Human-Centered Design Blinders: What Happens When You Forget About Key Stakeholders

Not too long ago I was in an Uber ride going to the airport. Even though it was about 5am, and I was only half awake, the conversation I had with my driver made an impact on me. She told me in so many words how disgruntled she was with Uber’s policies and how she wanted to start driving for Lyft, where she felt the drivers were treated with more respect.

Now for most people, this would an interesting conversation that would maybe make an impact on them but they’d continue on with their day. However, the service designer in me couldn’t let this curiosity die, I wanted to know more: Is she the only driver that feels this way or are there others? And if there are other unhappy drivers, why? What is Lyft doing that is so different than Uber?

Thus my “design challenge” was born; for the last month or two I’ve been thinking about this design challenge and doing very informal design research (meaning when I am in an Uber or Lyft I ask them a few questions about their experience) …I’ve even enlisted my colleagues and friends in this journey to answer these questions.

The point of the blog is not to say why Uber now sucks and Lyft rocks, because that’s not the case. What is more interesting to me, is why is there “driver flight” from a company that was initially so successful that it reshaped an entire industry. Uber built this new business model and platform that changed the way consumers use taxi and ride services. But as of late, they seemingly have become unpopular.

Some of the anecdotal reasons I’ve come across is that Lyft gives better incentives and perks to drivers for using the app. For example, if you give 40 rides in your first month you get a $500 bonus (don’t quote me on the exact numbers there).  Additionally, there is more emphasis on profits for the drivers, such as receiving tips directly in the app. Lastly, there is more trust and independence Lyft provides drivers. For example, when issues arise, like a driver needs to cancel a ride for whatever reason, Uber demands an explanation whereas Lyft does not.

But what does all this tell us? In my opinion, it shows that Uber has designed almost solely for the end user, and not necessarily for the frontline employee: the driver. I like to call this the “human-centered design blinders”. You design for one user group so well that you almost exclude or marginalize another stakeholder group. Ultimately, this approach will catch up with Uber if no changes are made. It is hard to have a business model based on volunteer drivers if no one wants to volunteer.

The takeaway here is that when you are creating or redesigning services or experiences make sure you understand all your key stakeholder groups and their needs. A few tools to help you do this from the human-centered design toolkit are journey maps and personas. You can capture the overall experience of not just the passenger but also of the driver in separate journey maps. In addition, you can create personas based on the user research to create an archetypical or representative user group like the passengers or drivers. This will ultimately help you ideate better solutions that fit the actual functional and emotional needs of your stakeholders.

So take off those blinders and start creating for all your users!

Have you ever run into this issue or have other good examples of Human-centered design blinders? Reach out on twitter @jilliank_brown and let’s talk about it.