Thesis Advice, v.1

“Ambitious: (of a plan or piece of work) intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore difficult to achieve.”

While ambitious describes us pretty well, Kristin and I have been both lucky and blessed to have a handful of advisors on our thesis project. Between five consultation meet-ups, we’ve been exposed to many different approaches for the next 3 months that could lead to very different ends (or milestones) in May. While our brains have flooded with the possibilities, below I’ve called out the sticking points.

Advice from Willy Wong
Two of the most important things we can do with our thesis project is to sell our idea, and to sell the lifestyle of biking. Manufacturers of lotion believe that if you just try the product once, you will love it so much that you will keep buying it. If we get people to bike once, is that enough to keep them biking?

Willy encouraged us to think about what the front page of the site looks like on day 1, versus day 2, versus day 4, versus one week later, and so on. What exactly does the service do from the initial sign-up to keep a rider engaged and motivated to ride? And how do we continue to keep people engaged once they’ve hit a plateau and are bored of tracking?

We’ve started to explore a 2-week challenge model, with the option to continue tracking and visualizing bike rides afterward. In this case, our primary user base would use the service like a ‘training program’ for two weeks to get in the habit of riding a bicycle for transportation. We suspect that a few advanced users, mostly data enthusiasts, quantified self fans, or committed storytellers, would use the service long-term.

But, the question remains: how do we get people to exclaim, ‘I can’t live without this’? How do we get people addicted to biking and addicted to telling their story by painting their city on two wheels? What do we tell them?

Willy has poked holes in our concept and given us tips and frameworks for getting started with branding and moving forward with user experience and concept development.

Advice from Amit Pitaru
Amit encouraged us to take a strong stance on our world view in regards to data—OPEN: our users have complete ownership over their data; or CLOSED: we sell the data to large companies for marketing. Both models are viable and are being used by businesses today. Though, we mainly discussed the possibility of having an open source model. Analogues include OpenPhoto ( and and WordPress ( and With both of these, there is a side to the model that offers a service, and a side that is open for developers to build their own service upon using their own data and coding skills.

We believe in data for good. Our users should own their own data. In addition, we see a lot of power in using the mapped riding data to advocate for biking and to show NYC DOT where to paint bike lanes. Regardless of how we set up our business model, we value data ownership with the option to share anonymously for the public good.

Advice from Robert Carlsen
We met with Robert Carlsen, the developer of Mobile Logger, a tracking app for bikers. He developed the app as a part of his thesis at ITP nearly two years ago. Needless to say, he understands the joys and decisions involved with graduate thesis projects.

We were (and still are) impressed with his work, and were excited about the possibility of building of top of his open-source tracking platform. It’s funny that his first recommendation was to ‘not use Mobile Logger’. Not because he didn’t want to share, but simply because it’s two years old and he believes there are much better ways for developing a tracking app now.

In short, we have options for development—some including the Mobile Logger and some excluding it. However, rather than building the entire platform (tracking app and web platform) right away, we’ll first focus on an initial prototype for testing the idea within our short 3-month time period. After meeting with Robert, we’ll look into how Google Fusion Tables can help us collect and store data as well as other iphone tracking apps.

Yes-No Brand Personality

After having a look at the brands that our target audience uses, we’ve decided on some traits that we want to embody:







From Mr. Carlsen

Notes per our conversation with Robert Carlsen
January 27, 2012, Champignon Cafe

Robert does not recommend building on Mobile Logger. But he is willing to give us the API code so that we can use it and have rides automatically uploaded to our own server if we want to use it for prototyping.

For a database, Mobile Logger is using Couch DB
- ride data is sent as JSON object to Couch DB, then transformed into document
- API (written in Ruby) pulls data from Couch DB
- Note: ride data is not associated with a user; you need the phone ID number to associate a user with their data
- Data is visualized in the web browser (using R)

If we used Mobile Logger code, we could use processing.js, but would need to write a script to reformat the data.

Look into Google Fusion Tables instead of a database (gather, visualize and share data online)
- visualize and publish your data as maps, timelines and charts
- host your data tables online
- combine data from multiple people
Google My Tracks publishes to google spreadsheets (only for android)
If we used Fusion Tables, we would need to write code in his existing code to connect Mobile Logger to Fusion Tables.
We can import any data into fusion tables (it seems)

Other tracking options:
- Training Peaks Cycle Tracker
- Golden Cheetah
- Bike Nik
- more…

Inspiration: NIKE Signature Moves posters

Our basic needs for tracking:
- iphone compatibility (necessary)
- android compatibility (preferable)
- export ride data from phone after ride (at least via email, at most to fusion tables or database)

Side Research on Google Fusion Tables:
- test styling of google maps
- how do we import data to fusion tables?
- collaborative sharing vs. private sharing on the same map? etc.
- what are our viz capabilities with google maps? can we use a description like “rain” and filter rides for the viz based on that

From Willy Wong

Notes per our conversations with Willy Wong
January 20, 2012, NYC & Company
January 25, 2012, SVA IxD Studio

Who is the right group?

Broad appeal: who will use it right away?
What do you get out of using it—when you first start playing vs. over time?
What happens at the plateau? When users get bored?
On point of boredom: what are the users relationship to other people; community and interaction keeps people engaged; it’s more about the community/interaction than the solo service you’re providing
Think about the look of the page on day 1, vs. day 2, vs. day 4, vs. a week later, vs. a month later

Theory of fun
Look at what other systems are doing to incentivize people (ex: coffee, airlines)

Size of audience: what % of bikers are interested in using it
Bike share would guarantee new users; wouldn’t be sustaining users over a long period of time

Map a landscape of visual language of related services and biking (trek vs. linus; sports in relation to biking; foursquare, gowalla, etc.)
Decide where you fit in the spectrum of visual language
Think about:
- color vs. industry type
- typography: griddy urban vs. athletic, etc.
- info design

Build mood boards to rationalize why it makes sense for your brand
status in types of bikes: lifestyle palette, taste
status in going places

How do we make people say, “I can’t live without this!”
How does the service cause people to overlook the barriers?
What are you selling?
What is the myth of the platform?

We need a fun aspect in the manifesto!
How could I convince you to start roller-blading for transportation? Or the ferry? Or a moped?
- Think about how you would convince someone to take different alternative modes of transportation.
Notes: it’s less hassle than you think, it will make your life easier, you will get fresh air, it will make your life better, the chair will stop killing you, it’s easy to own a bike and take care of it and park it, it’s comfortable, you will feel free, like you’re flying

Check out NYC bike month campaigns

Statistics, what is our correlation between behavior and information?
Does awareness of information compel someone to take action?

How does an old piece of technology survive in a world full of new technology?

Tweet when you get on your bike
If we need someone to check the app every morning to see who’s riding
If a biker has to check the app every morning to see who’s riding, then give them a reason to check.
Note: giving clever weather reports are a good reason

We need the right media to deliver the message
Maybe it’s a clock that spins faster when more people are riding
What is more buzzworthy?

What do we need to develop to compel people to bike more?
Ex: Lotion, “if you try this, you will like it so much, you will buy it again”

How many people own a bike?
How many people use a bike?

For clients of a service, consider: acquisition, retaining, servicing.
Typical marketing question: How do you acquire them, retain them and service them?

Maybe the majority of our users only use the service once or twice? They participate in 2-week challenges as a way to get motivated to ride. A common analogue is Weight Watchers. It’s a program with a triggger for action and a prize at the end. We may still have super data and designer nerds that want to keep using the service as a record-keeping or journal tool.
Imagine the use cases.
Size up the market.
- how many people are riding in NYC (from DOT)
- talk to bike shops to see about how many customers they serve

Separate the movement and scaling audience from having a product that allows for scaling; it costs money to run the business (per user)

Think of analogues for our key concepts. What happens if they have a baby? What does that give you? How can we use things that are familiar to our Grandma to explain what we are doing?

From Amit

Notes per our conversation with Amit Pitaru
January 23, 2012, Kitchen Table Studio

Which route do we take: OPEN Own your data vs. CLOSED We sell your data to large companies for marketing

See HackerNews for startup models
37 Signals—builds things people want, then charge money for them
this doesn’t happen in a lot of cases anymore

Two different movements of open source: good (use for good) vs. evil (sell to companies)
Decide your world view on data

Own your own photo data: and
“If you’re not paying for something, then you’re the product being sold.”

One option: Have an open API for developers then offer our own premium service.
Example: and
With this open API:
- devs can use their own data for their own apps
- people can give their friends access to their data
Do this kind of open thing, but have a service too; it’s important for us to have a service

Open it up, let people see what they can do.
- landing page
- sign-up page
- state intentions
- the specific services
- 1st code repository (on github)
- build a device to track data recorded (phone)
- API can fish out data
- allows you to get your data
- and you’re friends data (with their permission) on top of it
- every person has an account, that’s how they access their data
We would have user accounts with system on top that allows you to get your data and friends data on top of it.
Data for good: Convince people to give their data to us for bike advocacy

1. Get investment
- seed money
- investors
2. Kickstarter
- landing page, shows how well thought out the idea is
- need money
- interested in tech co-founder
3. Hack day
- open source project landing page, call to action
- mock-ups
- invite devs to hack together, treat them well with coffee and cupcakes
- start gathering data
- get DOT or bike shops to sponsor

RESOURCES—see how well apps have been doing

About the Project, v.2

Paint Your City is a social tracking platform with game challenges that motivates people to ride their bikes. It’s for city dwellers with under-utilized bikes who have a need to maintain a busy and active lifestyle and get around their city. Spoked values the sheer joy of biking rather than speed, calories, or saving the environment; although, we can’t deny these effects.

Through the service, members choose a color to paint their city and track the rides they take. These rides, which become one’s personal drawing of a city, are beautifully visualized on a communal map where they can be compared with friends.

In addition to this very visual feedback of tracking, Paint Your City will host social challenges that give people a fun and social excuse to either start biking, or to push them to explore more of their city on two wheels. These challenges are designed to happen within a physical workplace, between friends and for members across the entire platform.

Paint Your City will cultivate a bike culture in cities, because it’s simply the best way to get around. It will launch in New York, and could even become part of the bike share system arriving this spring.

Archive Ideas, Begin New

Throughout the months, our thesis project has expanded and contracted with ideas; mainly expanded. Though, our challenge all along has been to get more people biking. A break and space away from it has, thankfully, brought us clarity.

As explained in our initial project description written in September (2011), the concept was once very focused on a physical bike helmet embedded speakers, buttons, sensors and a microphone:

Our project addresses the needs of urban pedalers. New Yorkers bike in chaotic environments. We want to make riders’ trips more seamless while giving them tools to delightfully experience and discover New York from their bike seat and with friends. We’re making a digital toolset embodied in a physical bike helmet. It will provide spoken directions, track riding habits and help riders document trips and arrange rides with friends. Unlike a high-tech GPS bike computer, it will have a charming personality and be designed for the casual and committed commuters.

An endeavor that is part of the SVA IxD thesis program, we hope to create your bike’s better half.

The project continued to involve the helmet throughout the entire semester. But, in October (2011), we decided to design a game, called King of Two Wheels, to explore our concepts around motivation, wayfinding, tracking, and discovery within a city. Hosting this game throughout a week in our studio got us more interested in the shared work environment as the focus for intervention. We iterated further on this idea through developing office game kits, and digital communal maps to be projected on the office wall.

At the end of last semester, the project was filled with opportunities and features—from receiving spoken directions and bookmarking places during a ride to competing for miles and new places with fellow workers. Then, we each took a very deep breath and a three week break to our respective homes, Oslo and Missouri/Texas.

We returned to New York and realized that, rather than adding capabilities to the bike ride itself, the project should focus on how to motivate people while they are not on their bike seat. We believe and have seen the power of data tracking on a communal map, and will leverage this idea as the core of the project. It’s called Paint Your City.

No Ordinary Office Game

For Kristin and I, biking is not about our calories burned or carbon footprint reduction. It’s simply about the joy it brings to us and that it gives us the ability to explore and know our city better. Not to mention an excuse to be outside, a workout and commute in one, and a flexible schedule. For thesis, we want to spread the joy of biking that we experience to more people.

The King of Two Wheels was our first trial run of a bike challenge hosted within a work environment. From there, we decided that we want to create a mass movement of people riding bikes. This led us to our thesis concept, Paint Your City (PYC). It’s a social tracking platform where riders use their phone for tracking bike rides in the city. One’s beautiful traces can be seen visualized on a map on the website, along with rides from friends, co-workers and neighbors.

Many people either fall into biking or start riding because their friends are doing it. The PYC office challenge is a two-week event that embraces social pressure to encourage biking for transportation.

Office workers are invited to join a challenge by Paint Your City or can be challenged by another company. To join, participants upload their photo to and choose a color to paint the city with their bike. As an office, they choose their team color to defend their honor as a company.

The contestants are competing against each other internally, but are also joining forces to conquer fellow companies. So, they can either challenge other companies or be set up against competitors by Paint Your City. At the large scale, participants can see how their company measures up against all other companies in their city involved in the challenge at that given time.

This is no regular competition, though. It is about riding your bike, but also getting to know your city and encouraging other people to start biking. There are four ways to get ahead in the game.

(1) Obviously it’s about riding your bike a lot. (2) It’s also about recommending and giving tips about great places in the city—places that you might discover on your bike rides. (3) It’s about exploring the city and trying the places out that are recommended by your colleagues.(4) And, it’s about getting new people to download the app and tracking their rides. Recruiting bikers will also be a way to get ahead for the contestants.

These four ways to get ahead in the game are also the four ways that contestants are honored for their achievements—ride, share, explore and recruit. But the rest of the office can also get involved!


Office mates can get recruited to ride and share city secrets. In addition, they can cheer for the bikers they love. They can do this through their own phone or with a phone provided in a game kit. Twitter and Facebook will help the riders connect and push each other.


During the exciting and intense challenge weeks, other people’s bike habits will interest contestants more than before. They can easily find out if and when their co-workers and opponents got on their bike seats this morning, and let that inform their own decision about whether to bike or not. Their rides will be broadcasted the moment they get on their bikes!

Contestants will be competing against people they don’t know. We want to embrace that and enable them to talk to each other through social media.

Of course we will utilize social media both to get more people to bike and to get more support and cheers for the bikers in the competition.

Because we want to facilitate water-cooler conversations around biking in the workplace, companies can choose between game kits to heighten the challenge experience.


At the very basic level, offices can use the app, website and have access to a visual display of the bike rides that can be projected on the wall.

In the premium kit, contestants will get helmet stickers to broadcast to the world that they are painting the city. Companies will also get a contestant poster that honors the bikers and aids cheering. Cheering can be done by through a mobile phone or through the preprogrammed rotary phone provided. At the end of of the challenge, all contestants that are part of the premium kit will be gifted a poster of their achievements. We believe that this artifact will continue to promote the bike culture within the workplace beyond the challenge. A book of game rules will also accompany this kit.



3 Approaches to Embrace

MAKE YOU OWN TOOLS Hybridize your tools in order to child unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amply our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.

MAKE NEW WORDS Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.

MAKE MISTAKES FASTER & LAUGH Laughing means you’re having fun and also shows that you are comfortable expressing yourself.