Sara Cantor Aye & George Aye

Designing Chicago

Designing Chicago: New Tools for Public Transit is a project that leverages public participation and design to make citywide navigation better. This City 2.0 Award initiative – which invites all of us to personalize and expect more out of apps like HopStop – was created by the Greater Good Studio. The firm is co-founded by partners Sara Cantor Aye, frequent professor and mentor to designers in the Chicago area, and George Aye, who was formerly the lead designer for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

When George realized that improving the transit experience within the mammoth bureaucracy of the CTA was next to impossible, he and Sara decided to innovate from the outside—using the help of their fellow citizens.

Designing Chicago gathered a team of transit riders, dubbed Urban Agents, to work with them on the research and design of what they like to call the “mother of all transit apps.” Using a custom-built web tool, the duo collected and shared the ideas culled from these self-designated Urban Agents, who had been given a series of assignments designed to collect information about the needs of transit users. This process is best documented in posts on the project’s website: Research Recap and Design Recap.

Following the Design Workshop, the principals from the Greater Good Studio participated in on-site workshops where they synthesized all of the collected observations and stories into the most useful big picture insights for the actual design of the app.

The ultimate goal is for the app to take transit planning to the next level, incorporating functionality that people can really use in a responsive, holistic way. Need to pick up a cup of coffee on the way to a meeting? Work that into your transit plan. Forgot the bus might be crowded because of the baseball game? The app will remind you of that, too.

Designing Chicago has garnered the support of many, even some of those within the government they intend to inspire from the outside. Chicago’s own Chief Technology Officer, John Tolva, said: “I think you can do it if you bring a lot of people in. It’s not just a man hour thing; it’s a perspective thing.”

The Designing Chicago team is all about multiple perspectives and collective fact-finding, harnessed to create something that is larger than the sum of its parts. As George described it: “We believe the city is our classroom and that together, we can create something better than any of us could imagine alone.”

There have been many attempts to crowd-source citizens’ passion and great ideas for cities, such as Change By Us, but this project focuses in on transportation—helping narrow the field of engagement for busy people. In the spirit of pioneering organizations like Code for America — a veritable “Peace Corps for tech geeks” that embeds engineers and designers in city governments — Designing Chicago promises to put the power back into the people’s hands with just the right technology and lots of trust in the process.

Crowdsourcing a cutting edge transportation app for a city in motion

About Sara Cantor Aye & George Aye

Sara Cantor Aye co-founded Greater Good Studio in 2011 to apply her design research and innovation practice to the social sector. Formerly Research Director at IA Collaborative, Sara works as an advocate for the user across every step of the design process. Sara teaches as adjunct faculty at Kellogg School of Management, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Institute of Design at IIT and Lake Forest College. George Aye co-founded Greater Good Studio in 2011 as a way to increase the impact of his user-centered design practice. George began his design career at IDEO Chicago. He holds 9 patents. After 7 years at IDEO, George became the lead designer at the Chicago Transit Authority, where he explored the intersection of design and public policy by envisioning the design of a new bus system for Chicago. George spent a year as Creative Director at IA Collaborative, building a new industrial design team, before transitioning to academia as a full-time, tenure track professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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