Interactive Design Course Produces Two Student-led Startups

by | Posted February 13th, 2013

Students in Professional Writing are notorious for being innovative and creative thinkers. Although this might sound a bit biased coming from a Professional Writing student like myself, it’s true. Professional Writer’s are designers, writers, builders, and thinkers. We work for publishing companies, non-profits, local companies, and nationally known companies. We help design websites for startup companies and create a social media strategy for organizations around East Lansing. Some of us even create ideas for Smart Phone apps and more adept Learning Management websites.

Last fall, two teams were hard at work in Bill Hart-Davidson’s Interactive Design (WRA 482) class coming up with an idea to help students navigate MSU and learn more efficiently. The two teams, Team Routebook and Team Syllabot, came up with projects last semester and have continued progress on them throughout this semester.

Team Routebook

Team Routebook began development on a Smartphone application appropriately named, “Routebook.”

“[Routebook] allows a user to see all of his or her current, fastest available transportation options,” Jessie Whitmill said, one creator on the three person team.

Although the project isn’t a finished application available to the public quite yet, the team determined the functionality of the app in class. Team Routebook, which also consists of Stephanie Sundheimer and Amanda Michels, made mockups based on user research and testing. They figured out how the data would be displayed to the user and came up with other options for the app so it would be more than just a bus GPS tracker.

“I first had an idea for an application that would tell me where the bus was because I live in Lansing and if I missed [the bus] by even one or two minutes, I was often late to class,” Whitmill explained when asked how she came up with the idea for the application. “After [my team] started to flesh out more ideas, we realized the live bus GPS tracker could be just one feature of a much larger app.”

This “much larger app,” according to Team Routebook’s mockups, would consist of allowing the student to set up a planned route to an alarm clock, see data on past commutes, and set personal goals – such as how much money the user could save on gas by commuting to work or losing weight by riding their bike. Other features might include allowing the user to see the current weather, live traffic reports, and parking rates in his or her current city.

“Although bus tracking doesn’t exist in the [Lansing] area, it does in much larger cities like Chicago or New York.”

After creating a more concrete mockup and solid details with the app, Team Routebook was proud of their work and wanted to take the project further. A company based out of Grand Rapids called Start Garden provides venture capital grants weekly to various projects. After submitting the information about their application and how the team hopes to build it, Start Garden awarded the team $5,000 after public endorsement. With this money, Team Routebook will register as an LLC, build a website, and begin development on the Routebook app.

“This is all very new,” Whitmill said. “We plan to work with The Hatch and Spartan Innovations on the project, as well as the Creativity Exploratory at CAL.”

The team is required to go to Start Garden at the end of February and give a presentation on what they have done so far with the money awarded to them. They also plan on applying to the GreenLight competition, which helps bring together new businesses with student run start-up ventures, through the help of MSUFCU and Spartan Innovations.

“I’m really just looking for experience [from this project],” Whitmill explained, who currently works as a graphic designer. “I think after this class I’ve realized I enjoy user interface design, especially on mobile platforms. Bill [Hart-Davidson] had us frame the project around solving some kind of social justice issue, and I think that makes the project more rewarding.”

You can learn more about Routebook and it’s features by checking out its page at

Team Syllabot

Lead by Corinne Vieracker, Team Syllabot wished to create an API system that interacted with current Learning Management websites such as Angel or Desire 2 Learn. Along with her team partner, Kim Setili, Vieracker’s goal for the project was to make an instructor’s syllabus student interactive so that when a professor made changes, such as a due date or class cancellations, the students would receive e-mails or text messages directly to their Smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

“We also want this to work both ways,” Vieracker explained. “That way students would be able to add events to the syllabus, such as a time to meet for a study group, which would then send out a notification to the rest of the class.”

Like Team Routebook, Team Syllabot worked throughout the semester in Professor Hart-Davidson’s class developing this project, creating mockups and design plans. Early spring semester, the team contacted Paul Jaques at Spartan Innovations to set up a meeting. Jaques, Vieracker said, had attended the team’s final presentation in WRA 482, so he already knew the basic concept of the project. After the team filled out the Gerstacker grant application, Jaques would help fund the project so Team Syllabot could start working on building their proposal.

“It’d be great if we could have it up and running by the end of the semester,” Vieracker said. “But more realistically, we’re hoping by the end of 2013.”

Just like Team Routebook, Team Syllabot will have access to The Hatch as a workspace as well as funding from Spartan Innovations. They will also have a variety of interns in several different disciplines such as law, graphic design, and computer science. The team is working on creating a financial plan and applying to the Greenlight competition.

“We’ll start working with more prototypes as well as doing some user testing so we can start more of the building process,” Vieracker explained. “What we hope this project does is improve communication between professors and students outside of the classroom.”

It’s always incredible to see the opportunities Professional Writing students create for themselves in and outside of the classroom. From the sound of these two projects, I think we will be hearing a lot more about their work in the near future.  Personally, I think it’s about time someone created an interactive bus route map for students to track when their specific bus will arrive. The Syllabot will be very useful and exciting to have as part of our system, as well, as every student knows due dates change and class cancellations happen all the time in their courses. It will be interesting to see what the next group of Interactive Design students come up with next.