Designing Chicago: New Tools for Public Transit is a project that leverages public participation and design to make citywide navigation better. We are gathering a giant team of transit riders in Chicago and around the world to work with us on the research and design of the “mother of all transit apps.”

Currently, finding our way around our city is just okay.

Though a variety of transit tools exist, many people still have unanswered questions and difficulty navigating their journeys. Uncertainty and unfamiliarity create barriers between citizens and the amazing resource of Chicago’s multi-modal transportation system. Our giant team will create a new tool that helps with the entire journey, makes finding our way around the city a great experience, and pushes Chicago to become a smarter and more sustainable urban environment.

We believe the city is our classroom and that together, we can create something better than any of us could imagine alone.

That’s why we’re gathering a team of people with diverse perspectives and experiences to participate in both the Research and Design phases of our project. In Research, we’ll lead our team through a series of assignments which will teach them how to see the world with new eyes and collect information about the needs of transit users. A smaller team will participate in a Research Workshop where we’ll synthesis all of the collected observations and stories into insights for design. Then in Design, we’ll lead our whole team through a series of assignments which teach them to come up with great ideas in response to each of the insights we identified through our research. Again, a smaller team will work with us at a Design Workshop where we’ll distill all of our concepts into the actual features of our app. We are currently seeking technical and financial partnership to facilitate the development of the app, and we plan to have our new tool in testing by the end of 2013.


We think the experience of finding our way can be amazing in every city—not only convenient and intuitive but even educational and productive.

Citizens will have tools which both leverage and add to the city’s collective knowledge to help us move through our city with certainty and familiarity while making the best use of our shared infrastructure. Right now, we’re testing this idea with our city, Chicago, but we know there is no one-size-fits-all solution for transportation in City 2.0. That’s why we envision both the transit tools and the intentional, participatory processes of research and design that create them.

We think every citizen can use the design process to solve social problems.

In the future, citizens join together to create rather than complain. Citizen engagement happens early and often, and it feels more like a treasure hunt than an obligatory town hall meeting. New Tools for Public Transit is intended as the first of a series of projects under Designing Chicago which utilize public participation to address social problems through design.

The ultimate vision is one of empowered cities everywhere, leveraging their citizens and assets to solve their own local problems.