Uber Navigation

Cady Wachsman
Uber Design
Published in
6 min readMar 15, 2017


Designing for drivers

Designing for drivers

You sit in your car, listening to a light rain ping quietly down on the hood. You’ve just finished your fourth trip of the night, and you sit back and relax. Not for long though, it’s a busy night and you accept another pickup request close by. As navigation begins, you check your mirrors, shift into drive, and pull out onto the road towards a new destination. You work your way across a few lanes of heavy traffic to make that first left coming up. After more lights and turns, you arrive at a busy pickup point and look for a safe space to pull over. Out of the crowd on the sidewalk, a person waves and heads your way.

You’re about to find out where you’re going next.

On the driver team at Uber, one of our jobs is to take the pressure off of drivers, so that they can focus on smooth and stress-free rides for everybody. We want to make sure that drivers have the best features possible directly in-app, and one of the most important features is a navigation system. So we started with a basic question:

What do you need from navigation when you drive with Uber?

If you’re browsing for a new restaurant for lunch, or trying to find a lecture hall on a college campus, you’ll have different mapping needs than if you’re in the mountains on a two-day hike. And, if you’re commuting to work on a familiar daily route, or driving to a friend’s birthday party, your navigation needs are different from people driving with Uber. Why are one-size-fits-all digital maps not a good fit for Uber?

It all boils down to this:

Traditional vs Uber navigation

For most drivers in most situations, your trip is a simple one: you’ve got a starting point, a destination, and the best route between the two. The end.

If you’re driving with Uber, however, it’s all about that magic moment where a car and a passenger meet. Then you travel together to a new destination, and when your passenger leaves your car, you’re off to the next meeting point. If you are a driver on an uberPool trip, your route might have several overlapping pickups and dropoffs. Throw deliveries into the mix — where you might need to park and walk inside for a pickup — and navigation can get incredibly complicated.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight.”

When it came to something as central as navigation, we knew how important it was to get things right. Uber is able to move fast with features, but for the navigation overhaul, our pace was much more deliberate.

Driver team navigation research + testing

Committing to the long haul meant that we could dive deeply into the needs of drivers. We conducted driver interviews. We rode along with them to watch and listen to their pain points. We held in-office forums and gathered map and navigation related feedback. We shared prototypes, observed drivers interacting with them, and listened to their likes and dislikes. We set up an eye-tracking rig and analyzed how a driver’s eyes interact with the environment vs. a device screen. We built a car simulator in our office, which we connected to a gaming wheel controller, a video of typical driving scenarios, and a timed navigation prototype. We even built a physical map of Amsterdam out of paper.

Paper Amsterdam + motion UI annotation

But we didn’t stop there. We sent our team across the US and all over the world with navigation prototypes and cameras to see what would happen when rubber met the road.

It’s hard to overstate how valuable this first-person testing was. We understood that we needed a mapping + navigation tool that would be as useful over the canals of Amsterdam and through the tunnels of Boston as it would in the jammed streets of Jakarta or the one-way avenues of NYC. Day or night, uberX or uberPOOL, it needed to serve the unique needs of drivers.

Here are some of our findings.

01. What’s Next

Unlike traditional navigation apps, Uber Navigation has to help its users answer the question “What’s next?”. Once a driver successfully completes one trip, it’s important that navigation is ready with the best route for the next trip.

Uber Navigation also needs to differentiate between types of locations and activities, so we designed distinct visuals for the variety of actions a driver might take on different legs of a trip. Custom cartography, maneuver iconography, pins, side-of-street-indicators, route line previews, and camera animations all work together to explain the journey.

UI imagery from Uber Navigation

02. Glanceability, tappability

Take the “3-Foot-1-Second” Rule: drivers are looking at a smartphone-sized screen from about three feet away, for about one second at a time. This means that “glanceability” and “tappability” are priorities. Designing the new navigation experience was all about answering the question “what is the essential information that the user needs right now?” Everything else had to take a backseat.

For gestures, we wanted drivers to have freedom, but also minimal need to interact while driving. We do enable a driver to pan and zoom if they choose, but we also made sure to build in an effortless single tap gesture to toggle between an overview state and a first person navigation, or to inspect the destination point.

03. At night, less is more

One of our essential new navigation features is Night Mode. Many people drive with Uber at night, and sometimes for hours at a time. The default day settings can cause eye-strain as a driver readjusts from the bright screen to the dark streets outside. Night Mode protects drivers from light pollution that would otherwise be a real ergonomic and safety hazard.

For Night Mode, we wanted a subdued color palette. Designers sat in a windowless, dark room and analyzed multiple color schemes. We were amazed by how different they looked in an unlit room compared to a normal bright conference room. We took our favorite options out on night-time drive tests, and from there we pushed and pulled values until the guidance UI, map UI, and map styles all felt harmonious.

Day Mode vs. Night Mode

Making the complex clear

Uber Navigation is custom tailored for drivers, and we’re not done yet. Every day we’re collecting great constructive feedback from drivers, and we’ll be prioritizing their feedback in upcoming versions. Plus, now that we’ve rolled out our starting lineup, we’re excited for all of the design possibilities to come.

We are so proud of everyone who made this happen. And while this post is design-focused, we want to recognize over a year of hard work by designers, engineers, researchers, and product managers. Most of all, we’d like to thank the drivers for their invaluable feedback. Thank you!

Are you a map design enthusiast, routing wonk, driver? Have any thoughts about the new navigation? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Uber Navigation

Evelyn Kim
Cady Wachsman
Christine Tao
Bo Paweena Attayadmawittaya

Map data source © TomTom



Cady Wachsman
Uber Design

Design Manager of the Cartography Team at Uber. We team up with engineers and researchers to match together massive datasets, code, and design.