These Shape-Shifting Seats Ease The Misery Of Rush Hour

Rider numbers rise and fall over the course of the day. Why shouldn’t the seats?

We’ve all been on a train when a pregnant woman looks around for a seat while a 25-year-old wearing headphones manspreads exuberantly. There may never be justice in commuting, but at the very least, we could offer more seating.


Now PriestmanGoode–the design studio behind the new London Tube and TAM Airlines’ first-class couch seating–has released a pair of seat designs that could provide up to 30% more seating on commuter trains while maximizing comfort. The work–which is not announced for any train lines yet but is fully production-ready–was funded by U.K.’s Rail Safety and Standards Board, and it’s intended for the sorts of trains that bring you in and out of a city, rather than the packed subway cars designed for shorter trips.

The most compelling concept of the two is called Island Bay. It’s a seat that flips down for maximum seated comfort when the train isn’t very full. But as the car reaches capacity, it transforms. The seat itself flips up from a chair to become a higher personal bench. This bench still takes weight off the riders’ legs, but because riders are sitting higher up, the design uses that extra legroom to make space for another small bench in between the seats near the window. (This somewhat large gap can also be utilized for bikes or wheelchairs.) Finally, passengers in the aisle can lean against a third bench rather than holding onto an arm bar. All of these tiny design interventions create 15% to 20% more seating capacity.

But the second concept, Horizon, may be all around more practical. It doesn’t transform like Island Bay; it’s simply a highly efficient seating arrangement–the sort of cram-’em-in design you’d expect to see on a plane–capable of creating 30% more seating vs. current commuter train seating.

Clearly, the spacing is tight, without a lot of headroom. And the seats are angled to promote verticality, allowing a lot of people to be packed into the space. However, PriestmanGoode collaborated with an ergonomist to ensure all this snugness was still comfortable. The cleverest trick was adding a curve to the middle of each seat, so your shoulders won’t bump the shoulders of the person next to you, and you have the sensation of more personal space amid the crowd. Meanwhile, two different footrests allow people of different heights to rest their legs, and a small tray, complete with USB chargers, folds down from the back of the seat to provide a place your phone or coffee. There’s even a hook for a bag or purse.

Both seats are available now to be purchased for commuter trains around the world. But it’s only a matter of time before the 25-year-old dudes of the world figure out how to ruin them, too.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.