We raised the support of 375 backers through our Kickstarter campaign! Although we didn't reach our funding goal, it was a great learning experience.

This summer we ran a Kickstarter campaign for Designing Chicago (video above, story below) in which we vastly overestimated two things: the amount of money we needed to get started, and the ease with which everyday people would understand our process. While our Kickstarter was not funded, we quickly realized that we could facilitate the participatory research and design phases without the major funds we had asked for. We also realized that our project had started a small riot in Chicago - press outlets, nonprofits, design firms, individual investors, educators, foundations, developers, corporations and even government agencies were coming out of the woodwork to get involved. We had more meetings in a month than we typically do in a year, and it was clear that we were onto something. So the “Kickstarter summer” was both humbling and encouraging. With all the great advice and learnings, we are ready to lead this process and lead it well; but with the major shortfall in our first attempt at fundraising, we are ready to do so with humility and perspective.

Our Kickstarter campaign:

What are we doing?

We are creating a new mobile app for navigating public transit. There are three ways in which this app is different than anything else out there.

1. It integrates bus and train.
2. It uses real-time arrival data for both.
3. It’s designed by the people of Chicago--and you could be one of them.

That’s right. We don’t just need your money (though, of course, it’s critical). We want your participation! Join our team, and come build the transit app that you’ve always wanted.

Plus, the need is there! Apple's next iOS release, coming this fall, will no longer have Google Maps. Apple's providing its own Maps application, covering driving and walking, but public transit will be pushed onto third-party apps, like this one. In other words, you'll need a new transit app! Want to help design it?

What will this app do?

Rather than simply telling you what bus to take, the vision for our app is to make your entire journey better. While we want to create the full set of features with you, our backers, we've got tons of ideas for how the app might make your trip great.

  • It could let you pay your fare without taking out your wallet
  • It could tell you whether you'll get a seat on this bus, or to wait for a seat on the next one
  • It could wake you up right before your stop
  • It could know you were traveling with a stroller, and give you a route with elevators at every stop
  • It could keep track of how much gas you've saved, so you could justify those new shoes!
  • It could integrate with hyperlocal weather, know it was going to rain between your home and your station, and remind you to grab an umbrella
  • It could include a coffee shop pit stop on every morning trip
  • It could sync with your calendar, know you had an appointment, then work backwards to tell you when to leave the house
  • It could give you great transit-related excuses whenever you were running late
  • It could help you find locations for bike parking, car-sharing, taxis or the Metra
  • It could send data back to the CTA, so they could know where to locate their next bus stop

These are just a handful of ideas that could be a part of your next transit app. If you participate, you can join this conversation in a very meaningful way.

What does it mean to participate?

We’re excited about all our rewards, particularly those that will appeal to fans of transit, visitors to the city, and people without smartphones. However, where we’re really hoping to blow your mind is with our options for active participation. If you really love the CTA, really hate the CTA, have always wanted to be a designer, or are excited to put your creative or technical skills to good use, consider joining our team of like-minded citizens!

You’d look great as an Urban Scout.

Urban Scouts are city dwellers who gather up information and ideas to help inform our app’s design. If you are curious, open-minded and creative, always have ideas for how to improve things, or just love to complain about the CTA, this might be the role for you!

You’ll attend a kickoff party and meet lots of like-minded citizens. You’ll get access to a new training video each week, and you’ll do fun assignments (up to 8 in total) that teach you a little about design, and a little about people. Your notes, photos, stories and ideas will appear on our DesigningChicago.com gallery, and your input will directly influence both the vision and execution of a tool that makes it easier, faster and more interesting to get from point A to point B.

You’d be amazing as an Urban Icon. 

Urban Icons are Chicagoans who are passionate about learning and practicing user-centered design, and who want their work to have a public impact on society. As an Urban Icon, you are basically signing up for a real-world educational experience where the project is to design a transit app. In addition to Scouting, you’ll attend two high-impact workshops led by George, Sara and rotating Advisory Board members. You’ll learn about design for social innovation, then put those skills to use on distinct research and design challenges. Each workshop will be hosted at Greater Good Studio in Chicago, and all workshop supplies, training materials and food/drink will be provided.

Our plan

The project has three phases, two of which require active participation:

Research is about understanding the rider’s needs, so that we can be sure to create something that people really want and use. During the Research phase, Urban Scouts and Icons will go out into the city and gather data in response to 4 separate research assignments. The assignments will be posted in fun and instructive training videos on our project website, DesigningChicago.com, throughout August and September. Assignments are designed to help you see the world with new eyes, and to really observe both your own behavior, and the needs and actions of others. Scouts will take pictures and jot down stories, and send that data in, where we’ll post it on the project website. Then, we’ll run a Research Workshop where Urban Icons will find patterns in the data, craft compelling insights and frame big, generative design opportunities. Basically telling everyone, “Here’s the areas where we can make the biggest difference for riders, and for the city.”

Design is about imagining new ways to meet the rider’s needs, through everything from app features and interactions, to new services and platforms. In the Design phase, Urban Scouts and Icons will brainstorm ideas that respond to each of the design opportunities, which will be posted as training videos on our project website throughout the month of October. They’ll explain their ideas with words, sketches and analogous benchmarks from other fields. They’ll send in all these ideas, using templates we provide, and again their ideas will appear on DesigningChicago.com. Then, we’ll run a Design Workshop where Urban Icons will sort and cluster the ideas, build ideas into larger concepts, and visualize, prototype and test out those ideas. Basically deciding, “These are the features that are most wanted and needed right now.”

Build is about taking the app from concept to code. In the Build phase, Greater Good Studio’s developers will develop and test every aspect of the app, making it ready for launch in April 2013. When the app is ready for testing, Urban Icons will receive a code to download a beta release, and they’ll try it out and give ongoing feedback. Once we’ve received feedback from the field, we’ll launch it and every backer will receive a free download.

Where the money goes

The story here is short: developing an app is expensive. Estimates have ranged from our advisors, but the baseline cost of development has averaged around $100,000. This app has the potential to integrate data from multiple public agencies, such as real-time bus and train arrival information, car-sharing, bike-sharing, taxis and even traffic. Our development partners will resolve all that complexity into something simple and elegant, but that is no small feat.

There are also administrative costs related to running a project of this scale, including support of the project website (both human and technical), production of training videos and hands-on workshops, space and supplies for the workshops, and of course, each reward comes at some cost.

Incidentally, this project started out as a plan to redesign the CTA train map, and back then, the ask was much smaller (a measly $25K). But all signs pointed to the fact that print grows more obsolete every day. Still, the hardest part of switching from map to app was the need to significantly increase the ask. We’ve decided that we’d rather not get funded, than get funded but not be able to deliver. So we’re asking for the absolute least that we truly need, and our designs will work within this budget.

Advisory Board

Since designing an amazing mobile app is an ambitious challenge, we have assembled an Advisory Board for the project. These folks are each experts in their respective fields, including design, transit, technology, education and civic engagement, and they have been advising us since this project was just a twinkle in George’s eye. Look for their guest appearances throughout our Kickstarter videos, the backer rewards, and the Urban Icon workshops. We feel lucky to know each and every one of them! Thank you, Advisors!

Who are you guys?

We’re George and Sara Aye, and we run Greater Good Studio, where we use design methods to solve social problems. We’ve learned, practiced and taught user-centered design at many of Chicago’s leading innovation institutions—firms like IDEO and IA Collaborative, and universities like the Institute of Design at IIT, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. A theme of our work has been leading large teams, and with New Tools for Public Transit, we plan to assemble our largest yet.