UI/UX Design Principles at a Transportation Startup & Beyond

Written by Matt Stein, Director of Product Design at Metromile

I’ve been at Metromile for about ten months now. It’s my first startup and in short I love it. Previously, I led design for the Salesforce Community Cloud and was all things AutoCAD during my time at Autodesk. The biggest thing between the two previous companies and Metromile is size and maturity. They are big goliaths! Metromile is small and nimble. I joined Metromile as employee 65. There was an existing design team doing great work and my primary goal was (and is) to elevate design at the company, incorporate strong design processes, and be the champion for the user.

In my relatively short time here we have accomplished a lot; an app redesign, refreshing our quote and enroll flow (have you got a quote yet?), new processes, visioning weeks, new state launches, and hiring hiring hiring (which deserves a blog post unto itself). It’s been an amazing whirlwind that I could not be more proud to be a part of.

Looking for a tech job near you? Check out the Tech in Motion job list.

Along the way I have learned a lot and have tons more to learn. Every day poses new and interesting challenges. Below is a little insider info into UI/UX design from me, and teaser of some of the topics we will be discussing at the panel event on Feb. 25 hosted at Metromile’s offices.

What are the three UX principles that are most important to a transportation startup? Why?

Three principles, beyond the core principles of intuitiveness, ease-of-use, and others, that we keep in mind are “Glanceable”, “Clarity”, and “D.E.F.”:

  1. Glanceable – People aren’t using our app like Facebook or Instagram. They open the app to see where there car is, view their last trip, check their fuel gauge, etc. That information needs to be at their fingertips.
  2. Clarity – Secondly, it needs to be clear. There is a lot of data about your trip. What do we show you, what do we not show you. What’s that sweet spot.  Don’t show information just because we have access to it. Less is indeed more.
  3. Delightful. Engaging. Fun.- This is kind of three in one, but how do we make using the app a delightful, engaging, and fun experience. How do we get the user to like the app so much they want to go and tell their friends. This comes down to both features in the app and how we go about design. Our street-sweeping feature is a great example. People are alerted to a possible ticket and are delighted that we have saved them money.

How do you delight and engage your users?

Taking a step back, we’re taking something like car insurance, which is typically dry, and making it fun and engaging. Our first goal is always to get you the information you need or enable you to complete a task. Many Metromile customers are actually delighted by our feature set alone. Street sweeping, which I already mentioned is a great example. The ability to see the amount of fuel left in your car is another.  Outside of specific features, the design team looks for touch points where we can add delightment and engagement. One opportunity we had with the Metromile app was our use of illustrations for empty and loading states.  These illustrations are fun, reflect our brand, and tie together the online and app experiences.

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In an exploration of our dashboard redesign, we’ve been able to do some really fun stuff that infuses our brand with your car.  If you drive a Prius, you will see your Prius in our illustrative style above your policy info. If you have a Mustang, you will see your Mustang in our illustrative style. It’s not realistic that every car will have a specific illustration, but we are hitting the most popular among our user base. We could have just had a generic car avatar and left it at that – but in user testing, the look you see on people’s faces when they see their own car pictured is just awesome (that’s the delight factor!).

What is the most recent change you have made to your design process? Why?

The team recently read a great article by Scott Hurff about designing for the whole user interaction stack – basically every state of a user’s interaction. You might be thinking, “Yes, this is obvious,” but too often anything other than the base or ideal state is overlooked. It is an afterthought for design and development. Scott goes into great detail about many examples of Partial, Empty (Blank), Error, and Loading states.

We brought this idea into our design process for a new project and changed this around a bit. We call it BLEEP, which stands for Base, Loading, Error, Empty, Partial. It guides the designer and team to think about all of these different states from the beginning. Too often everything but the Base state is overlooked or an afterthought.  This puts it in the forefront. It has also helped to develop a common language between design and development. BLEEP is just part of our product development process now. Plus the name is cool.

If you’re interested in hearing more about UX/UI Design in the Transportation Space, join me at the next Tech Talk, Feb. 25 from 6-8:30 p.m. at Metromile (690 Folsom Street). RSVP here.

Attend an event on UI design or other tech topics in a city near you.

 

MattAbout Author

Matt Stein, Director of Product Design, Metromile

Matt champions the user’s needs across mobile and web products as the Director of Design at Metromile. Before that, he was the Director of UX at Salesforce for the Community and Chatter products. Matt has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from University of California at Santa Barbara.

Product Management: Startup vs Big Company

Written by Sara Mauskopf, Director of Product at Postmates

Now that I’ve been at Postmates for almost 8 months, a lot of people have asked me the difference between Product Management at a larger company like Twitter (where I worked from July 2010 to July 2014) or Google (where I worked from 2007 to 2010) and at a startup like Postmates. I wondered this myself too before I decided to join a startup.

small vs large

So first, let me define Product Management at a larger tech company. As a Product Manager, you’re responsible for defining a roadmap for your area and ensuring that roadmap will yield the goals or objectives you set forth for your team (and these team goals should clearly map to the goals of the company). You’re responsible for ensuring the items on the roadmap are prioritized, and that there are clear product specifications for those items. Finally you work closely with the team to build, launch, collect data/feedback, and iterate. Through all phases, including planning, you’re working closely with engineering, design, and other key stakeholders across the company. And because everyone looks to you as a leader for your product area, it’s important you’re inspiring those around you to do their greatest work by setting the right context, establishing a sense of urgency, and working collaboratively.

Looking for a product or project manager role? Check out the job board to see if any positions are a good match.

As it turns out, all those fundamentals remain the same at a startup. In fact, the fundamentals are so important that having experience at a larger company as a Product Manager is one of the best forms of training for startup Product Management. But on top of all that, at a startup you have responsibilities and challenges that don’t exist at a larger company. If you’re thinking of making the transition from big company PM to startup PM, here are some things you’ll want to know.

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1. You’ll often have to do things you’ve never done before and probably suck at.

Working at a startup you quickly discover where your personal weaknesses are because on a daily basis you need to do something you’ve never done before and probably aren’t good at yet. The main way this manifests is through needing to do something that larger companies have a person or team dedicated to doing. For example, at a startup you will most certainly not have a user research team that helps you assess how your feature will be received in the market. If you want user research or early feedback on a prototype, you’ll have to find and interview users yourself. Although it can be scary to roll up your sleeves and try something you’ve never done before, it’s also the fastest way to learn how to do it. If you’re lucky, you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had!

2. You’ll need gymnast levels of flexibility.

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Imagine any company has 5 “fire drills” a quarter. In other words, an average company has 5 times per quarter when they need to react quickly to something in the market, change a plan due to unexpected data or user feedback, or get in a war room and really focus on a hard problem that hasn’t been given enough attention. At a larger company, those 5 times are spread out between a lot of people and teams so you probably experience yourself at most one per quarter. At a startup, any fire drill usually involves most of the product, design, and engineering team because the team is so small. It’s important at a startup that you can quickly tackle these fire drills, not get too thrown off course, and reprioritize your roadmap when needed. Most importantly, you need to mentally be able to deal with plans changing more frequently. It’s ok!

3. You’ll do less talking the talk, more walking the walk.

At a startup, there’s nowhere to hide. People who can step up to the plate and tackle the challenges will shine and get even more responsibility. Underperformers who can’t cut it will quickly make their way out. In addition to not needing to worry much about whether your individual performance will be recognized, if you ask any good PM at a larger company they’ll tell you they spend some percentage of their time carving out territory for their team, evangelizing the great results of their team, and other activities generally thought of as “managing up”. It’s not because large companies are full of evil political people, it’s just because when you have so many people working somewhere it’s easy to get lost in the noise if you aren’t making it clear what your team works on and the results they’ve achieved.

walk the walk

You don’t have to worry about that much at a startup. Now, I spend my time working and moving the company forward rather than evangelizing my team internally. With fewer people to communicate with, you can spend more time doing the work, which is great because there’s a lot of work to do.

Connect with companies like Postmates at Tech in Motion events – find one near you here.

sarahAbout the Author

Sara Mauskopf joined on-demand delivery company Postmates in July to build and run its Product Management team. Postmates is transforming the way local goods move around a city by connecting customers with local couriers who purchase and deliver goods from any restaurant or store in a city in minutes. Prior to Postmates, Sara was a Group Product Manager at Twitter, having joined the company in 2010. She started her career at YouTube and Google as a Partner Technology Manager (a role that’s a mix of partnerships and engineering). Sara graduated with a bachelors degree in Computer Science from MIT.

Product Design Trends: The Future

Within the tech industry, it is becoming increasingly important to broaden our skills and embrace new ones that are paving the way of our future. Product design is described as a whole process with many different factors that go into the design. From concept to completion, an idea evolves through a life cycle of UX/UI designers, graphic/visual designers, user researchers, data analysts, and prototypers to name a few. As we see day to day, current trends of messaging, virtual reality, all things “smart”, and data storage are consistently changing.

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Tech in Motion: Silicon Valley recently held a Product Design Demo at The California Art Institute in Sunnyvale. With roughly 200 tech enthusiasts in attendance for the night, the event showcased companies such as:

  • Zackees– the World’s first turn signal glove
  • FlameStower– designs/manufactures energy products and services for global markets
  • PocketLab– a wireless multi-sensor and software platform that enables anyone to engage in open ended science experiments
  • VivaLnk– developing integrated solutions with its ultra-thin and flexible eSkin™ wearable technology platform
  • Nixie– the first wearable camera that is also flyable
  • The Wearhaus Arc– Bluetooth headphones that let you wirelessly sync music with multiple people around you
  • Orion– creates communication accessories and services that connect people
  • Ministry of Supply– research-based design used to create purposeful products for a life spent in motion
  • Flashtag Photo– an interactive photo booth that automatically prints photos taken at your event when they’re tagged on Instagram or Twitter.

Sign up to attend the next drinks & demos event from Tech in Motion by finding the closest one here.

Throughout the night,Tech in Motion organizers interviewed the guests and demo companies on what some of their favorite products are, what the future holds for product design, and the hottest design trends on the market now. Here are some of their responses:

What are some of the trends in product design for 2015?

Richie Zeng, CEO/Founder of Wearhaus  

“I’m seeing a lot of connected devices and products built around connectivity with phones as the central hub.”

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Sylvia Wu, Design Lead at Orion

“Wearables that add value to people’s lives, or products that are specific for communication. Products utilizing voices are becoming popular as well because you can convey emotions through tone, for example Siri and Amazon Echo.”

Clifton Zoozeboom, CEO/Co-founder of PocketLab

“Simplicity. Everyone is following the ‘Apple Way’.”

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What makes your product stand out among competitors?

Alena Laptsinskaya, Director of Customer Relations for Zackees

“We make better quality products. We have sensors that detect ambient light so that the LED will be brighter at night. We have a feature that disconnects the light after a certain amount of time to save battery, and you can change out batteries, unlike our competitors.”

What was the story behind your product and what does the future look like for it?

Adam Kell, Founder at FlameStower

“We’re aiming to impact energy services, and we’re also currently partnering up with the Guatemalan Government as well as doing some work in Ethiopia.”

“In 3 months we will start working on emergency energy solutions. Like for earthquake kits.”

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What is your current product you are involved with and how does it play a role in consumer’s lives?

Guy Horgan, Sales consultant for Ministry of Supply

“We do ‘smart’ men’s clothing… We are looking into eyewear as well.”

“We want our customers to feel comfortable in our clothes all day. We want work life integration. Our customers can go from work, to dinner, to a movie, and then out for drinks without the need to change or any discomfort.”

Interested in participating in a Tech in Motion event? Contact your city’s team here.

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Audience favorites of the evening were Nixie, PocketLab, and VivaLnk to name a few. Be sure to keep an eye out for these companies and how they will be impacting the product world and possibly our very own lives.

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There’s an exciting lineup of events coming up for Tech in Motion in Silicon Valley this spring and summer. Join in on the next meetup by becoming a group member and see what’s on the docket for April and May.