Eddie and Dan Jabbour are the father-and-son team behind Kickmap, a totally killer iPhone app that makes New York City’s intimidating subway map easier to understand, and injects it with capabilities befitting an Internet-connected map running on a smartphone.
Eddie runs KICK Design, a New York City-based design and branding agency. One day he noticed that the standard NYC subway map is fraught with problems.
Like A Plate Of Spaghetti Dropped On The Floor
The current subway map pored over by New York City tourists and locals today was created by the design team of Tuaranac and Hertz in 1979, but Eddie Jabbour says there’s a tension between two aspects of the map, that they’re constantly “at war” with each other: the precision (“What are the specific twists and turns on the F line?”) versus the feel (“Where is Central Park?”). Purely as an exercise for himself, Jabbour began redesigning the map into something that more closely satisfied his sense of design.
“If you went to school for design, the map breaks every rule. It’s like a plate of spaghetti dropped on the floor,” Jabbour tells Business Insider.
Flexing his design brawn, Jabbour soon had a satisfying map of his own creation. It even got some positive notice in the New York Times. Check out below to see how nicely condensed and cleaned up the KickMap (right) is compared to the original (left):
“He Does The Map. I Do The App.”
Eddie’s son, Dan Jabbour, has no formal computer science training yet leads development on one of the most widely installed navigation apps for iPhone.
“He does the map. I do the app,” Dan Jabbour says of the division of labour between his him and his father.
With the entrance of Apple’s App Store in 2008, the Jabbours saw a promising means to distribute their redesigned map and even make it smarter than a static, single-purpose paper map. For example, Kickmap shows different details at different levels of zoom‚ individual neighborhoods are outlined and named, and prominent landmarks are illustrated. This helps people better understand their location and how far away they are from their destination, let’s say, Park Slope. There’s even a “night mode” that keeps track of regular service changes for the evening.
Dan went the autodidact’s route, teaching himself everything past a CS101 course to shape Kickmap into the intuitive app it is today. He even thought to host the vector files that constitute the map on their own server. When it’s time to update the map, the Jabbours need only change the vector data on that server, a quick fix that wisely circumvents Apple’s two-week-long app update process.
He maintains his humility surrounding the app: “It’s never been a finished project. It keeps being ‘look at what we can do.'”
What’s Next? World Domination
An offhanded client remark got the Jabbours’ entrepreneurial fires stoked — if the KickMap “formula” works for New York City, couldn’t it work anywhere else?
“We can put any vectored map into this thing and it will spit out a high-quality rendered imaged. This is where world domination comes in,” said Eddie.
They have already put out app-enabled maps for the Washington DC Metro as well as the London Underground. But now they want to put out maps for the top 200 transit systems in the world — 197 to go — and this means they’re seeking “backing and help.”
“Maybe it’s a sponsorship or some other model. We don’t really know what it would look like. We’re not about to retire on this,” Eddie said, “We’re dedicated to it.”
There should be no question about their dedication. The Jabbours are the only two “employees” at work on KickMap, which currently sees around 200 downloads a day. 90% of these are for the free maps, and only 10% or so are paid. KickMap is almost always in the top 50 apps in the App Store’s navigation category.
The Jabbours so impressed Apple with all their care and attention to map design that they were invited to Cupertino, along with several other prominent map app developers, in the wake of the company’s launch of its Apple Maps, Dan said. At that meeting, they talked maps and how to improve them. Some time later, Apple bought a competitor to KickMap called
Embark, noted Dan.
The Whole Father-And-Son Thing
KickMap is a two-man team of father and son. Does that make aspects of work life particularly easy or difficult?
“The first six months Dan worked on the app,” said Eddie, “I was living upstairs and constantly asking him, ‘Is it done? Is it done?’ Work is all we talk about now, but there’s an old-school appeal to working with family. You think of the times when stores had names like ‘Johnson & Son.’ What can I say? I love my kid.”
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