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Couple designing a rider-fueled CTA app

Chicago design company developing new CTA app

  • The video for Greater Good Studio's Kickstarter campaign explains the group's goal to build a better CTA app.
The video for Greater Good Studio's Kickstarter campaign explains…
July 10, 2012|Harry Huggins, For RedEye

Getting lost may be the new best way to find your route on the CTA. At least that's what the team at one Chicago design studio hopes as they kick off a mission to build a better app for the CTA.

After a launch party Monday, "Design Chicago: New Tools for Public Transit" went live as a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter with the goal of raising $125,000 to design a new app for using the CTA. The project is the creation of husband-wife design duo of George Aye and Sara Cantor Aye, co-founders of the Greater Good Studio. According to George Aye, the goal of the app is to be a better experience than the train and bus tracking apps currently available (including part of the RedEye mobile app).

"We want it to allow you to discover areas of Chicago that you may not be aware of," said George Aye, 36, of Logan Square. "We know from our experience that you get into a lot of habits of how you get to work. So we want to help you discover new ways."

The idea to build a new app for the CTA began when Aye worked for the transit agency as a lead designer on a new bus interior in 2008, and while he was working at Chicago's IDEO design office. When former CTA president Ron Huberman was moved to head of Chicago Public Schools, Aye said, "It became a difficult place to do work in." So he left. Then, when he began working in an independent design consultancy, he said he decided to give the idea of bringing design to the CTA a second shot.

Aye said their app will differ greatly from current CTA apps because of how they are gathering research. From their Kickstarter site, anyone can donate their desired amount, and at certain levels, donors can become part of the research team, receiving tasks from the developers at Greater Good Studio to carry out when they have time.

"We are asking specifically for participation from the riders, who at low levels can actively play a role in designing the app itself," Aye said. "We think by radically changing how you design and how you create the app, it will end up with a better experience."

Aye said he hopes this new app will provide a fuller experience for CTA riders.

"We think from our initial research, rather than just taking a tiny slice of the journey, like when is my next bus, I'd rather look at the entire journey," Aye said. "Say you need to be at a meeting at 9 o'clock, plug in when you need to get there and it can tell you every part of the way, working backwards."

One simple example Aye gave: if it's going to rain, it should probably tell riders to bring an umbrella.

The donors who become researchers will be tasked with discovering Chicago, "looking at the city through new eyes," as Aye put it.

"You get so habitually numb to [commuting] that you don't really realize that you're doing it anymore," Aye said.

They want their researchers to try to notice things they normally might not notice.

"Go to O'Hare and help some tourists," Aye said. "Take a route you've traditionally never taken and get lost, we hope without getting in trouble. Treat the city like a new rider. In doing that, we hope we can discover opportunities."

The big problem Aye said the app will solve is for commuters and people visiting Chicago who think "If only I had this thing, it would be really great."

Those who donate $25 or more to the Kickstarter campaign can become "Urban Scouts," who will be doing tasks during the research and design phases. Donors giving more than $300 can become "Urban Icons," who will help with the same tasks as Urban Scouts, but they will also get to participate in two workshops during the design phase at Greater Good Studio and be amongst the first to beta test the developed app. According to Aye, the Urban Icons will help a lot with actually synthesizing the data gathered from research and using it to create the actual app.

According to Aye, there will be no filter to weed out the most qualified donors to become Urban Scouts and Icons, but he said he is confident in people's abilities.

"If people are willing to pay and put in their time, we trust that they have something to say and have valuable contribution," Aye said. "Icons themselves are at a slightly higher level, so we say some design experience is critical, but not required."

Although George and Sara have not designed an app all the way to production before, they have made applications for Samsung through the class they teach at the Art Institute of Chicago. Right now, they expect the app to launch in April of 2013.

Learn more about the app at their Kickstarter page, or check out the project's site, here.

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