Very few companies become verbs in the popular lexicon, as in “Google it.” It takes a unique approach to user experience combined with a strong desire to disrupt the status quo. Before Uber, no one imagined peer-to-peer transportation at the push of a button, but now it’s common to hear “Did you Uber here?”
Uber may have started as a simple idea, but it’s become a global logistics giant. It powers 4 billion trips each year taken by 75 million riders in 65 countries around the world. How did it transform the transportation industry in dozens of different markets around the globe? Uber excels at designing experiences that work for anyone, anywhere.
To attract users around the world, Uber crafts simple, practical experiences for both riders and drivers. Femke van Schoonhoven is a product designer at Uber in Amsterdam and is responsible for building elegant user interface designs that shape the way people pay or get paid for rides on Uber.
“We design for the masses and that means considering everything about the user and how they interact with the products in different parts of the world,” says van Schoonhoven. Particularly in emerging markets, this means that Uber product designers need to consider:
As a company, Uber insists that product teams conduct deep research before creating solutions to address user needs and problems. For van Schoonhoven and the team, this includes on-the-ground research to learn about the characteristics and nuances of local markets and the people who live there. One aspect of the research focuses on riding along with drivers in other countries to test new designs for user experiences.
Learn more about Uber’s design practices for emerging markets in this video presentation at Ladies that UX.
When van Schoonhoven started working at Uber, the company had already started introducing cash as a payment method in some markets. She joined a team of product managers, designers, product operations, data scientists and engineers — all focused on continuing to invent and iterate features and user experiences that bring cash as a form of payment to more markets around the world.
The Cash team was using a design tool that was not well suited for the project, which meant that the typical design workflow involved inefficient import and export of files and communication outside of the tool for status updates. To finish a single design, Van Schoonhoven had to work in several different tools for designing, prototyping, sharing, and collecting feedback before handing off to engineering.
The team hit its design software breaking point during a frustrating research trip.
“We were testing prototypes with Uber drivers and the plan was to iterate in real time based on their immediate feedback,” says van Schoonhoven. “It was so painful to do this because we could only have one person at a time make changes to the file while the other had to wait. There was no way to work collaboratively on the same design at the same time. We thought ‘there must be a better way.’”
Back in Amsterdam, van Schoonhoven was determined to find a solution to the collaboration problem. She heard that other teams within Uber were early adopters of Figma, a collaborative, web-based design tool, and decided to try it out.
By simply dragging and dropping existing design files into Figma, van Schoonhoven was soon working in the new software, enhancing and creating designs using local languages and actual, in-context material. “The transition was extremely seamless,” says van Schoonhoven.
Now nearly everything van Schoonhoven does is in Figma. She can collaborate in real time on the same design with other team members, locally or anywhere in the world. And she finds organizing files in Figma more intuitive.
Figma is like a tidy bookshelf, where you can find exactly what you need, whenever you need it.
Easy collaboration and organization aren’t the only benefits van Schoonhoven appreciates. She reports that communication is much more efficient with Figma because it can take place directly within a design file.
“Before, I would constantly be sending emails to project stakeholders with updates about the latest version of the design,” she says. “With Figma, my team members can go into the folder any time they want and see the latest designs. No one has to ping me about the latest status or go back-and-forth with me via emails to clarify which design is the latest version. Figma has reduced communication overhead by at least 75 percent.”
Perhaps most impactful is the collaboration with engineers. “Making sure engineers had the latest design was a real struggle before,” says van Schoonhoven. “Now engineers are invited to the file in Figma so they can see the latest changes with comments in context.” Because van Schoonhoven can bring engineers into the design process early, handoff is simpler and faster.
Her favorite thing about Figma? It makes her feel like part of the team, even though the group is large and distributed across multiple locations. “Our work was very siloed before,” she says. “Figma is now our central design depository, which lets us all work together on a common goal. It’s had the biggest impact on my work.”
“Because Figma is web-based, it’s easy for stakeholders to share files and quickly get buyoffs on designs at the next level — and that means we can move faster as a team.”
The Cash team strives to be involved as much as possible in the new work that comes from Uber headquarters. For a new project where van Schoonhoven is working with a designer in San Francisco, Figma is providing the collaborative foundation.
“It’s really helpful to have access to the latest Uber platform components in Figma so that I can add the most recent user interface changes to my designs,” she says. “Before, I would have to search or ask about which version was the latest. Now, I can start by dragging and dropping the correct components.”
Figma provides the level of collaboration that van Schoonhoven envisioned back when she was conducting field research. “With Figma, we can work at the same time in the same file while still being respectful of each other’s designs,” she says. “I can’t wait to use it for user testing and research, where we can collaborate, iterate and prototype while we’re in a car on the road.”
Because design is more visible and transparent, it’s easier for all of us to think more globally.