Human-Centered Focal Point of the Train Station

The New DB Infopoint

DB Station & Service AG operates the German train stations and the Infopoints that serve as important “points of contact. The first encounter most customers have with the service employees happens here. Therefore, it is more important than ever to develop contact and service offers based on the needs of the users, customers and employees. And that’s just what happened with Infopoint 4.0, a Design Thinking lighthouse project of the DB Station & Service AG. 

Starting point: The Redesign of a Central Information Hub

Most of us know this situation: you are at the train station and in urgent need of some specific information—maybe you even missed your train. When you get to the service point what you first see is the long line—and then you look at the clock. This is a difficult situation for both those in front of the information counter and those behind it. Using this situation as their starting point, a project team led by Andreas Bürgler, Head of Operations at DB Station & Service AG, undertook the redesign of the DB Infopoint. The project team applied the innovation approach of Design Thinking. The project’s kickoff, one among numerous innovation projects, was held at a HPI Academy workshop with 200 participants. For everyone involved, including the HPI Academy team, a workshop of this dimension was unchartered territory. Lead coach Flavia Bleuel said, “Because we had buy-in leadership, we absolutely wanted to integrate the DB managers into the workshop as coaches. They were prepared for their role as assistant coaches in an executive workshop and in the train-the trainer. We then brought 200 DB employees into contact with Design Thinking and immersed ourselves in six different tasks with 33 teams and 30 coaches.” Half of the six tasks were related to the service experiences of travelers at train stations and the other half to the internal challenges. In the following we look at the development of the DB Infopoint 4.0.

Aha moments: The development of Infopoint 4.0 as a co-creation

Direct contact to users was unusually challenging at first. However, the team quickly made valuable observations during exploratory field research: many customers often asked the same simple questions. The long lines at the Infopoint formed becausemany of the bureaucratic processes carried out were analogue and took a lot of time. These points were to later have a direct influence on the design of the Infopoint. A particular strength of Design Thinking, according to Andreas Bürgler, is “to work on topics that are interesting for the user and quickly build a prototype, and thereby to immediately recognize what works and what doesn’t.” Following the first paper prototypes, the standard office space was no longer able to accommodate the building and testing of a 1:1 prototype for an Info-Point. The project team moved into an empty station building in Berlin Wannsee. Here they conducted workshops with different user groups to better understand their needs and to continuously test and improve prototypes. These groups included families, frequent travelers, DB service personnel, as well as various associations, such as those for people in wheelchairs and the deaf. The team realized that it is helpful to get professionals on board for high-resolution prototypes. Andreas Bürgler hired a stage designer from the Deutsche Oper to build iterated prototypes right after each test run and to apply the feedback directly in improvements. The team finally presented their version of the prototype at the DB Product Conference, an annual event at which the Deutsche Bahn shows the press and public new product developments. “I experienced something interesting here that I had underestimated,” Bürgler remembers. The design team conducted user tests, closing the Infopoint between tests—which resulted in negative reactions from the company. “It was clear that I had not sufficiently ensured that the company and management were on board with what I was doing and why—and that it is essential to explain what it means to work with prototypes and to do live prototyping.” Many people had the impression that they were experiencing a finished product that had to be constantly accessible. 

Impact: A Living Piece of Furniture

Eight prototypes were developed, and in 2019 the first Infopoint 4.0 was set up at the Nuremberg Train Station. The project is in the roll-out phase. By the end of 2020 the Infopoint will be set up at hundreds of other train stations. For Andreas Bürgler two aspects of the finished service product are especially important. First, on the left a depression at the information counter enables conversation with people in wheelchairs at eye level. During the Design Thinking project, the project team learned how important it was to enable communication at the same level as with a normal table setup. Second, the service point combines a self-service area and large information displays with employee support. Customers have the choice of either getting their own information or going to the Infopoint to receive support from an employee. The early involvement of employees in user tests was extremely valuable as it led to a greater acceptance of the solution developed. An employee found it gratifying that her suggestion was integrated into the final version of the Infopoint. Besides the need for sticky notes, the readiness in the team to tackle new projects with interdisciplinary teams has also increased, according to Andreas Bürgler. “At the moment we are doing things ‘hand to mouth’ and always need to request funding for product development. We are not yet as well-positioned as we hope to be.” Fortunately, Andreas Bürgler is not alone with his ambitions at Deutsche Bahn: “There is a club called Querdenker/Andersmacher (lateral thinkers/alternative doers) and the name says it all. In this club, employees and executives at all levels exchange what has caught their attention through projects or ideas. “Therefore, we can really look forward to the other human-centered innovations in the works at DB.”