Co.Design

Kickstarting: An Elegant March Madness App, Optimized For Smartphones

Just in time for this year’s tourney, the designers behind the Glif and the Cosmonaut stylus rethink the bracket.

Much like the World Cup, March Madness offers even the most casual sports fans a chance to get worked up about athletic competitions that have little to no geographic relevance to their lives (an observation: call something a playoff and it’s whatever; call it a tournament and people will ignore weeks of work to follow the action). So when someone endeavors to improve the March Madness experience, we all stand to benefit. Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt, the duo responsible for the Glif and the Cosmonaut stylus, are attempting to do just that. Their forthcoming, Kickstarter-funded app, Simple Bracket, promises to streamline the Big Dance for the smartphone age--and more adequately reward your unlikeliest upset picks.

While the photocopied paper bracket is still probably the most convenient means for submitting picks to a pool, websites and apps dedicated to the annual ritual have offered a digital route in recent years. Provost and Gerhardt, who together go by the name Studio Neat, had used "most, if not all" of them, Gerhardt says, when they started thinking about doing their own in 2011.

"We always felt there was way too much friction in those experiences," he explains. The annual indignity of signing up for yet another third-party login, and then coordinating all that information with friends, was one particularly galling part of the routine, but it was clear to the designers that the simple act of looking at one’s bracket was suboptimal, too.

Provost and Gerhardt started thinking about what a better bracket app would look like during the 2011 tournament. One of the earliest insights was ditching the traditional meets-in-the-middle diagram for one that would arrange all the first-round games in one long list, and then fan successive rounds out to the side. Seeing it in action in the video above, it’s an elegant alternative to the imprecise zooming and scanning it takes to pinpoint a particular game in most apps.

The decision to rework the system for scoring brackets seems a bit more audacious, but as Gerhardt points out, there isn’t really a standard scoring system to begin with. They ended up adopting one invented by Dr. Ted Gooley, a Seattle-based statistician that deems his "the fairest and most equitable way of assigning points." What that means for you is that the 15-2 upset you predict in the first round will net you a whole lot more points than all the other, less unexpected victories that come along with it. "We think rewarding upsets adds a lot to the overall experience," Gerhardt says, "and in the end makes everything feel more fair. It also encourages people to make more risky picks, and that adds to the fun."

After six months of concerted work, Provost and Gerhardt are finally giving the app all the finishing touches. The Kickstarter funds they’ve raised will help them with server costs, but the campaign also guarantees a critical mass of users come tourney time. After Selection Sunday on March 17, Gerhardt notes, "we have three days from when we know what teams are in the tournament to when it starts. That means we need to get everyone on board and psyched in a really small window."

Read more about the project on the Kickstarter page.

[Image: Basketball via Shutterstock]

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