Attracting Attention In A World of Distractions: Key Product Lessons From Uber

As a child, I remember getting regular magazines and beautifully illustrated Cartoon Annuals (The Beano, for example), carefully type-set out in hard-back form. I always looked forward to reading these, backwards and forwards, and end-to-end. Today, some of these sit on my desk, right next to my devices. And while it certainly has sentimental value, it also reminds me of a time when we didn’t face quite so many distractions.

Today, we’re bombarded by requests for attention on every device imaginable, from every digital channel to Facebook notifications, and even ring-vibrations. With so many messages demanding our time, how does a company stand out? To me, the answer is simple – unified, cohesive connectivity. Hmmm, doesn’t sound that simple.

Stated somewhat differently, I think that success in an overstimulated world arises from creating short, seamless interactions. Of course, this isn’t a new concept – Google Search and Amazon One-Click Buy were pioneers of fewer clicks on our laptops and desktops. The critical difference today is that we tap and swipe on devices that are constantly interrupting us. Looking at Uber, this concept of short seamless experiences is core to the product. Mina Radhakrishnan the former Head of Product at Uber has commented on this, and goes on to explain specifically that it shows itself in three ways: location, choice and payments.


One of the most time-consuming (and critical) parts of calling a car is making sure that your address is correctly set. One thing that was pioneered at Uber was the idea of moving the map as you moved your finger rather than moving your pin. At first glance, this felt strange because your actions weren’t directly moving you to where you want to go. However, as you swiped, the feeling of movement and placement quickly became intuitive. Now, this idea of moving the map as your centered location stays constant is a common practice across on-demand apps. By using places data, setting a pickup requires even less effort.

However, it’s critical to think about the best provider for this data across the world. Initially, using a single provider for all location data was the natural choice. However, as Uber expanded, this approach quickly became infeasible. Inaccurate map and places data led to confusing and frustrating calls between riders and drivers who couldn’t find each other. Ultimately, Uber had to find the appropriate providers for data around the world and automatically switch based on the location.

Additionally, using saved favorite locations, address setting becomes even quicker and cleaner. In fact, Uber now suggests destinations as you’re waiting so once you’ve made your request, there’s no need to ever open the app again once you’ve made a decision to request a car. At least, not until your next ride!


Another key component of calling a car is determining which type of car. While there is a default selection, as Uber continues to expand across product lines and delivery, the on-demand decision becomes more complicated. This was a key example of where naming was a critical component. What does UberX mean? How do you know what you’re getting when you request an UberExec?

Creating the right descriptions consistently around the world meant that the Company had to consciously consider how people would respond as the options continued to expand. And as Uber came up with these taglines, they also had to make sure that all the choices were clearly defined and organized. Hierarchical menus, consistent iconography and descriptive text at a glance reduce the analysis paralysis. Similarly, if you tap an option, you can get more information but there’s never a need to tap or swipe at all. And as you travel around the world, you always know what Uber means, whether it’s classic luxury or a reliable low-cost option.


This harmony is echoed in the way that Uber handles payments. Adding payment information is a high-friction activity and often one of the largest drop-off sources in sign-up conversion. As Uber thought about this, they considered what was unique to mobile. The first thing that came to mind was the camera. A natural evolution was the idea of scanning the card, which no-one had implemented as part of the sign-up process. At one point, 40% of users scanned their card, and Uber’s sign-up times were reduced by more than one minute.

Requiring payment information at sign-up seems counter-intuitive because the user hasn’t even experienced Uber yet but this was a guiding principle of the first time experience. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that using Uber for the first time feels magical. The Company went back and forth about it numerous times but without more data, ultimately felt that the seamlessness of the first ride trumped all. There’s no fumbling with wallets, or trying to figure out what to pay or worrying about whether it’s appropriate so all your other apps can interrupt away.

Fundamentally, instead of a transaction, Uber becomes an experience. I always held the opinion that Uber are not in the technology business, not even in the transportation business, but are in the entertainment business.

Of course, it’s not enough to just create an uninterrupted experience and expect to win. But when we’re faced with distractions from all directions, I propose that short and sweet is a great guiding principle.

MaxCo Advisors
November 16th, 2015


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