'Designing Chicago' Transit App Struggles On Kickstarter, But Will Continue On

Ambitious Public Transit App Project Plans Next Steps

Barring a sudden deluge of multi-thousand dollar donations, the Kickstarter campaign to get an unprecedented app focused on nearly every conceivable angle of public transit in Chicago off the ground will not meet its fundraising goal within the next week.

As of Tuesday, they've raised just short of $20,000 of their $125,000 goal. But that's not exactly getting the Greater Good Studio -- co-founded by George Aye, a former lead designer for the Chicago Transit Authority, and Sara Cantor Aye -- down these days.

Rather, the Ayes are simply recalibrating their "Designing Chicago" project, one that follows an unconventional path for the development of an app: With the aim of bringing innovative new tools to Chicago's public transit system, they are relying on a participatory model allowing everyday Chicagoans to move beyond simply complaining about their commutes -- and actually do something about it.

HuffPost Chicago recently spoke with the Ayes about the next steps of their "Designing Chicago" project.

The Huffington Post: How has the response been to your Kickstarter? It can be very challenging to hit such a lofty goal.

Sara Cantor Aye: I think what we're trying to do and what we're doing on Kickstarter is an untraditional approach, because we were trying to use this platform not only for recruiting backers and donors, but also participants -- we were using it for crowdfunding as well as for the basis of a crowd design project. In doing so, we think we may have slightly pushed the model maybe a little too far. Going forward, we're planning to decouple participation and money and continue the project on the participation end of it while also seeking out funding in a separate stream of work.

That said, the amount of passion we've received from people who sort of "get it" has been amazing. Our backers are so excited and we've even run into people in the street who come up to us and say, "You're the ones doing the CTA project! That's awesome!" It's also afforded us the opportunity to meet more people than ever before, more people in the last month than over the past year. We want to pay respect to those who have backed the project and thank them for their contributions. There's a lot of things we can still do that doesn't require the $125,000.

HP: I'm curious how the CTA responded to your project. Given that one of Chicagoans' favorite things to do is to complain about public transit, I wondered if they would think of this initiative as a criticism of sorts.

George Aye: We were nervous with the CTA when we were planning the project and putting our thoughts together. It was our hope that they'd like it as something to get people talking about the CTA again and that they'd look at us as an independent work source that could help increase ridership. And thankfully, when we did talk to them, they were incredibly positive as you would think they would be. I don't think they're in a position to say this is the best project ever or to give us that sort of an endorsement. They won't and they shouldn't. But we have found there to be a lot of great engagement and conversations. They're willing to come on board with us and participate on our advisory board.

HP: I'm interested in the urban scout and urban icon participatory levels involved in this project. How do those work?

SA: These are the two roles we devised for people to participate in this, and those will continue whether we are funded through Kickstarter or through other means. The urban scout is like a field agent in Chicago -- or anywhere, so long as it's an urban area with public transit. We want them to understand the issues that people face in public transit so that we can help those people to not simply complain about those problems but to actually get involved in ways to change them. We're hoping to help people see the world with fresh eyes.

The scouts will have new, discreet assignments every week or every few weeks in the research phase to, for example, travel to a part of the city they've never been to forever and not use their phone. Essentially, they'd experience the system as a newbie, a tourist or someone who just moved here. We think a design that works well for a newcomer works well for everybody.

The urban icons are a little more hands on. They'll come to workshops and take all the data the scouts sent and synthesize it, look for patterns and determine what the biggest insights and surprises are. The goal is to design something that's not just another transit app, but one that really meets user needs in an innovative way. The more obvious, fire needs are not where the innovation lies. If they could have been solved, they probably would have been by now. We're looking for needs that are a little more under the radar, things that people don't realize they need yet and come up with new ways to solve these problems using technology.

HP: And what is the timeline for the project going forward?

SA: If our fundraising goal, our timeline kicks into high gear. We'll start with a kickoff party for the scouts, icons and project backers to all meet in August, followed by the research phase for six weeks, the design phase for six weeks and then building, coding and development for about six-to-nine months with a targeted launch of April 2013.

if we're not funded through Kickstarter, we'll go through pretty much the same process, but in a little more spread out way. We don't want anybody to be left hanging and don't want to disappoint ourselves or anyone else. We have a number of funding strategies in place moving forward and we're also talking to investors and non-for-profits about partnering up for grants. For the project to be sustainable, there also needs to be a revenue stream, so we're working through that path. I imagine the research phase will be in the fall, with the design phase in the spring, while we continue to look for grants and funding the whole time. We're not going to stop this process.

GA: We maybe pushed the Kickstarter model a little too far, but we still feel confident and our intention is to continue on. From all the interest we've seen so far, we think this project has a lot of potential.

With eight days to go as of Tuesday, the Designing Chicago Kickstarter has raised just under $20,000 toward its $125,000 fundraising goal. Click here to help the campaign get the rest of the way there. Interested in becoming an urban scout or icon? Visit the project's website.

If you have a Chicago-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you'd like to see featured in "Can They Kick It?"? Get in touch at chicago@huffingtonpost.com.

Photo by vxla via Flickr.

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