How to make Uber’s design even better / 09.08.2013

by Suzanne Ginsburg

“Who needs Uber when I have Veteran’s?” I wondered, when I first heard about Uber. Veteran’s, my go-to San Francisco taxi company, has been on my speed dial for over a decade. They know my address, payment preference, car preferences, and more. Between Veteran’s and my proximity to busy Valencia Street, it was rarely difficult to get a cab. Or was it. How many New Year’s Eves was I forced to walk for miles since there were no cabs? How many times did I almost miss a flight because the cab took too long?

After recently hearing a friend gush about the ease and convenience of his Uber trips, I realized that I needed to move on. The very next day I installed and used Uber. It was the best cab experience I’ve had in my entire life. Yes, you read correctly, my entire life. No one put me on hold, there was no need to wait out in the cold, there was no awkward exchange of money (“Sorry I don’t have change. Sorry I don’t take credit cards.”)

And it was incredibly fast—I’ve never had a cab in San Francisco come within 3 minutes! This life changing experience inspired me to write-up an end-to end review of the app’s passenger user experience (iOS version 2.8.11). Lest I bore you with a pure love letter to Uber, this review also includes design recommendations to make this great app even better.

If you have little to no time, you may want to scan the bullets in the super abbreviated section below. If you have extra time on your hands, skip ahead to the longer narrative version which is organized according to task flow.

The super abbreviated version:

What’s really awesome…

  • The sign up was super smooth with virtually no UX glitches.
  • There were clear CTAs (call to actions) on every screen.
  • Throughout the flow, the user feedback was thorough, yet concise.

Wouldn’t it be nice…

  • If the new user tour could be made more obvious.
  • If users could optionally review additional vehicle and driver details before ordering cars.
  • If the app’s maps incorporated traffic information in a non-obtrusive way.

The extra long version:

Getting started
After allowing access to my phone’s location information, I was presented with a landing screen including Sign In/Up buttons, “SWIPE UP” text, and the company tag line “UBER. EVERYONE’S PRIVATE DRIVER.” The big white Sign In/Up buttons  were easily discovered since they dominate the screen and pop on the dark blue background, however, I didn’t notice the “SWIPE UP” text the first time I used the app.

Landing Screen

Landing Screen

Only when I slowly went through the app as a reviewer did I discover and interact with the text, which is unfortunate since the tour contains an overview that could put tentative users at ease. An additional section that may be beneficial in the tour is an explanation of the different car types and why some may not be available (more on this later.) The remainder of the Sign In/Up experience was rock solid—the steps were brief, there was a progress indicator, there was an explanation about how user information would be used.

Recommendations: Consider making the tour affordance stronger. Additionally, given that many users tend to skip tours, it may be valuable to also introduce contextual in-app tips.

Choosing a car
Once registration was complete, I was presented with the main app screen—a map showing nearby cars for hire. The cars’ locations are regularly updated, thus I could see several cars at once, zipping around the map, suggesting that Uber is an active, living thing. Contrast this to being on hold with a dispatcher and wondering if anyone is ever going to pick up!

Although Uber also offers taxis, uberX, and SUVs, the initial app map defaults to Black Car, which is probably related to the app’s roots (it started out as a Black Car service.) I immediately switched to taxi since they are more familiar and presumably cheaper. Many other people probably do the same since the meaning of both uberX and SUVs isn’t immediately obvious; I searched the Help docs to find out. At least the app remembers your last car choice and defaults to that one next time. If a car type is not available, the text will appear grayed out. Sometimes the uberX and Black Car options have a lighting bolt icon; its meaning was unclear to me.

Set Pickup Location

Set Pickup Location

Living in the Mission district of San Francisco, when I first used the app, all four options were available. However, for two later trips outside of San Francisco—O’hare Airport in Chicago and a day trip to Sausalito—only Black Cars were available. In both instances I tried to order a Black Car but the app hung for too long so I gave up and went the traditional route (called a taxi in O’hare and used the taxi line in Sausalito.)

Overlaid dead center on the map was a clear call to action to “Set Pickup Location” along with the wait time which updated as Uber cars drew closer. The wait time was highlighted with a circular animation, another clever way the app tells you that it’s working hard. I could’ve used the map’s pin to manually set the location but I didn’t notice it the first time around given the prominence of “Set Pickup Location.” Curious or advanced users may be the only ones who discover the alternate path.

Recommendations: Consider in-app tips explaining different car choices.

Confirming car
Tapping on “Set Pickup Location” brought up a confirmation screen with the pickup address, my credit card info (users can edit this) and the ability to get a fare quote or enter a promo code. At the bottom was a big black button to complete the request. This wasn’t exactly what I expected—I thought I’d immediately edit the pickup location since that’s what the button said on the previous screen.

Confirm Ride Screen

Confirm Ride Screen

As it turns out, I could’ve entered the pickup location on the previous screen but it didn’t look like it could be tapped. Why not make that affordance more clear and then call the button on the first screen “Confirm Car” since that’s what the subsequent screen is called?And why not allow users to get a fare quote on that previous screen? Won’t the quote impact whether I want a taxi vs. Black Car?

What really tripped me up was what happened next. After tapping “Request Taxi” there was a progress screen with a thin, animating blue line. Next, a mug shot (these guys need coaching on their photos, IMHO) appeared of the guy coming to my house in less than 3 minutes! Yes, this was a good thing because the whole point was to quickly get a taxi but I expected some choice in the matter. I shoved my phone into my husband’s face and told him to remember this guy in case I didn’t come home.

Driver Progress Screen

Driver Progress Screen

But seriously, couldn’t I have chosen a nearby car based on the car type and driver? It’s the same in the real world. If I see a run down looking cab coming my way, I may step back onto the sidewalk and wait for a nicer car to come along. I suspect some level of user choice (beyond car category) will eventually make its way into the product and it will be a welcome addition. The challenge of course is to not overcomplicate the user experience.

Recommendations: Consider changing the flow such that the pickup and destination information can be entered on the initial map screen. Additionally, if possible, it’d be ideal if users could get fare quotes from the initial screen since price will surely impact car choice.

Car progress
Once my order was placed, the previous screen with the driver info updated to show the car’s progress. As the car made its way to my home, its location and the pickup time continued to update, reassuring me that the car was on its way. This was a near perfect experience. If anything, it could be useful to represent traffic on the map. Of course it would be overkill as the default view but it could be an optional view not unlike Google Maps. Communicating this kind of information to users may help boost confidence in Uber – yes, your driver is on their way, they’re just stuck at a traffic light.

In addition to seeing the car progress on the map, the app sends two text alerts—tax on its way, taxi has arrived. These messages are a nice safety net in case users don’t have the app map open. These alerts can’t be changed in Settings but perhaps this isn’t critical given that there are only two messages. Also, when the first Uber alert is sent to a user, there’s the option to type “stop” to discontinue the messages.

Sample Uber Texts

And then my car arrived! The driver was super friendly and not at all scary, phew. The trip destination wasn’t required on the previous screens but I entered it since I wanted to check the fare. Communicating this information made the start of the drive much smoother than if I had flagged someone down on the street. By the time the driver came, he had already mapped the destination so we were immediately on our way.

Recommendations: Consider non-obtrusive ways to incorporate traffic information into the car progress update.

Payment & Receipt 
When we arrived at the destination, the taxi driver entered the fare into his version of the Uber app. Uber tacks on a 20% tip and takes a 10% cut of the fare (sans tip). My first Uber driver complained to me about the service fees so I felt compelled to give him a little extra money. Later I did the math and it doesn’t seem like such a bad deal so I no longer tip extra.

Emailed Uber Receipt

Emailed Uber Receipt

Soon after leaving the taxi, I received a receipt via the app and via email which was clearly broken down to indicate what was the base fare and what was the tip. A few days later, when I opened the Uber app to book another ride, a non-optional driver rating screen popped up. This was problematic for two reasons. For one, it was disruptive since I was trying to book another car. Second, I did not remember the previous driver and ride details that well since some time has past. I suspect Uber went with this strategy since users were missing the rating on the in-app receipt. This alternative approach must’ve boosted driver ratings but at the expense of the user.

Rate Driver Screen

Rate Driver Screen

Finally, it would be useful if users could mark a driver as a favorite. For quick rides in my neighborhood using a favorite may be less feasible—the driver could be across town—but for airport trips it might be handy. Which brings me to my last piece of input—how can I book a car in advance or can I? It’s unclear how to do this in the app and it might be useful for some folks. For example, I have elderly parents and I’d like to arrange a car for them to come from the East Bay to see me in San Francisco. I have no idea how to do that. (Update: I checked the Help docs and this feature isn’t available yet.)

Recommendations:  Allow users to mark drivers as favorites and book cars in advance.  Consider ways to make rating drivers less disruptive to users.  

Quick recap of the super abbreviated version:

What’s really awesome..

  • The sign up was super smooth with virtually no UX glitches.
  • There were clear CTAs (call to actions) on every screen.
  • Throughout the flow, the user feedback was thorough, yet concise.

Wouldn’t it be nice..

  • If the new user tour could be made more obvious.
  • If users could optionally review additional vehicle and driver details before ordering cars.
  • If the app’s maps incorporated traffic information in a non-obtrusive way.

Thanks for reading!

(P.S. I’m well aware of Lyft.  It’s installed on my phone – I just haven’t had a chance to do a deep dive yet.)

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