There'a railway car with passenger seats looking roughly like this (please ignore the seatbelt):

original image from www.tc.gc.ca/media/images/ca-standards/position12.jpg

Seats are arranged in ICE fashion - two rows with a passage between them, two seats in each row, each passenger is facing the back of the next row (so he has all the footspace for himself but can only stare at the window, the neighbors and the back of the set in front of him all the way - that's very humane, but causes a problem which I'm about to explain).

Below each seat is a metal box with a power outlet - I schematically drew the box and the orange dot is where the outlet is accessible from. It is slightly recessed so that passengers don't accidentally bump into it.

I find this location quite reasonable - the outlets is easily reachable and doesn't interfere with anything, passengers cannot accidentally kick it, cannot accidentally wet it with rainwater from their clothes, spilling drinks onto such outlet is not easy.

The problem is passengers cannot find the outlet in there. When they enter the car they are not thinking about outlets yet - they need to find their seats, cram their belongings onto the shelves, say hello to their neighbors, call home and say they are departing, etc. Then they take their seat and it's quite clear that a person seating on such seat does not see the outlet - the outlet does not advertise itself in any way.

So passenger either ask conductor for assistance or just plain spend all their way not knowing there're outlets. The best chance for them to find there's an outlet is seeing their neighbors using such outlets.

How could outlets introduce themselves?

A rather direct way would be to place a sticker such that it's in front of each passenger's face saying "Hey, we have outlets right below the seat, enjoy" but it doesn't sound elegant - those stickers will forever be there and visually clutter the environment.

Could there be some other way to help passengers find those outlets?

  • 1
    Does the back of the seat in front of you feature a net with brochures and a foldable desk? Since users best learn from other passengers, it is an education problem for a critical mass of early adopters.
    – Crissov
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 15:02
  • Presumably this will retro-fit outlets into existing seats, so building them directly into the seat (e.g. behind the tray table) isn't an option? Putting them underneath as you've shown seems like it'd require uncomfortable bending & fumbling, and potentially having your head bashed by people passing by or reclining their seats. Ideally I'd want it easily visible & accessible right in front of me when I open the tray table. Failing that, mount 2 rear-facing outlets directly between the preceding seats? ... A small mirror & a sticker saying "Look under there"?
    – mc01
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:54
  • To be serious: I'd say the operator could show presence and helpfulness so that passengers are willingly to ask for information. ;) Beside that I'd say sticking discrete icons (in colors similar to the fabric) in front of the passenger (at the back of the seat in front) is the best way. On the other hand: I'm travelling by rail very often and am aware many trains have outlets, so I'm usually searching for them and in my opinion neither that fact that I have to search nor the location of the outlet in your example are annoying to me. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 20:23

4 Answers 4


For me, I see this as two problems: 1) knowing that an outlet exists, 2) knowing the location of the outlet. Since this is an education problem, I would to try to let the passenger learn this information at multiple, accessible touch points.

Here are a few of suggestions to explore.

  1. Signs at the ticket counter. This may be the first point of contact a passenger has with the train. Alert the passenger here of the outlet and its location.

  2. Print the location of the outlets on each ticket. The ticket may be the most important, if not only, boarding document, so reinforcement could be very useful, particularly if there is a specific seat assignment.

  3. Floor decals. For me, the floor of trains (and planes) is mostly ignored, except for when I first get to my seat. I set down my bags and, often, move it multiple times before finally settling in. A message or pictograph, etc. would be noticeable and constantly accessible to the passenger.

  • The floor pictograph is an excellent idea. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 17:09
  • How would you place something on the floor such that it's not obscured? When I sit down the floor is mostly covered by my bag or hidden beneath my legs. Also dark!
    – Drew Beck
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 8:21
  • I agree: if the power socket is for some device then the device has to sit somewhere - and the logical place would be a seat back tray. So the power outlet should be in the seat back next to the fold down tray.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 23:07

I would suggest a sticker resembling a power cord hat starts st the bottom of the window and goes down. If posible, continue it all the way to the power outlet. If not, at the bottom end add a big red arrow with some hint to the power outlet, and add bright yellow circle around the outlet. (Sorry for not illustrating, my illustration skills are below poor)


I've seen stickers on the rear of the seat in front of me on airplanes and found them useful and elegant. I think a well designed sticker is the way to go here. The passenger is sure to see it and it is closest to the moment of need.

I think worrying about visual clutter is a distraction and places form before function. Let the need guide, then make the implementation beautiful.


Consider painting the entire face of the outlet area a bright, loud, attention grabbing color.

For example, if the train is mostly off-white with deep blue colored seats, a loud orange color underneath the seat would pique their curiosity for a closer look, e.g. "Hey what are all these orange things underneath the seats?". Since it is underneath their seat, and there are no other seats facing them, it wouldn't be visible seated upright and wouldn't clutter the environment.

If the passengers don't notice it at their own seats, they will probably see it moving through the aisles and looking at other seats.

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