorwegen
  • Schaal+
  • Royal Schiphol Group
  • Spirit jeugdzorg
  • Squla
  • Delft University of Technology
  • User Intelligence
  • UX academy
  • uxinsight

Because we believe that digital products make life better.

Why you do something is just as important as what you do. We believe in human-centered design: products and services designed from the perspective of the human who uses them. We believe that good websites, apps and online services make our life easier and more pleasurable. And that the impact of digital products on our life—and that of our children—will only increase.
That is why we choose to use our talents and energy to make digital products as good as possible.

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