Design for Pattern | Principal Designer Uber | Erik Klimczak


you know about four or five years ago I
used to own and run a design studio in Chicago we did a lot of experimental
design and the awwwards community the site people it was a huge huge inspiration
for us back at that time it was super important for our growth and just
finding our way as a company and so have so much respect for everybody here in
the audience because I know that you guys are the ones that are constantly
trying to push the envelope and constantly trying to reimagine you know
how we experience our digital content so thank you again for having me now I have
a 45 minute talk that I only have 25 minutes to give because that’s all the
time they gave me so I’m gonna try to do this really fast and I hope you enjoy it
so here we go design for pattern so I’m Erik Klimczak principal designer at uber,
some people ask about the principal role what principles do it’s a hands-on role
so it’s not a management role and we typically work across the entire
portfolio of products but I I work with R&D groups and policy groups I’m sort of
a 2 to 4 year out horizon and as we watch technical trends and social trends
and cultural trends we want to kind of understand how ubers are going to fit
into the world as it changes and so that’s mostly what I do it uber and
you’ll see some of that thinking reflected in the talk so before I get
into it I’m gonna take a spin through some of the things that we do it over if
you follow along in the news you probably only see kind of a sliver of
what we actually do so here’s the portfolio as of now obviously everyone
knows the Rider app this is our most public thing we hit something like
fifteen billion rides recently which scares the shit out of
and I’ll tell you why in a little while but we have a little over a hundred
million users we’re going public tomorrow so you know hopefully this talk
helps that the number go up even higher or it’s gonna be like the worst day of
my life we’ll see to make all those rides happen
obviously have millions of drivers to make those possible now cool thing about
this app is we spent about a year and a half rolling this out to completely
redesigned app and worked very closely with our drivers to kind of build
together to make that happen really rewarding experience well we figured if
we can move people we can probably move pizzas and I’m glad that we did because
this is one of the fastest growing businesses entities within Ober
you know it’s maybe in the world it’s it’s like less than five years old it’s
already in the billions it’s absolutely amazing
we have Freight and that’s relatively new for us it’s classic uber it’s you
know an old stodgy industry a lot of handshake deals paper and pen and so we
really focus on the driver and kind of optimize for them rather than the
distribution centers and things like that so lots to do in that space if you
live here in San Francisco you’re probably seeing our self-driving cars I
worked in this group for about a year and a half if you want to grab beers
after the conference and talk I got I got stories so we’re also looking up
into the sky with the program called uber elevate this is a little bit
forward thinking a little bit farther out but it’s all around what some people
come flying cars and really they’re they’re technically called V tolls which
are vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts this pretty it’s very nascent
today but some of the cool work we get to do is work like with NASA to figure
out the air traffic control systems and stuff like that which is pretty pretty
awesome and then our most recent investments have been around what we
call new mobility which is for now bikes and scooters but it’s really inclusive
of all kinds of different alternative transportation modes you’ve probably
seen these around San Francisco they’re pretty awesome
you know uber started out with a very simple premise it was push a button get
a ride and it went way farther than any of us could have ever imagined we
applied that infrastructure to all other kinds of services and businesses and you
know fast-forward almost 10 years later and we’ve amassed this enormous global
business and it’s been really successful but it’s also come with some
consequences on one hand we’ve done a lot of good in the world and it was kind
of by accident and on the other hand there’s been some not so good some
unintended consequences if you will and it was about a year and a half ago that
we started thinking to ourselves well what if we did all this good on purpose
how would that change the way we think about products and what would that mean
for us as designers and really it meant sort of a radical shift from thinking of
ourselves as screen designers to impact designers which brings me to design for
pattern this is a conceptual model for how we think about design and product
design in uber if you’re thinking design patterns UI patterns that’s one kind of
pattern it’s unfortunately not what I’m going to talk about today so sorry to
disappoint if that’s what you’re thinking this one’s gonna be about but
hopefully you’ll like it anyway I’m gonna go a little academic for a
moment and then it’ll get pretty anecdotal I promise so design for
pattern it’s all about understanding and objects context to design an object very
well design a product very well you need to understand its context sometimes we
call that different resolutions and at any given resolution you’re gonna have
forces that influence that product in numerous case social influences economic
influences environmental influences these are the things that sort of shape
our product I like to use this example to kind of illustrate this idea of
zooming in and out this is an old Ames video if you’ve probably remember this
in design school it’s pretty classic and so if we get a little bit more practical
for a minute let’s say you have of an app and at the lowest resolution
you have screen and it’s got features and the influences that are going to act
on that screen or you be things like business metrics user goals business
goals things like that and if we move up to say the middle
resolution or the city level well now you have things like legal restrictions
policy mandates government mandates and those are going to change the way you
design your products and if you go all the way up to the systemic level
well now you’re thinking about cultural norms and social norms and how that’s
going to inform your product and it’s by understanding this very broad landscape
of where your product exists that you can design a product well but more
importantly sort of avoid these unintended consequences that typically
come up when we’re only focused on a sliver this is particularly important
for uber because we have and really any company that has a strong connection
between the physical and digital so we build these pretty massive virtual
software systems that have substantial real world impact when we make changes
in our software it can have dramatic impact in the real world and that’s why
that those 15 million rides scared the shit out of me because you can really
mess things up if you don’t if you’re not careful and I think we’ve have in a
couple instances so you know that’s that’s why understanding these contexts
are so important if I take a step back for a minute and talk about some where
we got our inspiration from our boss he came in as a VP of design he’s he’s an
older gentleman and he had this white paper that he brought along with from
this man named Wendell Barry Wendell was a philosopher a rider and he had a farm
and periodically he’d write about this farm and about 35 years ago he wrote
this white paper of some observations he saw on the farm and what he was talking
about was sustainable farming but 35 years ago I don’t think we called it
that and he would say things like well if you have a bug problem and you kill
the bugs but then the pesticides used to kill the bugs kill
plants and the livestock have no plants to eat well then your problems go much
further than the original bug problem that you had and you talked about this
in terms of patterns within patterns and if you optimize for sort of a local
output you can do that at the detriment of the bigger system and when we read
this at least when I read it I thought to myself wow this is so similar to like
the mental model of how we need to be thinking about design at uber and so
it’s led us to start thinking about a methodology for designing for pattern at
different scales or different resolutions and you might be thinking
like isn’t this just service design and the answer is yes but I want for your
service designer maybe we should talk after and talk about working at uber
because we need more of those folks but you know if you’re like me I come from a
different background right I come from a more of an agency background motion
graphics advertising and so at least before I joined uber I was very focused
on a small sliver of that bigger set of resolutions and so I think that’s when
we get in the trouble right when we’re optimizing for ourselves on that local
level we ignore those bigger those bigger pictures and that’s when these
unintended consequences or creep up okay so that was sort of the academic side of
the talk and now I’m going to get into more of this anecdotal side some places
I think we’re having impact a doober and I’m going to tell you three stories the
first one is social second one is economic third one’s environmental
they’re all united by this common theme of mobility and you know uber people
cars driving mobility that kind of makes sense that’s not exactly the kind of
mobility I’m gonna be talking about but I think you’ll you’ll find some of the
results surprising so to start with social mobility I’m gonna talk about
boundaries and boundaries create isolation and boundaries can be formed
through things like geography through communication through language and in
this case communication we have pretty harsh effects so the deaf community in
the United States is a 70% unemployment rate and you want
well what kind of company like uber do and so we took our app and we extended
it to include a few features like that screen flashing and some messaging to
enable this community to to find work on the platform this is one of my favorite
examples because we talk about the impact in those different resolutions
well this low resolution of changing screen elements enabled an entire
populations ability to earn and earn on the platform and and I love that one we
thought to ourselves well okay we made a pretty big dent in this unemployment
problem and we saw some critical mass there what else can we do so we
introduced this feature to break down another barrier which is the rider
driver barrier and we thought well what if we could teach riders some basic sign
language so they could communicate with the drivers and this was a campaign that
we ran for some time and we taught riders how to say things like good
morning hello my name is etc I think mostly everyone messed up the signing
and it was more hilarious for the drivers but they appreciated it and so
it’s you know we’re now inching up this this set of scales here and you know if
we take it at the highest level uber does 15 million rides every single
day which Nets out to billions and when I heard the stat I was amazed billions
of minutes of conversation in ubers every year that’s multiple centuries
worth of conversations happening in the back seats of uber every single year
across the world and you think about our app now being this incredible
conversation starter between very diverse social backgrounds very diverse
economic backgrounds and I don’t feel that we’ve even begun the tap into the
power of these connections definitely a place I’m very excited to be focusing my
energy as time goes on so that was the first story next stories economic
mobility so with this story I’m gonna start with this image here it kind of
looks like a piece of art I wish it was unfortunately these are called sues or
sensitive urban zones and they’re found in Paris France they’re typically
characterized by high rates of crime and unemployment and I’ve been in uber for a
little while now and one of the stats that I’ve heard that like absolutely
floored me was this idea that your distance away from a transportation hub
is one of the strongest indicators of whether or not you can pull yourself out
of poverty so if you’re below the poverty line and you don’t have a lot of
access to work it’s not education that’s going to help you sort of get that first
rung in the ladder it’s actually your distance to a transportation hub so if
we overlay the Paris metro lines and look at how the they map up to these red
spots you can see that there’s some gaps and the Paris metro lines are probably
some of the best in the world but we still have some gaps there the obvious
thing to do here is to overlay ubers network to show how we can extend that
public transport which I’m pretty proud of we can help people get to those
transportation house we can help people get those rides it’s not the the most
interesting part though I think the most interesting part is if we filter this
data set by the registrations of drivers that are coming out of those areas well
we’re giving them the job we’re giving them that first rung in the economic
ladder if you will that they might not have anywhere else we’re trying to lift
those red spots up all together but giving someone a job really this is only
you know the first resolution if you if you pop up to the next level I think we
need to talk about work in general and over the last I don’t know three four
decades we’ve really established this linear model of work where you go to
school you incur tons of debt you become very specialized to get your first job
you work really really hard hopefully you keep getting promoted and
if you don’t mess up don’t make any mistakes maybe you get all the way to
the executive level and by that time you retire you get your gold watch you buy a
boat and then you die because you’ve worked so hard okay and
your family probably hates you too but so we know that this type of work is not
for everybody right and it’s absolutely inflexible in the sense that if you need
to explore a career change or if you want to have kids well you know you may
never reach certain levels of success so gig work obviously what uber is in the
business of and other companies like uber it’s starting to challenge this
notion of what work is and what and how we even call work and we know that
flexibility is a big part of that and you think flexibility yeah okay I can go
and work whenever I want that’s part of the benefit but living with flexibility
this is an entirely different thing being able to provide and earn while
exploring different education opportunities that’s living with
flexibility being able to have kids and still have a successful career and grow
as a professional that’s living with flexibility and that’s what I think is
sort of the key to leading kind of an enriched life so let’s look at somebody
that’s doing this right now oh no I’m an uber driver doors I’m a
chicken farmer today’s mechanic and paint shop Quadro a pig farmer
Cinco I’m a flight attendant seis auxilary police officer the moves for me
or how can i acquire time you have all the money all the materialistic thing in
the world don’t mean anything you don’t have time so this is Domingo he’s one of
our favorite uber drivers he’s got seven gigs in addition to his uber job and one
of my favorite things wasn’t said here is he uses uber as sort of like a paid
way to go to his job on the airline and then he uses the airline flights as free
business travel to go visit his farms so he he absolutely like optimizes his
schedule in a way that that all of us could could benefit from you mean think
about guys like Domingo and he’s got you know seven and eight jobs in is it that
weird to think that well maybe if this trend keeps going could
have 50 jobs in a lifetime and now you’re all probably recoiling a little
bit like isn’t sound very good and it’s intentionally provocative because you
know this is part of thinking responsibly about these unintended
consequences this is a possibility right if 7 jobs is starting to come up now I
don’t think it’s crazy to think what people might have 50 jobs in a lifetime
and so it’s our job to figure out well how do we change that from 50 jobs in a
lifetime to 50 opportunities for growth and to do that I think you need to call
in the question you know the very nature of work you need to probably redefine
work at least in the eyes of the government this might sound a little
technical but if you’re the government you think there’s full-time work and
there’s contract work if you’re a full-time employee sitting at a desk for
$1 a day you get all the benefits in the world and retirement plans and all these
things and if you’re a contractor and you said eight hours in a car or working
for uber you get nothing and so there’s all this gray area in between we think
opportunity to kind of redefine how benefits and how insurance and
everything works and so if you fundamentally redefine work in the eyes
of the government you gotta ask yourself what else would change could we actually
make work more accessible bake break down barriers for everyone would what it
actually fundamentally changed what we call work today these are the kind of
questions we you know kick around I don’t think we have all the answers to
yet but certainly a really really big and exciting part of where we’re going
ok the last story the environmental mobility so this one starts with an
unintended consequence so if you live here in San Francisco you probably see a
lot of people taking ubers or lifts and well there’s more cars on the road and
when you have more cars on the road there’s more congestion there’s more co2
emission and trust me none of us joined uber because we want to pollute the
world that’s definitely not why we take these jobs but it’s causing us now to
think about our products in a much broader way this is a pretty
well-documented stat says that 68% of the world’s population
will live in cities by 2050 so over the next thirty years there will be a 300%
mobility demand in our cities could you imagine San Francisco with 300% more
mobility to band or traffic or whatever you want to call it I can’t we don’t
think would actually move anywhere so let’s look at a typical City you know we
have cars in traffic we have not a lot of room for bikers pretty pretty
dangerous we have these red cars which are parked clogging up a lot of space in
the red lined area is kind of the space left for humans and so we can pretty
safely say our cities our modern-day cities have been designed around cars
not people and there’s a lot of urban mobility kind of topics kicking around
right now a lot of people participating in the conversation of how do we
recenter our cities for humans and I actually think this is just as much a
design problem as anything else and one of the things that comes up a lot is
autonomous in self-driving cars and we’ve all heard the promises I’ve drink
this kool-aid where you know we have these cars and they’re super advanced
they’re gonna melt away congestion and they’re gonna be infinitely safer so
let’s pop a self-driving car into the mix and see what happens
nothing it’s the kind of kind of an unfair thing to say I think something
would happen but to be illustrative it’s not just this car and the technology and
that’s going to make these changes that one thing by itself is not going to have
the benefits that we might think it has it’s how all of these things come
together that’s really going to make the change so if we look at the city from a
different perspective I know that was kind of cheesy let’s start with
something like the curb in the cars so if we if we remove the curb in the
parked cars well we can gain a lot more space and that can be space mixed use
space for people and we can widen our streets for alternative transportation
modes and now the space that we have left for cars I think we should be a
little bit more rigorous about what of cars actually go there and so this
was what we would probably call a kind of high-density area where these little
micro mobility scooters and bikes and things like that make a lot of sense for
efficiency but you can’t really look at the city just at one slice there you
kind of got to go out a little bit further and so you know this is the very
inner part of the city if we move out towards the arterioles well here we have
wider streets that can hold more people so more bigger vehicles make sense and
if we move out to the highways this may be one of the areas we see the biggest
benefits for autonomy because now we have a lot of cars highly coordinated
moving very quickly automation really plays a role at all of these levels but
it’s this kind of diverse approach it’s a transportation that I think is gonna
unlock unlock the cities so the holy grail here is you know you one day are
able to ride your bike and your self-driving car is waiting perfectly
for you whisk you off to your VTOL that takes you 300 miles away to a meeting
and then you’re back home that night for dinner and it may fundamentally change
you know how we work where we work and everything about our lives but we know
that this is not possible today mostly because we don’t have the data and this
is going to get a little out there and a little scary but let’s pretend that our
bikes talked to our cars and our cars talk to the subway in the subways talk
to the traffic systems and the planes talk to the cities and the cities talk
to each other we’d have this massively connected transportation network and
that’s one step I think towards making a dent in this mobility demand that we’re
gonna see over time but of course in the spirit of designing for pattern we have
to ask ourselves what are the consequences of this and I don’t know
yeah I’m not ready to answer those questions but I told you three stories
of how designing at different scales is important and can have really good
impacts it can have some not-so-good impacts and as a result of things like
this not just these three but lots of things like to say we’re starting to
derive a set of principles that we try to think
all of our products through the lens that so I’m gonna spin through these
really quick so I’m running out of time but the idea here is I have four
principles the first one is good design is focused it stops at just enough now
it might be the the most cliche thing I could possibly say at a design
conference that you should be simple but it’s really the second part there it
stops at just enough we’re all super smart designers and engineers we work
with super smart people we love hard problems we love hard problems so much
that even when the problems are simple we want to make them super hard and so
that’s why we have so much bloatware out there so like just you know it’s okay
there’s just enough so Kay so the second one design good design respects limits
limits are everywhere technological team limits talent limits but the idea here
is that we’ve all had these hairbrained ideas you know and we think no one’s
ever thought of this and there may be a reason why no one’s ever thought of it
that’s not to say that good ideas don’t come from time to time and they’re very
innovative but if you’re kind of getting off the reservoir you should trust it a
little bit less you should put a little bit more rigor around the ideas that are
not so familiar the next one if there’s one slide I think really captures this
idea of design for pattern it’s this good design cells more than one problem
doesn’t make new problems this really gets back to the window Berry Farm
example where when you’re solving your problem try to think of it very
holistically and lastly maybe the most lists of Taric one good design preserves
the integrity of the pattern that contains it this is a call for coherence
so if we think of those resolutions and you’re solving problems at different
resolutions where you want some kind of through line that that makes it feel
like one thing and not disparate solutions so to close you know I’ll just
say that in the last 10 or 15 years we’ve seen this explosion of digital
innovation coming to our lives and just now we’re starting to experience some of
the unintended consequences even our beloved iPhones right our heart jacking
our kids in attention spans uber Twitter Facebook we’ve all had our
moments right and I think we can learn from these moments so I would ask you
all to you know let’s be responsible when
when we’re doing our designs instead of creating stuff and putting it out there
and see what happens let’s do some good on purpose thank you you

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