[Design & Development] Tips from WhichBus, the Seattle Trip Planner

October 8, 2012

9:00 am

With a little help from the City of Seattle and buses newly equipped with GPS, WhichBus is trying to put exact bus schedules into the hands of locals.

WhichBus won Startup Weekend Seattle Government in April and met with Mayor McGinn of Seattle. That has led to meetings with the Seattle transportation department and Metro Transit, which is adding the GPS technology to its buses. If all goes well, WhichBus should be able to incorporate that data into their web app.

For now, WhichBus lets travelers check arrival times and plan routes based on information from OneBusAway. It just won $30,000 from the Evergreen Apps Challenge, and is currently doing private beta testing.

Below, cofounders Paige Pauli and Daniel Miller offer some tips for entrepreneurs in designing and developing an app for a huge audience.

Tech Cocktail: You received an honorable mention for design at your first Startup Weekend. What were some of the design challenges you faced? 

Paige Pauli: I wanted to make a really friendly-looking app, because riding the bus can be intimidating … So we went with a friendly little sea-foam colored bus, sort of retro-inspired. But the challenges really came to working within the mobile screen space and fitting all that information into one tiny screen. The desktop is much easier; it’s a huge space compared to mobile. But we wanted to be able to integrate the maps, we wanted to be able to integrate multiple itineraries into the screen as well. … There’s so much data involved – there’s the bus names, there’s the bus route numbers, there are the bus route names themselves, there are street locations for the bus stops, and then there’s all the schedule times, and we need to have space for the real-time data. So there’s just a lot of information that has to be crammed into a tiny little line.

The WhichBus web app

Tech Cocktail: What about development challenges? 

Daniel Miller: I think our biggest problem, the same with Paige’s design, is how do you fit everything into mobile. And then we wanted to be – I hate to say the word agile – iterating as fast as possible, so we went with the web route (the mobile application inside your phone’s browser, rather than going with the native app). … Trying to be as responsive as possible [where the layout of the app changes according to what device you’re using] is very challenging, especially when it’s a learning process for all of us. It’s the challenge of converting from the large format to the smaller one and making sure it’s acting appropriately as it would on your phone, but responding to everything as well when you have it open on your computer.

Tech Cocktail: What lessons have you learned from all this? 

Pauli: You shouldn’t be afraid to rebuild if you know that you can have a much better product afterwards. After the April Startup Weekend, we rebuilt. The design – it had a similar feel to it, but the design itself became a lot more polished – just kind of started from scratch.

Miller: It’s that whole time-invested fallacy: if you spent X amount of hours doing it, rewriting it just becomes not an option. But even after 4 months of working on it part-time, after that April Government Startup Weekend, we decided that we could keep going like this or just clean it up, start from scratch, take the lessons we’ve learned and start new, and so we did.

One thing that I like about WhichBus culture is that we’re so lightweight. We’s so chill about things. We have serious discussions, of course, but at the same time it’s a very loose organization. We talk about things and we’re free to discuss things. And when that relaxed casual atmosphere is there, I think people feel more open to ideas and discussion.

Pauli: Everybody weighs in on the user experience and the overall design of the product, and there are no boundaries about who can say what about what part of the product. So we’re all just very open with each other, and just want to make it better for people.

WhichBus was a showcased startup at our Tech Cocktail Seattle mixer in September.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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