Fuel for Innovation – two projects by VanBerlo

Fuel for Innovation

Text by Annemiek van Grondel

In design, good ideas rule. Then it’s key to interview the actual design users. VanBerlo enjoys having an open dialogue with their end users: start with open minds, end with satisfaction.

An underground passage for bicyclists and pedestrians in a railway zone area: especially at night, not always the safest place on earth. So how to increase the feeling of security for tunnel users?

The municipality of Tilburg asked design agency VanBerlo for help. Maayke de Brouwer, Senior Communications & Design Strategist: “They wanted us to add value to citizen safety, especially to the bicycle tunnel under the Spoorzone-gebied (railway zone area).”

In collaboration with Righteous Games, VanBerlo built a 3D space and used Oculus Rift to help potential end users get a 360 degree virtual view of the new tunnel. Users could pedal safely on a stationary bike whilst wearing virtual reality (VR) glasses, and answer questions about the various design examples they saw. The goal: find a lighting design that helps people feel safer in the tunnel. Designer Teun van Wetten explains: “The moments of riding into, through and back out of the tunnel evoked different thoughts and feelings. Are there other people? Are there escape routes? That’s why we designed environments that answer to prospect, concealment and escape.”


First off, the interactive light wall detects a person and illuminates the tunnel. After measuring the person’s proximity, the tunnel lighting adjusts accordingly. Finally, the tunnel tracks individuals and their interaction with others.

De Brouwer: “The municipality is interested in using this kind of lighting at events, (trade) fairs and even in football stadiums.” Although tunnel testing is still ongoing, the reactions are positive. “People are proud to participate,” De Brouwer says. “One couple hopes that their daughter, a frequent yet uneasy user of the tunnel, will come visit more often. They can’t wait until the tunnel is finished!”

Good designs don’t just happen. It takes a strong design process and a solid foundation. VanBerlo creates the difference by using consumer insights to form a sturdy foundation, strengthening their design process.

User insights make up an important part of the design process at VanBerlo. Come share your insights with them over a cup of coffee from their latest stylish coffee concept –the Promesso, created for Jacobs Douwe Egberts Professional.

Design & Development Director Sjoerd Hoyinck is aware of the importance of user insights. “Our coffee culture has changed,” he says. “From the introduction of better Espresso and beautiful lattes in coffee bars, consumers now prefer single serve solutions at home to match their personal taste.” It’s insights like this that help us to design innovative and highly usable products and services.

During DDW, VanBerlo shared their design process with visitors, using the daily drink behaviour to explain how they gather user insights to further their designs.


Visitors were asked questions like: Can you tell us a personal story around hydration, beverages or refreshments? When do you normally drink something, and why? What are your favourite beverages? The design agency will reveal to their visitors how user insights create the difference, in an interactive and approachable way. At VanBerlo, it’s all about getting involved from the very start. Hoyinck gives an example: “We have developed coffee machines for Douwe Egberts in the past staying in line with the brand’s colour: red. However, to better get across a message of coffee, the original designs were often visualized in black. After consumer research confirmed that users actually preferred coffee from black machines, the colours for the line-up were changed.” The agency went on to design and develop the Promesso for Jacobs Douwe Egberts, creating a stylish and highly personalised coffee moment for users. User insights will continue to be an important part of the design process at VanBerlo.

This interview was originally published in the Social & Green Design Guide by Connecting the Dots and The DOEN Foundation during Dutch Design Week 2015. Read the entire publication here.

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