Designing the Uber Pool vehicle occupancy experience — a UX case study

Varun Nambiar
Oct 6, 2019 · 8 min read

A 4 day design sprint done as a part of my application for the Kleiner Perkins Design Fellowship.

I. Introduction

How could we reduce the anxiety involved with ride-share passengers being uncertain of which seats are occupied in the vehicle before entering?

We’ve all had this happen to us — the Uber Pool ride arrives, you walk up to the car and open the rear door only to find someone already sitting in that spot, staring back at you with a disgruntled look on their face.

One of the current problems with the ride-share platform is that passengers aren’t given any information beforehand as to where their co-riders are sitting inside the vehicle, making it difficult for them to confidently reach for the door with the vacant seat. This happens more frequently in lower visibility conditions, at night, and in situations where the vehicle has dark window tints, making it difficult to assess the seating situation from outside.

Timeline: 4 day design sprint

My Role: UX Design, UX Research, Visual Design (Solo Project)

Tools: Sketch, Illustrator, Photoshop, Pen and Paper

Image for post
Image for post
Sneak peek of the final design

II. Research

To understand the pick up experience better, I referred to two case studies:

The purpose of examining these case studies was to better understand the platform and the various problems that come with it.

Having personally ridden in over 200 Uber Pool rides, I can attest to a lot of the pains brought up in the studies. Although a financially better alternative to taking an UberX, it comes at a cost.

Image for post
Image for post

To understand the problem space better, I conducted 5 semi-structured interviews with people who take Uber Pool rides frequently. I tried to gain insight on the general pain points with the rideshare service.

I synthesized the information I gathered through the interviews in the form of an affinity map with the goal of identifying the major pain points associated with the rideshare experience.

One of the consistent frustrations brought up by 4 of the 5 users was the anxiety associated with the uncertainty of where the co-riders were sitting in the car, especially when it’s difficult to see from the outside.

Image for post
Image for post
Key Insights from Contextual Inquiry

Whether you are a passenger in the car waiting on a co-rider to join the pool, or you’re a passenger about to enter a vehicle that already has a co-rider inside, the problem exists for both parties.

To help visually break down the issue, I storyboarded a typical Uber Pool experience at night where a user is pooled with a driver who is already transporting another passenger.

Image for post
Image for post
The Problem Visualized

Using a journey map of the experience, I highlighted the various anxiety points during the course of the journey. My goal was to find a way to reduce the passenger’s anxiety when they are about to step into the vehicle. During this process, I started looking at the critical information a user would need in order to successfully complete the journey. I would later use this information to find the optimum place to embed my solution.

Image for post
Image for post
User Journey Map

I conducted a high level task analysis of the Uber Pool experience to locate all the touchpoints involved from when the user requests a ride to the point where they are seated in the vehicle.

A better understanding of the critical information for each step of the journey would help me identify potential areas to solution for.

At each stage of the process, there are certain pieces of information that are crucial to success. Through the interviews and the task analysis, I was able to identify these critical points which are highlighted below.

Image for post
Image for post

At this stage, I am confident enough with the problem space to start generating solutions.

III. Design

Before jumping into the ideation process, I created a Design Implications table that would help assist me in ideation.

One of the important steps in evidence-based design is to describe the users and to define the context in which the users are situated. It is important to distill design implications from the context and the user description. Using this method helped me create design constraints to ideate around.

I created a Design Implications table and listed out the top 5 attributes and implications involved with the process.

Image for post
Image for post
Design Implications Table

Throughout the research process, I kept asking myself the question:

“Could the passenger somehow be given vehicle occupancy information before they get to the vehicle?”

The logical solution would be to implement a feature in the Uber app that would display where the current riders are sitting in the vehicle. While brainstorming ideas, I realized that a solution like this could potentially check the following boxes:

__ Alleviate user anxiety
__ Require minimal additional user effort to function
__ Be easily implementable

Image for post
Image for post
Ideation Sketches

I wanted to design a feature that would show passengers where their co-riders were already sitting inside the vehicle before being picked up.

I designed the visual elements based on Uber’s visual design guidelines.

Image for post
Image for post
Visual Design Development
Image for post
Image for post

To get feedback on the visual design development, I asked a few industrial design students for their opinion. I was looking to gain insight into the accessibility of the visual assets used. Adding elements to the existing interface proved to be tricky — I didn’t want the feature to get in the way of accessing critical pieces of information.

Image for post
Image for post
Visual design feedback from other Industrial Design students

IV. Solution

The solution I came up with is a new feature that is designed to inform passengers about the occupied seats in the vehicle ahead of time, which would allow them to be better prepared for the pick up experience. This information would help them position themselves at the correct side of the vehicle as it arrives, and allow them to confidently reach for the door with the vacant seat.

Image for post
Image for post

When the driver picks up a passenger, they would be prompted with an additional screen that would ask them to input where the passenger chose to sit in the vehicle. This information would be relayed to the next passenger, allowing them to be confident in getting into the vehicle by using the right door.

This feature would require very little effort from the driver and no additional input from passengers.

In the current app, when the driver picks up the passenger, they are required to swipe the tab at the bottom of the screen to proceed.

The feature I designed would add an additional screen after the driver swipes the tab. The new pop up contains a seating graphic, which allows the driver to tap on the seat the passenger chooses to sit on. The pop up disappears right after the tap, taking the user back to the navigation screen.

Image for post
Image for post
Driver Experience

The vertical layout of the graphic is visually in line with the driver’s perspective of the car, making it easy for them to pick the correct seat occupied by the passenger, with minimal cognitive load added.

The interface for the passenger app has an additional section with details related to the co-rider and their physical location within the vehicle, as reported by the driver.

Image for post
Image for post
Passenger Experience

With this feature, the passenger now has knowledge of the vehicle’s occupancy ahead of time, thus mitigating the awkward encounter with other passengers in the vehicle.

The expanded seating displays a more graphic rich representation of the vehicle occupancy. This could potentially branch into a customizability feature in the future that would allow passengers and drivers to create and personalize an avatar for their Uber account.

I sent a draft of this project to a few of my friends in the UX space for their feedback. One thing they pointed out was the lack of design justification for the driver’s involvement in the solution.

During the design phase, I had made the following assumption based on my observations:

When the vehicle arrives, passengers might choose to confirm the vehicle details in the app before sitting inside. After confirmation, they would typically stow the phone away before entering the vehicle. If the design relied on the passenger’s input, it would likely lead to a significantly lower reporting rate, as there’s no real incentive for them to enter it.

Having it on the driver’s app would make sense as they are already interacting with it to confirm the passenger’s pick up. The feature would need to be tested and fine tuned to make sure it isn’t adding frustration to the driver’s experience.

V. Next Steps

The next steps in the design process would be to evaluate these designs with the target users — both passengers and drivers. If the concept surpasses the success metrics, it could be pushed to the engineering team to build and implement into the app, and then eventually rolled out to the public.

My goal with this project was to empower ride-share passengers to be more confident during the pick up experience. I believe this feature would reduce the overall anxiety involved and make passengers feel more comfortable with the enhanced Uber Pool experience.

Between juggling my Industrial Design master’s thesis and working on two big projects for my Human Computer Interaction degree this semester, taking 4 days out of my schedule to work on this sprint was an exhausting and stressful experience, but also incredibly rewarding. The next steps for me would be to get some much needed sleep!

I hope you enjoyed reading about this project as much as I enjoyed working on it :)

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store