Interview with Marek Adamczewski – coach interior designer

How were you invited to become a member of the team responsible for the implementation of the project to purchase 20 ETR 610 multiple units?

It is a long story. It began in 2008 when my team, maradDesign, won the contest organised by Intercity and the Institute of Industrial Design to present the interior design and colour scheme of the units. IC boldly decided not to buy "ready-made" multiple units; instead, the winner of the contest was to execute their project, and thus the units would conform to their expectations. Finally, according to the agreement between IC and ALSTOM, we are free to select the colour scheme and materials – in this way we can say that a part of maradDesign's project is realised. The project is signed as: Design – GIUGIARO – MARADDESIGN – ALSTOM, and I am very proud of this. I also took part in the preparation of the Specification of Essential Terms & Conditions of the Contract in the Design Department. This is why I was invited for cooperation.

What is your function in the team?

I am an advisor in terms of the interior and exterior colour scheme. I am responsible for the appearance, the colour scheme and ergonomics of the passenger compartments. I also expect that I will be allowed to supervise the quality of these elements up to the end, since this has a huge influence on the final result.

Did you have any concept or idea how the train set would look like or is it an outcome of the work of the entire team?

Modern design, particularly in case of large projects, always involves teamwork. Our proposal is a conceptual design and, as such, was not subjected to any limitations, which were only introduced later. The proposals – mainly concerning the functional layout and several detailed solutions – go far beyond the current project. I have been designing coaches and entire train sets for 11 years, and I know that this is always the case. But I regret that some of our ideas were rejected – maybe another time.

What do the design works look like? What do you start with, and how long does it take to finish?

The most important is to carefully and precisely know the conditions and the requirements of the investors. An important factor is also knowledge concerning the future "users" of the product. One must also determine the scope and the technical and technological limitations. Finally, it is good to know any similar solutions offered by the competition. This stage is completed by preparing a document – the planned specification of the product. Only then can the most pleasant part of the work begin – the first sketches, geometric and computer models – ideas of the future train set. Several designs are always prepared to "search" for the best answer. These designs are then perfected so that we can present them to our customers. We carefully listen to their comments and together decide which way to continue. Finally we can present the detailed solution, which is called a design project. After the design project is verified, and any faults, excessive expenses and solutions too difficult to implement are eliminated, we have the final design project. In the case of rail vehicles, this takes no less than half a year; usually it takes 8 to 10 months. As we can see, the designer's work is "a bit" different from that of painters or sculptors.

I am sure you had other ideas or concepts concerning the design of the multiple units. What were they based on, and what were the differences between them?

The final colour scheme does not significantly vary from our initial idea. As I mentioned, it was created by Alstom and maradDesign designers. The exterior colour scheme was also designed by us. It was not possible, on the other hand, to introduce several functional solutions. The reason was obvious – they were limiting the number of seats. We noticed that passengers meeting on the train did not have any place in the carriages to stand and talk freely. That is why we proposed to give them such places, maybe even with vending machines. Another idea, which was not introduced in the end, was a slight increase in the distance between the seats to allow the passengers to place their heavy luggage or hang their coats and jackets. We thought about using couches instead of single seats, which would be appreciated by mothers with children. The general idea is to distinguish trains from buses or airplanes and to search for methods to increase the attractiveness of travel by using all the advantages of rail vehicles. It appears that in the long term it is about getting paid. Squeezing passengers in as many seats as possible might sound logical now, but for how long?

Is functionality the most important feature identifying the selected solution, or are there any other factors that play an equally important role?

Form Follows Function (3F) was the design canon followed when I was studying and when I was beginning the work as a designer. Many contemporary designers have rejected this. The world and the market constantly expect new products – not necessarily better than those before – but different. It should not, however, affect the public aspect of the design. Passengers do not choose trains which they like. Of course, functionality must be the most important, but other issues are important as well. The character of the interior, atmosphere, positive associations and harmony with the surrounding environment are equally important and influence the final impression.

Could you tell us more about the colours, the structure and the material which will be used in the train set?

These train sets will carry several thousand passengers daily and must satisfy their needs. We decided to use calm, harmonious colours with several stronger accents. Although every class, corridor and dining area will have their own colours, they will match each other. The materials, apart from their obvious functional values, like durability and ease of cleaning, have been selected to underline the warm and friendly atmosphere of the interior. The lighting is also important as far as the atmosphere is concerned – at our latitude, many passengers will only see the train illuminated with artificial light.

You did over 200 design projects introduced into production, including almost thirty rail vehicles. Tell us more about these projects. Which do you think were the most important and the most interesting?

I should say "all of them" – and that would be true. They are so different – from the colour scheme of a saloon carriage to a goods wagon for operators from both Eastern and the Western Europe. Every task was a new challenge for us, and nearly every operator wanted something special. I would distinguish two products manufactured by PESA Bydgoszcz – a PARTNER railbus and ACATUS EMU for the region of Łódź. When designing the PARTNER, the team had to start from scratch – there were no similar products in Europe. We did our best to avoid designing just a city bus on tracks or simply a motorised rail coach. ACATUS was the most modern multiple unit used in Poland in 2006. This was the project that gave us the most freedom – especially when designing its shape. Although it was not used as a basis for serial production, the BYDGOSTIA EMU, operating on the Warsaw – Łódź line, was later manufactured based on this project.

It appears that designing rail vehicles is particularly complicated...

The main reason for this is that the entire structure is so complicated. When we were designing the railbus, it quickly appeared that the most difficult thing is to coordinate the design works. Every part must not only be perfect, but also suit the place, or even places, in which it will be installed. And it must be suited for every aspect – literal, technological and design. Another limitation of rail vehicles in comparison to other means of transport, like ships, is the loading gauge. The number 2880 (the maximum width of a coach interior in millimetres) sometimes seems to haunt me. At first it seems impossible to ensure enough space for 4 seats and a corridor. And how to design a sleeping car? Add the operator-specific requirements and a huge number of regulations – a grand task. If you manage to do something interesting in spite of these limitations, you can be proud.

Do you sometimes travel in coaches which were designed by you? What do you feel when you board a train and see your ideas and solutions?

Firstly I see how much must still be done. Beautiful upholstery and colours are of no use to me if I have to stick my face in my own coat or that of my co-passenger. Because I have been designing train sets for so many years, I can define the problems affecting the comfort of travel. It is quite possible that in the near future, rail transport, competing with airlines, will better use the advantages of rail vehicles – like the possibility for passengers to walk along the entire length of the train, to have their luggage available at all times, the functional differentiation of particular coach zones and many others. We, the designers, are always ready for new challenges. And the satisfaction from the implemented solutions? A few years ago, a friend of mine, who works for the manufacturer, called and told me that a unit which was returned for inspection after maybe 2 years looked like a new one! They were surprised, and I felt happy. This was the proof that a good design is valued by the passengers – and thus completely accepted.

You follow the motto of the famous "Bauhaus" lecturer, Moholy-Nagy: "not the product but man is the object in view". How does this affect the final result?

Good examples are the control panels of rail vehicles – this was the subject of my PhD thesis. It is hard to find a more integrated human–machine system (excluding a literal integration like an exoskeleton). My team and I have designed many such panels, and always the central "element" of the system was the engineer. Ergonomics is the basis, and it influences all decisions made during the design process. The ease of putting a coffee mug aside is really more important than the ease of assembly. On the other hand, as far as mass production is concerned (I do not only design rail vehicles), the most important is to define, and then to understand, the needs of future users. Although it may not be so easy when the production series includes several hundred thousand items, I dare to say that the effectiveness of my team is based on strictly following this motto.

A few words about the industrial design...

Four years ago I was a curator of exhibitions for Gdynia Design Days. The first questions in numerous interviews I gave back then were: "could you explain precisely what the design means"? It is hard to believe. Today, every self-respecting magazine has a column dedicated to design – which, in consequence, has significantly expanded – and sometimes too much – the understanding of this aspect. My domain is the "hard" part of design – the industrial design. It means designing products foreseen to be manufactured in a series, for many users. This has far-reaching consequences as far as the design process is concerned – I have already mentioned this.

How does cooperation between the industrial designers and the manufacturers look like?

From a certain time in the methodology of production, we distinguish between the concepts of the introduction team and the design team. One can easily guess that the latter is closely integrated with the first one – in fact, it is a part of it. From my point of view, cooperation is subject to one rule: the initial discussions are finished only when all persons responsible for the introduction of a product say "it is our design". If a technologist or a constructor becomes my opponent in the company, I become an obstacle in his or her routine work, and nothing sensible will ever be created. Serial production involves such huge costs that we cannot risk any understatements, cannot leave any problems unsolved, etc. In a nutshell: 100% cooperation.

To finish our interview, let's get back to you. Where do you seek inspiration?

We must design beautiful and smart solutions – nothing else. I always tell this to my students and younger colleagues. Inspiration can be human needs, life, the world. I cannot just hang a picture in a gallery and wait for a response. My "creation" is offered in many copies and is expected to bring a profit to the manufacturer. It is an entirely different type of responsibility. That is why it is so important to understand the needs of the future users of a product. But how should I imagine the needs of a hundred thousand people? This is the type of imagination required from a designer. This is my inspiration.

A few words about yourself…

I recently read that a prominent architect, Oskar Niemeyer, at the age of 104, is still designing! This means that after over 40 years of professional work, I can work another 40 years. I, in cooperation with various design teams, have introduced well over 200 products onto the market. Frankly speaking, anywhere I look in Poland, I can see products which are, partially at least, "crafted" by my hand – or head, as I should put it. This is my obligation. Apart from designing, I am interested in the aspects of teaching, which is equally important for my professional activity. For many years, I have been conducting the Product Design Workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. I am closing in on the number of 50 M.A. degrees granted to young, amazing designers. I supervised two successful doctoral dissertations. I am also a lecturer on Design Management postgraduate studies, organised jointly by the Warsaw School of Economics and the Institute of Industrial Design. I was recently awarded with the title of professor of art by the President of the Republic of Poland.

Together with my wife Małgorzata, who is a doctor, and my daughter Milena, a law student, we travel all around Europe whenever it is possible.

Marek Adamczewski -professor, PhD

lievs in Gdańsk and is a product designer and a lecturer. He is responsible for the introduction of over 200 products into production – mainly complex design projects, including rail vehicles. Almost all of these were designed by teams lead by Marek Adamczewski – since 2003 with maradDesign studio. Designer of the Year 2006 (a title awarded to a multidiscipline team by the Director of the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw).Vice-rector for learning and development and head of the Product Design Workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, lecturer for Design Project in New Product Management postgraduate studies (Warsaw School of Economics and Institute of Industrial Design).