If Uber feels hardwired into your daily existence, you can blame it on Ethan Eismann. The company’s director of product design, who previously headed up user experience at Google, says the intuitive nature of the app is the result of a research-intense process that involves an “immense amount of work”.
“Our goal is to design experiences that feel like magic,” say Eismann. He’s in Sydney to speak at Future State, a Semi-Permanent panel exploring the future of online spaces and global connections. The two-day conference features such heavy-hitting speakers as Dantley Davis, Netflix’s design director; Jon Lax, the head of product design at Facebook; and Kate Shaw, head of talent design and learning at Airbnb. “To do this we need to save people money and time, and deliver a sense of joy and calm. We design systems that ensure rides are available quickly, on demand. We design for interactions between riders and drivers. We design for diverse urban environments; in some of the cities that we serve, GPS is limited. And some locations have no address. And we design for regulations, which differ across the world.”
Uber, which was conceived in 2008 when co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab one snowy Paris evening, is a study in dazzling statistics, but its ability to design a product that resonates with city dwellers – whether they live in London, Hong Kong or Cairo – is one of its most impressive feats. Eismann says building a global platform that responds to the culture, customs infrastructure of individual cities (400 and counting) is one of his highest priorities.
Eismann, who simply says that Uber is evolving “quickly” when quizzed about the company’s future trajectory, adds that learning from other people’s talent has cemented his own path as a designer, and has helped him hone his craft.
“I've always been into design and architecture. As a child I had two posters on my wall – one of Michael Jordan and the other of Frank Lloyd Wright,” he says. “In college I studied ceramics, philosophy and information science. I'm a self-taught designer but I developed my craft by working hard alongside people who were better than me. At Adobe I designed tools for designers, at Google, my team designed experiences that helped people shop, travel and buy things. At Uber we’re designing the future of transportation across the world.”
Ethan Eismann will speak as part of Semi Permanent on the May 26.
The Semi-Permanent launch party, hosted by Siberia Records, will take place at Carriageworks from 5.30pm on May 26.