The Power of Color in Transit

Many factors contribute to mass transit’s ability to compete in an increasingly competitive transportation marketplace, not the least of which include cost, compliance and technology. However, one of the most significant contributing factors to long-term success in this space remains passenger experience.

In recent years new regulations, breakthrough materials, technological advancements and improved processes have all worked hand-in-hand to advance mass transit design toward a more passenger-centered aesthetic. As a central factor to design, color is considered one of the most powerful ways to enhance passenger experience and the role of color in mass transit interiors continues to evolve significantly as a result of these influencing factors.


A Powerful Way to Elevate Passenger Experience

Today’s forward-thinking transit professionals are dedicating more resources toward attracting and retaining customers through the enhanced experience of their brands. This trend is also being seen in other industries, including aviation interiors, retail, hospitality and consumer goods.

Rich Cort, sales and market development manager at Kydex LLC, sees the mass transit industry continually evolving toward more passenger-centered design.

“Like many modern industries in which customer experience iscritical, mass transit interiors are being designed or redesigned with much more focus on the end user,” he said. “Today’s consumers simply have more refined expectations and they expect more and more from every aspect of their lives — from their personal consumer goods, such as mobile devices, to their healthcare experiences, to their commute to and from work.”

Mass transit customers have choices when it comes to travel. Cort continued, “In the United States, the American love of the automobile and the vast distances to cover are the mass transit industry’s biggest competitors and some of the most compelling reasons why we have seen increased attention to passenger experience. Sterile bus and rail environments of the ubiquitous blue, gray and beige, are quickly becoming things of the past.”

David Scott, global creative at Kydex agreed, stating, “We have seen these trends — toward increased use of color and attention to passenger experience — across industries and markets. It is exciting to see how industries move ahead by leaps and bounds while learning from each other.”

Scott points to the aviation and healthcare industries for some inspiration in new mass transit designs.

Designers for aviation interiors have been utilizing color, effect and branding in design to elevate passenger experience for years. Some healthcare studies are starting to look at how color affects patient care and healing, and designers are realizing the empirical evidence: people live in a world full of color and experience color in a thousand different ways during their daily routines. Why should a doctor’s office be so different, unsettling in its shades of sterility? Why should a train ride, or a trip on the bus? If a transportation experience is contrary to what you experience in the rest of your world, it doesn’t create a good feeling — or enable the operator to include brand awareness and in turn, customer loyalty.

There are many shades of gray and beige, and they certainly have their place. But trends indicate the transit industry in North America will continue to defy this tradition and branch out into using more of the color wheel and experimenting with new design elements like their European and Asian counterparts have been doing for some time. Internationally, design and its use of color will continue to evolve.

Color is central to design because it is central to the human experience and therefore essential to creating passenger experience. This way of thinking is becoming more widely accepted and evident in how decisions about color and design are made.

“We’re seeing decision makers considering color much more thoughtfully. Even the roles around the table are more diverse in thecolor decision-making process,” Scott said about the design process. “It has become less mechanical, less engineering-driven, and much more about the actual travel experience.”


Designing with Color and Experience in Mind

Choosing an interior color scheme is no small task. It requires thoughtful consideration because it is such a powerful and personal element. Color evokes mood, feeling and weight. It can influence space perception by enhancing geometric plane and direction. It can be calming and highlight a feature of a finished design. Color establishes a sense of place and means different things to different cultures.

“Considering passenger demographics and ethnography — who they are, where they’re coming from, what they do, and how they think is so important while designing a color palette,” Scott said. “We have been involved in projects that take into account a city’s identity and environment. Consider a city with an environment close to water. The city’s public transport should reflect that. Identity is just as important: you wouldn’t have the same color palette in New York City as you would Los Angeles, and you certainly wouldn’t choose the same colors for the middle of Germany as you would for Scandinavia.”

Cort agreed the purpose of the train or bus should influence color choices as much as it does the physical layout and interior components.

“It is important to consider how long passengers are on the train and why they are riding it,” he said. “Is the car used for short commutes where passengers are standing shoulder to shoulder for shortperiods of time? Will it be a more calm and quiet atmosphere in which commuters are working on their laptops for a longer commute?”

Scott recalled a project in Europe where the landscape heavily influenced the color palette.

“This particular project involved a two-hour trek through beautiful European countryside with rolling green hills,” he said. “We worked with the agency to enhance the passenger experience by implementing a color palette with light green tones throughout. The windows were extra-large so passengers could enjoy the view; the colors reinforced their experience by being in sync with the landscape.”


Forecasting Design Trends

Understanding the powerful effect of color on passenger experience, how do forward-thinking mass transit professionals capitalize on this power while maintaining compliance with the industry’s strict regulations?

“While we are undoubtedly witnessing a trend toward more passenger-centered design in the mass transit industry, it is important to remember that there is a vast difference between trends in popular culture and trends in high profile and highly regulated industries. Contrary to common interpretations of ‘trend,’ in the context of the mass transit industry, trend isn’t what is popular at the moment, or even what might be popular a few years from now,” Scott said. “Trend is a prevailing tendency or specific direction resulting from myriad influencing factors and intentions. In these types of industries, changes are thoughtfully conceived and carefully planned for years in advance.”

For the mass transit industry, this comes as no surprise, considering most projects take at least three years from concept to production and will be in service for many years.

Cort added, “Trends in the mass transit industry are certainly not based on what’s ‘hot’ right now. And while trends in mass transit are driven by many factors, the most significant drivers relate back directly to regulation, which drives advancements in technology and in turn, the design of the passenger experience.”

Cort and Scott have witnessed first-hand how the relationship between these drivers is interdependent: regulations drive technology, technology drives design, and design enhances passenger experience.


Regulations Drive Technology Innovations

The relationship of factors influencing design and color trends is interdependent and the regulatory landscape remains the strongest driver in the evolution of technology and design in rail interiors. But it’s certainly not the only challenge presented in the creation process.

“Materials that cannot meet or exceed the regulations will not be specified for the programs, that is a given,” Cort said. “What makes the regulations demanding in product development is achieving the chemistries and formulations that are all-in-one solutions. Materials used to achieve design goals in mass transit must meet a complex mix of regulations and have a fine degree of finish and color, while retaining excellent mechanical properties, all at a compelling price point.”

While these regulations are in place for passenger safety, Cort and Scott see the regulations benefiting the industry as they drive design innovation.

Scott said, “Light weight requirements have become more common and rigorous as well as toxicity regulations and environmental concerns. These have spurred the sourcing of materials like thermoplastics, which, traditionally, have been used less than others in mass transit interiors. The sourcing of alternative materials to meet regulations has many advantages, including design. Thermoplastics allow designers to work with thinner gauges, resulting in lighter weight parts, while allowing for more detailed, refined design.”

Cort said there are even more benefits. “The parts retain excellent mechanical properties such as durability so replacement costs are low and rail cars, for example, are out of service less often. When parts are eventually replaced for refurbishment or redesign projects, they can be recycled.”


Technology Provides Colorful World of Possibilities

The supply chain is prompting innovation by expanding what is possible in mass transit design in terms of color using thermoplastics. A significant decrease in the minimum required volume for pigments is resulting in lower cost for custom color and new color engineering now allows designers to experiment more freely.

The variety of materials has also increased. Advancements in thermoplastics have made it possible for the industry to offer a wider array of source materials, with integral color and effects like metal-look and pearlescent finish which are becoming more popular. These effects used to be achieved through application of metallic caps, requiring additional processing and cost. Because color and effect are incorporated into the sheet, parts are also more durable, and remain beautiful longer.

“Specialization and branding are easier to accomplish,” Scott said. “There are very few end colors we cannot achieve. We’ve seen more depth and breadth of color palettes and finish in mass transit interiors. One of the most powerful ways to implement a color palette is to have different thermoplastic products in the same color palette with different effects and luminosities. That takes you to one level. Adding texture, metallic finishes, and even imaging takes you even further.”

Lighting is also an area where advances in technology have rapidly occurred. Scott remarked that lighting plays a key role in the design and effectiveness of color in thermoplastics. “We have the ability to include a variety of colors and effects that aren’t visible to the naked eye, but when paired with types of lighting, such as LEDs, really highlight color and their luminosity, depth and intricacy.”


Improved Processes Contribute Momentum to Change

Increased demand for customization in color and texture to enhance passenger experience and lighter weight program requirements have required a rapid evolution of the process for forming thermoplastic parts. As designers and manufacturers discover what they can accomplish with thermoplastics, Cort said, “Pressure forming produces low-cost aesthetically refined parts that rival those made using other types of forming. The level of detail that is possible is outstanding and nothing like I have seen in my career supplying the mass transit industry. Fabricators can achieve more depth and functionality. Designers can layer branding with embedded logos. Reverse angles and undercuts are no problem at all — with virtually seamless fitting, and without wall thinning and additional processing common in other types of forming.”

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Lydia Swan is the director of sales and marketing at Kydex LLC.