Innovative approach to creating app

Posted on August 17, 2012 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Photo courtesy Greater Good Studio
Photo courtesy Greater Good Studio
A unique project, spearheaded by Chicago social design firm Greater Good Studio, is looking to build a new app that will not only transform the types of information Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) users have access to, but also make the system more appealing to non-users.

Greater Good’s plan for the innovative app stems from co-founder George Aye’s experience as lead designer at CTA.

“While he was there, he was always looking for different ways to improve the riders’ experience,” said his wife and co-founder Sara Aye. “He saw that if that experience was a positive one, perhaps more people would use the CTA.”

With the next version of Apple’s iOS set to no longer have Google Maps, opting instead to have its own mapping application that would cover driving and walking, but not public transit, Chicago’s transit users will have to turn to an app created by a third party, which is where the folks at Greater Good saw an opening.  

The new app would integrate both CTA bus and train services, use real-time arrival data and be designed by the people of Chicago. With that, the idea is that the app would include all sorts of information that users would find useful in enhancing their CTA experience, including paying via smartphone, finding out where to pick up coffee on their trip, or locating bike parking or car sharing services.

“The experience of CTA doesn’t start when you get on a bus, it starts when you decide to take it in the first place, so we want to do what we can to motivate more people to use the CTA,” explained Aye. “Being outsiders, wehave a little more freedom, which allows us to make the user the center of our focus when creating this app.”

Prior to developing the app, Greater Good launched a campaign via Kickstarter in early July, dubbed “Designing Chicago: New Tools for Public Transit.”

Kickstarter is an online threshold pledge system for funding creative projects, which typically include an array of endeavors ranging from indie film and music to publishing and food-related projects.

Through its Kickstarter program, Greater Good was asking for backers to donate $125,000 for the research and design of the app, which would then be completed by April 2013. Through the campaign, Greater Good was also looking for donors to become volunteers for the project as either “Urban Scouts,” who would play a part in the information gathering and ideal process, or as “Urban Icons,” who would take part in a real-world educational experience where the project is to design a transit app.

“To us, Kickstarter really opened up the concept of funding our own work in a way that’s never been done before,” said Aye. “We thought this is an interesting way to use Kickstarter, because participation is not a typical thing you see for sale on the site, and we knew we’d be innovating a little bit on the model.”

Although Greater Good did not meet its $125,000 Kickstarter goal, the Aye’s plan on continuing work for the app as part of the company’s plan to be its own customer and solve problems they would like to see addressed.   

“We’re really committed to doing this project,” said Aye. “We’re going to continue with the participatory research and design process, it just may take a little more time to complete the app, but we think that’s OK. We want to give it as much time as it needs so funding will be available when the design is done.”

The new timetable for the app, Aye added, is most likely between fall and winter 2013.

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