Obsessed with understanding what makes People tick


Riders, meet Drivers. Drivers, meet Riders.

Molly Stevens on Uber’s effort to connect riders with the flesh-and-blood people behind the wheel.

Molly Stevens, Uber’s Director of User Experience Research, walks us through the recent “Driver Profiles” project, the company’s effort to connect riders with the real flesh-and-blood people behind the wheel.


Notes from Molly Stevens…

On the impetus for incorporating Driver Profiles into the Uber experience…

One of the things we hear a lot from both drivers and riders is how much they like meeting people from different walks of life, people they wouldn’t normally connect with. And so the Driver Profile initiative—which had actually started shortly before I got to Uber—came out of a design sprint that the team had done looking at ways to better connect drivers and riders and promote driver referrals. There were a lot of questions about what exactly riders wanted to know about drivers, and likewise, what drivers wanted to know about riders. Most riders that I speak with end up talking to their drivers. Of course, there are situations where riders may just want a quiet ride because they need to do some work, and they can let the driver know that. But often they’re open to having a chat and getting to know a little bit about this person they’re spending this time with. And we also hear from drivers quite a bit that they like being a tour guide for their city, sharing what they love about it with someone else. So the project was really about enabling those connections and conversations to happen.

On driving for Uber herself…

I wanted to really understand what Uber was about when I joined, so before I even started, in the 2-3 weeks I had between jobs, I actually drove to know what experience I had signed up for. It was like a mini-ethnography experience, and it was a really eye-opening. I learned a lot about what the process is for drivers, the kind of information you get and what you don’t get, and about how to really think about the whole experience. It was hugely helpful to actually experience the process first hand, on the road without insider knowledge. And I was surprised by how much I liked it. It can be exciting, you don’t know where you’re going, you accept a ride, you pick them up and you don’t have any idea where their destination is, and so it can be kind of a surprise. Mostly a pleasant surprise. And one of the most fun things, and we also hear this from drivers a lot, is learning new parts of the city. Even though I’ve lived in the Bay Area for three years, when I was driving I was learning about all kinds of new places. Back roads, different venues, and interesting places all over the city that I wouldn’t normally know about.

On doing a deep dive into the minds of both sides of the Uber experience…

When I started at Uber I did a series of deep dives with some current customers. We had a number of people who had been riders and became drivers—people who had seen both sides of the coin, so to speak. I did a series of one-on-one in-depth interviews with these folks to understand their journey. How they got started, what were they trying to accomplish, what their purpose was for starting to drive. And then, what were some of the things that they learned about being a rider or driver that was helpful to them—the personal details or facts they would want to share or not share in each situation. Then another member of my team, George Zhang, continued the project and really ran with it to get it to the next stage. He did a mix of more qualitative interviews and surveys to better understand the kind of information that people would want to have available. After that we’ve had our researcher Maria Arguello diving deeper on understanding the international reception of the profiles.

On the kinds of details people did want to know… 

Riders wanted to know how long drivers had been driving, whether they were local to the city, if they knew any foreign languages. Some of that information can be helpful in terms of reassuring a rider that a driver has experience, but it also provides a bridge between the two. By looking at your driver’s profile, you might find out that your driver speaks German, and you also speak German. It’s something you may not have known otherwise.  

And what they didn’t…

I think one of the funny ones was that the drivers didn’t necessarily want to put down who their favorite sports teams were, for example, because they didn’t want people to hold it against them. If you were, you know, driving in New York, and you were a Mets fan, you didn’t necessarily want the Yankees fans who got in the car to know. We had theorized that possibly sports might be one of the things to list, but we also realized that it’s not just a uniter, it’s also a divider.

On the unexpected conversations that happen in an Uber…

We actually have quite a bit of crossover between drivers and riders. Driving is really open as an opportunity to most anyone who gets into an Uber. And sometimes riders want to talk to drivers simply because they’re curious about how they like driving for Uber. But it’s an interesting situation, because in most other jobs you might be considering, you’re not going to have the opportunity to ask someone what’s it like or try and investigate it first hand.

On the feedback they’ve gotten…

User experience research and qualitative methods have been adopted strongly at Uber because we help tell the story of what’s happening behind those numbers.

In general, putting a face and personality to the drivers has had a really positive effect overall, for everyone within the system. Riders feel a lot more comfortable with who’s picking them up, and they’ve been able to get a better sense of who this person is. And on the driver side, they’ve been able to show off the fact that they have a high rating, or rider compliments and positive notes, and that they really are good stewards, they’re good at what they’re doing.

On qualitative vs quantitative research at Uber…

Uber is known for having a huge amount of quantitative data. We have a lot of information about what’s happening in the marketplace, and about how people are being matched, and what’s working and what’s not working. So, user experience research and qualitative methods have been adopted strongly at Uber because we help tell the story of what’s happening behind those numbers. By bringing the qualitative story in, we’ve been able to help shed light on projects like the Driver Profiles.

Uber operates in over 70 countries and around 700 cities around the globe, so we’re always looking at what’s culturally relevant in different places. Our researchers study a variety of topics, including how the dynamic in the car changes in different cities, with different social class systems, and places where some people own their cars and some rent them. So we have to build things that meet those distinct cultural and place-specific needs, and putting quantitative and qualitative together allows us to do that.  

Carrie Neill

Carrie Neill is a New York based writer, editor, design advocate, bookworm, travel fiend, dessert enthusiast, and a fan of People Nerds everywhere.

Curious as we are about what makes people tick?

Get new People Nerds articles in your inbox.