On Wednesday this week, mySociety’s Tom and Paul were in Southampton, competing in the Geovation finals.
Geovation is an initiative coordinated by Ordnance Survey which gives out funding to projects that help “communities address their unmet needs through the application of geographic data, skills and expertise”. When we discovered that the theme this time was “How can we improve transport in Britain?” we knew we had to enter.
As many of you will know, mySociety has been working for some time on FixMyTransport, a project for reporting problems with public transport. Taking much of what we’ve learned from FixMyStreet, we are, in the trademark mySociety way, building a website that will make the process easy, whilst hiding all the complexities out of sight.
FixMyTransport is well under way, and we’re hoping to launch shortly. But with Geovation funding, we hoped to be able to roll out an accompanying mobile application.
This is incredibly important because, after all, the best time to make a transport report is immediately you experience the problem.
mySociety has, of course, always been into maps and geodata – we use them in what we hope are fun and innovative ways across many of our sites, including (obviously) Mapumental, and (less obviously) TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem. We’re also rather fond of public transport.
We also really enjoyed meeting the other contestants, particularly Cyclestreets whose project looks like it will be one to watch.
At the end of the day, we were delighted to learn that we had been awarded £27,000 to develop a simple, intuitive, cross-platform mobile application for FixMyTransport. We can’t wait to get started. We really believe it’s going to be of real benefit to public transport users across the UK (and possibly further, given the open-source nature of all our work).
Do you care for usability as much as you care for elegance? Do you enjoy knocking the rough edges off user journeys, as well as making them playful and attractive? Are you looking for a contract that will make a real difference to the lives of your fellow citizens? If so, we’d like to talk to you about becoming the design lead on mySociety’s next site, FixMyTransport.
Why we need better design, and why we need it now
FixMyTransport will be the next major charitable project built by mySociety. It is a project of a registered charity, currently running award-winning civic and democratic websites like TheyWorkForYou.com and FixMyStreet.com. Our sites have strong reputations for being effective and highly usable, but are not known for their shininess or fun-loving nature.
With FixMyTransport we want to change this reputation, and start to become known for tools that are as lovely as they are effective. This decision reflects mySociety’s view that we have a leadership responsibility within the global community of civic-minded software developers: a responsibility to push the boundaries of what has been achieved previously, and to critically assess our own achievements.
Why we think collaborating on the design for FixMyTransport would be pretty cool
FixMyTransport is a particularly interesting challenge because it represents a deliberate attempt to pioneer a new approach to motivating civic action through the web. Our specific goal is to build a platform that can coax people who do not think of themselves as ‘activists’ or ‘campaigners’ over the edge into being micro-activists, by focusing on capturing and magnifying the passion that is created when people have problems with public transport.
The design challenges that fall our way are therefore complex and fascinating. The service needs to be friendly and reassuring enough to encourage people to make what may be a hugely significant ‘first’ in their lives. But it must also be professional-looking enough to make the targets of campaigns feel that it means business. Furthermore, as a platform, different campaigns will head in different directions, and the design and work-flow will have to cope with many unanticipated uses.
mySociety has ten full time staff, and a wider community of energetic and creative volunteers. We pride ourselves on being pretty good at smooth user journeys and worthwhile incentives for using the services. But we know that we have weaknesses when it comes to making things beautiful and playful, which is why we’re looking for a designer who is willing to do more than just prettify whatever we give them. We’re looking for someone with knowledge of user-experience deep enough to challenge us about the layout of pages and the user journeys through them, whilst being respectful of our own knowledge. We’re looking for a genuine collaborator who will teach us and learn from us as we work together, and someone who will understand when conversion tracking is worth using, and when it isn’t.
We need someone who has a good understanding of the nature of interactive design, and who knows what web developers need from designers. And perhaps most importantly, we’re looking for someone who will bring a vision for how the whole user experience should fit together into something warm, reassuring and compelling to use.
This contract and beyond
We envisage that the contract will last 15-25 working days and we will pay standard commercial rates. We do not have a fixed office space, although for the duration of the contract we may hire co-working space in London for you and the FixMyTransport engineers, if required.
Once we have established a strong working relationship with a good designer, we wish to continue that to implement redesigns across all our major sites.
- A portfolio of at least three web sites where you were the sole or lead designer
- At least 2 years experience in a role that involved regular use of Photoshop or similar graphics packages for the design or mockup of web pages
- At least 12 months experience working with software developers to implement designs (or must be a developer yourself)
- Working knowledge of UX design, as distinct from graphic design
- Must be resident in the UK
- Prior knowledge of our services
- Experience of iterative design based on conversion tracking
How to Apply
Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org briefly explaining why you’re the person for this job, and put the tag msjob8 into the subject line. Please share some of your portfolio, and write us 100 words on what sort of approach you think FixMyTransport needs from a designer. Deadline for applications is 9AM on Wednesday 2nd March.
Ever got a problem fixed by reporting it on FixMyStreet? Written to your representative via WriteToThem? Here’s an opportunity to pay the favour forward to someone stranded on a wet Wednesday by the non-arrival of the number seven bus.
We’ve reached the point in FixMyTransport development where we can start asking for your help. We need to fill in the information we’ll use to report people’s transport problems to the companies that run bus and train routes. If you have five minutes to spare, please spend them adding a contact email address or two for your local bus companies to this spreadsheet:
…then you can bask in the glory of a karmic balance restored*.
* Will also work if you accidentally ran over a kitten on your way to work this morning.
FixMyTransport is the most challenging project mySociety has ever tried to build. It’s so ambitious that we’re taking the unusual move of breaking off part of the problem and stress-testing it in the form of the new mini-site Brief Encounters, which has gone live today. It was built by Louise Crow, or Crowbot, as we know her, with design support from Dave Whiteland.
Brief Encounters is not, as the name might suggest, mySociety’s long awaited attempt at a dating site. Instead it’s a place where people can share whimsical stories about unusual things that happened them them, or other people, on public transport. We hope you’ll have a go, read some examples and then contribute your own.
You might be thinking that a whimsical story site doesn’t sound very mySocietyish – and you’d be right. Brief Encounters is actually a technology test-bed to help us crack a new design and data problem: how do you make it as easy as possible for users to pinpoint a specific bus stop, or train route, or a ferry port, as easily as possible? There are over 300,000 such beasties, and nobody has ever really tried to build an interface that makes it easy to find each one quickly and reliably.
So, what we want from you, dear readers, is three fold. We want:
- Stories – the more hilarious or sob-inducing the better
- Feedback on the user experience – how can we make finding a route or node easier?
- Feedback on any data problems you find, ie “My bus stop is missing” – we’re going to have to patch our data with your help, there’s just no other way
For those of you tech minded, the project is built in Ruby and uses the NaPTAN dataset of stations, bus stops and ferry terminals, the National Public Transport Gazetteer database of towns and settlements in the UK, and the National Public Transport Data Repository of sample public transport journeys, from 2008. The first two datasets are free of charge, and the third one mySociety pays for.
Lastly, kudos must go to the hyper-imaginative Nicky Getgood who suggested we collect stories on FixMyTransport, as well as problem reports.
I must admit that I’m pretty happy to announce mySociety’s plans to build our first major new non-comercial website since WhatDoTheyKnow.com launched in 2008. Late in 2010 we plan to launch FixMyTransport , a site focussed on connecting and empowering people who share transport problems of different kinds. The fantabulous Louise Crow will be lead developer.
Crucially, we at mySociety are under no illusions that it is an order of magnitude more difficult to get a new ticket machine in your station than it is to get your local council to fill a pothole (FixMyStreet surveys report 2371 problems fixed in the last month alone). The difficulty of achieving even minor changes to transport services and infrastructure is why we are simultaneously announcing our plan to build FixMyTransport on top of a major new back end system called Project Fosbury.
Project Fosbury is about helping people get over difficult obstacles. It is a modular platform for breaking down a complicated civic task into pieces which can then be allocated to one or more people. So someone asking their council to change the timing on some traffic lights might be allocated the tasks of:
- Writing to their councillors
- Obtaining local policy on traffic light timings from the council
- Getting people to join a mini-campaign group
- Videoing the problem
- Sending a letter to a local newspaper
Each task will ultimately be carried out entirely within a joined up infrastructure, each module being built to mySociety’s habitually stringent rule that “it must be easy and satisfying to someone who’s never engaged politically before”. We will work to create incentive structures, peer pressure, and hopefully a sense of fun. There will be a single public home page for each mini campaign, showing recent activities on the site, as well as integrating with external social media. We hope to repeat the FixMyStreet phenomena where some ‘insoluble’ problems suddenly become soluble once they’re in the public domain.
Now for the credit where it is due. mySociety’s sysadmin Keith Garrett suggested FixMyTransport back in January 2008.
The actual mechanics of breaking the problem into pieces (the idea that became Project Fosbury) came from a wide discussion at our retreat, with excellent suggestions coming particularly from Richard Pope. But the more general idea that the Internet hasn’t yet produced a really good system for bringing people together to solve everyday problems (as opposed to chat, or win the US presidency) came from numerous Call for Proposals submissions, including ones from Mark W, Rob Shorrock, Peter Silverman, Mahmood Choudhury and more.
mySociety will be building this site using money donated by people like you, profits from commercial projects, and any specific funding we can raise around it. If you know of anyone or any organisation that you think might like to support FixMyTransport or Project Fosbury, please do get in touch.