Create a digital product that is able to identify slowdowns and problems, help riders find alternate routes and through transparency and offering flexible solutions help increase customer satisfaction in the Chicago Transit Authority (cta).


We began by researching the marketspace and focused on the following direct competitors:

Google Maps

Value:General traffic conditions and alternate routes


Value: Provides a variety of transportation modes


Live updates on traffic delays through crowdsourcing

From this research, it was clear that each product had a unique value proposition. However, there was also a clear fragmentation in services. There is no centralized platform that offers the value of each of these products.  

We noticed that waze works really well for when things go wrong because users provide immediate and detailed feedback; however, this functionality is limited to driving navigation. This led us to discover a unique opportunity. The crowdsourcing piece is what is missing from public transportation applications.


We then looked to test our assumptions and gain more insight from cta customers, stakeholders, and subject-matter experts. We aimed to learn about their experiences with the cta in specific situations such as delays, slow-downs, and cancellations.

Who we interviewed:

From these conversations, we gleaned the following insights:


Fragmentation in use of apps. Some customers use a mix of transit apps/resources for different features.

“I use Transit for schedules and twitter for immediate updates while on cta” -Ellen

This validated our assumption about there not being one product that offers everything customers need.


Lack of immediacy and detail. People don’t like ambiguity.

“People don’t like standing somewhere not knowing where something is taking you.” -Raymond

It’s not that the updates provided by the cta are untrustworthy, they are simply not detailed and they come too late.


Users have an effect on transit just by using it.

“Cta can only provide service as much as people use it. Less people using it, less service provided.” -Jacob

The influence customers have on cta service is a valuable insight to keep in mind moving forward in the design process.


Through synthesis, we identified service delays as being the main frustration for customers.

Unpacking this insight more, we found that there were two different attitudes in regards to a delay. Some customers are on a schedule and are concerned with being late to commitments. Other customers have flexible schedules, but are frustrated when they do not have enough information to make an informed decision when a delay occurs.

To further empathize and understand the customers, we developed the following personas.


The time-conscious planner

Derek rides the cta into work because it’s convenient. He values time and structure. Because of this, he is frustrated when delays occur. He does not want to be late for work so when delays occur, he will often look for alternate routes and modes of transportation.


The exploring urbanist

Autumn rides the cta to reduce her carbon footprint. She takes the cta to explore the city and meet friends. When delays occur, she will often step off and walk the rest of the way to her destination to take in the view. She is frustrated when the details of the delay are unclear.

Currently, riders don’t have access to live, trustworthy, and detailed information which leads to disconnects between official sources of information and the reality of the delays.

The experienced Chicago transit commuter needs a way to share and access live community-sourced information about service delays and view alternate transit options.

To ensure we stayed true to our research findings through ideation, we developed a set of design principles to guide our design moving forward.


Provide users with information before they have to look for it


Adapt to individual rider’s travel routes


Use understanding language to help alleviate feelings of frustration


Through a brainwriting exercise, we developed many ideas for concepts and features. We settled on moving forward with concepts around reporting a delay and finding an alternate route. A key component to the concepts was crowdsourcing; this would allow the design to be immediate, detailed, and trustworthy.

Report a delay concepts

Testers validated desirability of concept. They liked the specificity in the reason for delay. At times, there were too many steps involved to report a delay.

Alternate route concepts

Testers like having alternate options for travel. At times there was too much information on the screen, which was overwhelming.


For the report a delay concept. we found that it required users to be proactive. This was a significant problem.  Not only did it not align with our design principle of having the app be proactive, but because our app is based on crowdsourcing, it relies on users reporting delays. If it is too difficult, or takes too much time and effort to report a delay, customers are not going to do it. This major pivot completely reshaped our final prototype.


Our final prototype was a mobile application called next that allows users to access and share real time information about CTA delays and offers the best alternate routes through crowd-sourcing.
Using the train schedules and customers’ location services from their mobile devices, the application is able to detect when a train has been stopped along the tracks or at a stop for an unusual duration of time. Instead of having the customer, out of the goodness of their heart, launch the app, navigate to the appropriate screen and report the delay, the application prompts a push notification. This make reporting a delay effortless. The same proactive principle is applied to the alternate route notification.


With more time, we would have iterated on the design by:

Testing copy and icons for clarity
Bridging the delay alerts and alternate routes features

Exploring gamification to motivate customers


The value of testing

Testing the first iteration of the “report a delay” concept was heartbreaking. Just a few seconds after putting the prototype in the testers hands, I realized so many flaws in the design. This was the worst feeling, but the best learning. This experience gave me invaluable insight that made my next design iteration immensely better.

Being open to pivot

I realized the need to pivot near the end of the project, but it does not matter when it happens. What matters is that it happens when it’s necessary. I realized that having to pivot is not a bad thing. On, the contrary, it shows flexibility, growth and ability to think critically about the design at all points of the process.


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