Going from map to app

This project began as a redesign of the CTA map. We know what you're thinking - oh cool, the big map poster you see in all the stations? But no, it's even more basic than that. George simply wanted to update the paper train/bus map that is printed by the thousands and handed out to visitors at O'Hare and Midway every day. We felt that map was too encyclopedic, trying to cover buses, trains and even some Metra and Pace lines, and that a simplified train map would help people and be an exciting design project.

Now, in traditional design research, we search for problems worth solving. However, as we're forming our own philosophies around social design, we've found an important edit to this process: rather than finding and solving problems, we should be finding and leveraging ASSETS. Rather than asking "What's wrong that we can fix?" we should be asking, "What's great that we can use, amplify, multiply?" So we took stock of some of our very own assets.

Asset 1: We know lots of amazing people. Somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35, all our friends went from nice, smart people to ridiculously brilliant experts in their fields. We thought that in doing a big public Kickstarter, we should get those folks' support and feedback.

The first convening of the Designing Chicago Advisory Board.

The first convening of the Designing Chicago Advisory Board.

Asset 2: We're good at teaching. Across SAIC, Kellogg and Lake Forest College, we've taught hundreds of hours of college and grad school. Our classes are popular hands-on design workshops, and we've seen how the design process can be transformative for students. 

Our recent class at SAIC designing a new elementary school cafeteria.

Our recent class at SAIC designing a new elementary school cafeteria.

So we knew early on that in order to raise money, we'd want our project to have an Advisory Board and an educational component. But then we started to realize a few major chinks in our plan. The first is that redesigning a train map doesn't really need a lot of people. Cartographic design is a really specialized skill that we aren't particularly practiced in, so how could we teach it? And even if we could, did it really make sense to have 1,000 people cooking in that tiny kitchen?

Plus, Kickstarter is an audience of smartphone-wielding, tech-savvy connectors. But our socially-responsible mentality of providing a new map, which would ultimately somehow get given to people who needed it, meant that there was a disconnect. I'd be funding something that I didn't particularly want or need. If it helps other people, that's nice and all, but do I, a Kickstarter-perusing Chicagoan, really care about tourists? I mean, sure, but I'm much more interested in something digital for me, than something paper-based for others.

And then there's the whole paper thing. Possibly our most world-famous Advisor, Massimo Vignelli, told us in an amazing 2-hour interview, "Print is obsolete! Look what you can do with digital!" And another Advisor, Dennis McClendon, the cartographer who designed the current CTA system map, said he was mainly interested in this project for the chance to create tools that "leap off the flatland." In other words, everyone said, go beyond print! When current and former map designers are telling you that maps are silly, you basically have to listen.

And so, we said, it has to be an app. The possibilities are limitless, the technology gets cheaper and more universal every day, and it makes sense both for a Kickstarter audience and for an educational platform. Everyone we know has an app idea these days, and learning how to identify user needs and craft design opportunities is a really relevant skill if you're developing anything new. Plus, this is a huge opportunity to reach out to Chicago's developer community and create ways to work together.

And so, after all that strategic pondering, we confidently changed our ask from $25K to $125K, and our scope from map to app. We think it was the right decision; we hope you do too. Let us know!