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The Challenge

How might JR East offer a quality travel experience for passengers to meet their navigation needs?


JR East announced that the service IDEO helped design will play a major role in the company’s digital transformation.

The Outcome

Re-designed a human-centered digital service, along with a development platform to enhance the quality and speed of the company’s prototyping and production cycles.

The population of Tokyo’s metropolitan area is twice as big as New York, and the daily influx of workers from the suburbs increases that number sixfold. Congestion on trains traveling through the center of Tokyo during commuting hours is said to reach somewhere close to 200 percent of the trains’ capacity.

East Japan Railway Company (known as JR East) is the world’s largest railway company by revenue, operating 12,000 trains daily and serving 6.4 billion passengers per year.

In March 2014, JR East leveraged their extensive operations and passenger data to publish a consumer app that provided train location information, congestion status, air conditioning temperature, and wayfinding tools.

The app was downloaded more than 3.8 million times; however, its features and usability proved unsatisfactory to users. In an attempt to be comprehensive in addressing passenger needs, the app was weighed down with data and worked sluggishly. Competitors’ apps were named above JR East in customer satisfaction surveys, highlighting the company’s need to address the tool’s usability.

JR East’s Technical Division approached IDEO to help design an attractive and consistent user-centered experience through its digital ecosystem. With a team of interaction designers, they launched a project to create a new version of their app.

During the research phase, the IDEO team observed passengers’ behaviors and decision-making processes and noticed that people were using several apps at once to get more personalized and complete information.

The team created a set of paper-based prototypes to test how users would react to various functionalities. Surprisingly, users ranked versions with limited functionalities higher than those with a broad range of features.

This insight informed a new prototype that enabled a customized user experience based on traveler needs. Wayfinding proved to be the most frequently selected feature, so the new app was designed around helping passenger navigate during their trips.

Although JR East had traditionally outsourced their app development, IDEO encouraged them to organize their own internal team. In cooperation with Pivotal—a frequent IDEO partner familiar with human-centered approaches—the internal team was trained in agile development and built the new app themselves. A prototype was released in November 2017 as “Go! by Train.” It was so successful in the market that the earlier JR East app was replaced entirely with the content of the new design.

I needed the courage to make the decision but the main reason why we could go ahead with such major renewal of the app with confidence was ‘Go! by Train.’ Using the wonderful design and background logic developed by IDEO as its basis, we first started with a ‘small experiment’ and received many positive feedbacks from the users on GO! by Train’s experience and visuals. We realized that when we communicate what is really required attentively, people would recognize its value.

Takayuki Matsumoto, JR East project lead

JR East's internal development team was recognized by the company for their exceptional output, and will be integral to the company's human-centered digital transformation going forward.

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