How Uber Is Designing The Future Of Cities

How Uber Is Designing The Future Of Cities

In the lead-up to our PSFK 2017 conference, we look back at key speakers from past years. Ethan Eismann is making transportation as reliable as running water for everyone, everywhere

  • 11 may 2017

Leading up to our PSFK 2017 conference on May 19, we are looking back at some of the key speakers from years past. Get your tickets today!

During his talk at PSFK’s flagship conference in New York City, Uber’s Director of Product Experience Ethan Eismann shared the car-sharing company’s mission to make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone. In his role, Eismann travels the world to see first-hand the markets Uber serves. And so, he sees his company’s mission as to “envision the future of cities and fast forward to that future.”

During his talk, Eismann highlighted some of the drivers that work for Uber around the world from Greg, a retired Bay Area resident who drives to supplement his fixed income, to Nikhil in Mumbai who is a full-time driver who must visit an on-boarding center to learn how to use the app due to lower literacy. While Uber tries to maintain a consistent quality of service from New York to Jakarta, the obvious cultural and urban differences make experiences in each different.

In Uber’s quest to make transportation available to everyone, they are also helping fight congestion and pollution. Uber Pool is one solution the company developed that matches passengers along the same route. In addition to lowering costs for riders, it creates continuous journeys which are more profitable for drivers and reduces the number of cars on the road.

uber pool

By reducing congestion and reclaiming the space that cars have taken up in cities, Eismann believes this is “one of the most exciting urban design challenges and opportunities we can have in our future.”

In order to meet Uber’s mission, Eismann and his team must factor in a number of variables that make up each market, from culture to economics and government. “It’s much deeper than the pixels,” explained Eismann before elucidating the key considerations and limitations that go into planning a product experience.


  • Human to Computer – For both drivers and riders, the Uber app, widget, or SMS experience just needs to work.
  • Human to City – Certain cities can be more chaotic than others. The Uber experience needs to adapt to the city.
  • Human to Human – Drivers’ interactions with riders are the central product experience; Uber is working on ways to make riding safer and more respectful.

Limitations for design:

  • Road Conditions – What constitutes a road can vary greatly depending on regions. In some places in India, buildings lack addresses so Uber asks riders to take pictures of their location for drivers to find them.
  • Technical Infrastructure – 2G vs 3G vs 4G coverage can make interacting with an app a slow and frustrating experience. Uber is testing SMS for regions that only have 2G coverage.
  • Regulations – Some countries have unique restrictions such as alternating where odd and even plate numbers can go on a given day. Uber works with drivers to work within these constraints.

“When designing a magical Uber experience, for riders and for drivers we take all these into consideration from the diversity of cultures to the diversity of urban experiences. We need to do that to meet our mission that transportation is as reliable as running water for everyone, everywhere.”


+PSFK 2016
+Uber Pool

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