Lia Yue

Reimagine the Amtrak

Railcar Experience 

Creating meaningful designs that are user-centered to increase the ridership.


User Research


UX Researcher


10 Weeks

As a sustainable travel option in Northern California, the Capitol Corridor was ranked #3 in the nation for customer satisfaction among all Amtrak routes. Currently, the Capitol Corridor has 70% capacity during weekdays. However, the percentage capacity in weekend travel needs to be increased.

Within a 10 weeks Human-centered Design course, our team was tasked with redesigning the Amtrak Railcar experience to encourage more riders. I worked with two other team members, we switched roles (interviewer, note taker, and photographer) in this project in order to gain more perspectives of our users.


To identify the true needs of the Amtrak riders.


We sought to redesign the Capitol Corridor railcar experience, creating meaningful designs that were user-centered. We hoped that focusing on the user experience and perspective would encourage more riders.

What I have done

I interviewed various riders both on the train and near the train station to understand each individual's story and discover the possible challenges or struggles that the riders might be facing.

I discussed insights with my team members through empathy mapping to reflect and analyze the meaning behind the users' behavior.

I created physical prototypes with team members to test in focus groups, which helped us to refine the solution.

I developed the illustrations, including personas, storyboard, product visual representation, etc. to make our research result be easily understood in the final presentation.


Understand the users

We first had to understand user experiences by boarding the train and interviewing various riders about their experiences riding on the Capitol Corridor.

We drafted our interview focus questions:

  1. 1. Do you ride the train often? 
  2. 2. When you ride the train during commuting hours or weekends, how do you decide where to sit and where to put your things? 
  3. 3. Have you ever have a memorable experience on the train? 
  4. 4. Have you ever made any friends on the train?
  5. 5. What trains have you ever on that were ideal riding experience? 

A conductor was explaining us his experience.


  1.  • During the interview, do not judge or correct the interview subject even if we disagree. It will help us to understand the riders' perspectives better. 
  2.  • Do not narrow down the questions and always ask open-ended questions. By doing so, we give the riders the opportunity to share their thoughts we never have concerned about. 
  3.  • Listen for stories and not be afraid of silence. It would help us to create a comfortable environment for the riders to share stories. 

Define the Problem

From our interviews, we analyzed people’s responses and stories through empathy brainstorms.

By analyzing how the riders say, think, do, and feel, we tried to figure out the tension between their behaviors and emotions.

Empathy Mapping


Based on our interviews, we created personas to focus on the specific users to further discover the true needs of the riders.

Point of View

I met Rhonda, a woman in her 40s  who was distressed while riding the train to see her family, who was evacuated to Sacramento because of fires. 

I was amazed to realize she was crying and admitted that she wasn't in a good mental place, yet she was willing to engage in conversation.  

It’s surprising to me because most people who are going through a difficult time in a public space will tend not to feel in the mood to socialize. 

Rhonda would say she does this because she cares for others, and wants to put them before herself. 

But I have a hunch that doing this may help her feel empowered because she could help people; the fires had made Rhonda feel like she was incapable of caring for her family. 

It would be game-changing to create a way for Rhonda to Feel empowered while allowing her to choose between "alone time" or interaction in public.


One meaningful thing we learned from Rhonda was that she was willing to help with an interview even though she was distressed. This gave us a glimpse of Rhonda’s true underlying need – in control.

Being amongst a large crowd of riders, makes it easy for an individual to feel small and unimportant. 

Comparing people’s feeling of riding a train and driving a car.

So what if instead of being an environment in which people feel like they don’t matter, the train could be somewhere where people could feel important, even like they could determine the fate of the world?

Finding Solutions


Make the car itself to address the need. 

Our solution is an interactive window, riders have the option to draw or write whatever they please using their finger. 

Storyboard of a rider experiencing the interactive window.

By being able to feel important through the ability to build her own world, Rhonda will gain a sense of personal significance that she had lacked.

Physical Representation

We visualized the physical window of the railcars. Basically, it is composed of:

  • • Screen (Window Size)
  • • Digital drawing and writing tools

Illustration of interactive window.



Our initial prototype consisted of a whiteboard, a markers, and an eraser.

We walked around Downtown Davis and tested our concept by asking “Imagine you’re sitting on the train and see this message written on the window. What would you do?” 

Testing the Initial Prototype


  • • People didn’t care as much about what they created, but more about the process of creating.
  • • Add guidance for people to know what this product could do. 

Refine the Prototype

Based on the feedback from our tested users, we added a guidance to the prototype. Also, we changed the material to a piece of glass to make the prototype more close to our ideal product – Window.

Refined Prototype

Testing the Refined Prototype


• Our users also craved time to do things for themselves, as opposed to doing things for or with others.

• Users felt free while using the product because they could create something solely for themselves, getting lost in the process and not having to worry about other people.

• Spending every other aspect of their lives surrounded by people, many users felt relieved when they could disconnect from their networks for a moment.

• Capitol Corridor can act as not just a form of transportation, but also an environment for personal freedom and empowerment. 


We summarized our research, insights, and suggested solution to our clients – Capital Corridor. We presented our research to the representatives from Amtrak in Davis city hall.

Measure of success

  • We would like to measure these metrics in order to understand if this design is successful: 
  • • Window being active rate
  • • Social Media sharing data
  • • Increased rate of ridership


  • Go out to see different perspectives and collect Qualitative data.

  • The Internet gives us easy access to people all around the world. It would be easy to conduct user research by sending out mass email surveys. Yet, it would be difficult to grasp others' perspectives and background from such surveys. When we sought someone out to interview and engaged in a meaningful conversation with them we gained a sense of their needs, values and struggles. The people we talked to had such different experiences from our own. Only by talking to them in an in-person interview we could begin to grasp these intricacies, something that a survey would not be able to achieve.


  • Ask open-ended questions during interviews is very important.

  1. Do not narrow down the questions and always ask open-ended questions. By doing so, we give the riders the opportunity to share their thoughts we never have concerned about. Also, do not judge or correct the interview subject even if we disagree. It will help us to understand the riders' perspectives better. 


  • Listen, listen, and listen. 

  1. People would feel comfortable to talk more when they feel that they are being heard. Let the users talk more than us and try to ask the follow up questions that will get them to talk deeper about the stories. Do not think about solutions during the interview, but try to understand the users first. Also, observe their behavior and take notes, try to understand the tensions of the users. Be interested in the users' stories and show them that we are engaged with their experience.