Uber Design: 77 Things

A design-forward, aesthetic exploration of some core principles of design.

Alongside the 2018 rebrand, Uber published “77 Things”, a book written by Uber’s Head of Design, Michael Gough, with 77 design principles for those who design at Uber.

The design of the book was inspired directly by its content.

Meeting warm up

77 Things

01. Great design happens in the open.

We say you have “24 hours to post,” because when your work is in the open it invites collaboration, and everyone benefits. Consider it design by osmosis. Your work gets better when everyone can share their perspective and learn yours. Design can and should reach far beyond the design studio to every part of the company, from the C-suite to people deep in the field.

02. Really great design happens out in the world.

Being open and collaborative means including our customers early and often. Design starts with real-world inspiration. Learn what others think—then adjust, refine, and apply what you’ve learned.

03. Say we not me.

There’s almost nothing we can accomplish without a large and diverse team of motivated individuals. This isn’t an abdication of individual responsibility, but an assertion of collective empowerment. A penchant for claiming credit, for defending territory, for asserting individual goals over group accomplishments, fights against what we’re all trying to achieve.

04. The person sitting next to you solved that problem last week.

We solve the same hundred problems over and over again. Collaborate. Communicate. Ask. Tell. If people know what you’re working on, they can share solutions to problems they’ve already faced. Quick execution on the repetitive stuff frees you to do higher-impact work.

05. Everyone is creative.

We’re all born creative. It just gets trained out of us. At some point we lose the sense of freedom that supports creativity. Stimulate a creative mindset in yourself and the people around you.

06. Everyone is a researcher.

Your customer doesn’t sit behind a desk in an office building every day: neither should you. Go outside. Stay inquisitive. Be empathetic. Your own perspective is valuable, but don’t assume you know it all. Walk (or drive) a mile in someone else’s shoes. Practice looking at the world through another person’s eyes.

07. Don’t just know the customer. When you have the opportunity, be the customer.

Learn about food delivery, and then get in a restaurant’s kitchen. Build for safe driving, and then take your creation for a spin. Whatever you’re pursuing, push yourself to try it.

08. Create constellations, not stars.

We have amazing ideas and the prowess to launch them. But unless our ideas fit with others, they get lost in the night. Understand how your objectives and executions connect with those of others, and give people reasons to notice them again and again.

09. We can be Uber’s moral compass.

We can’t just do things the right way, we need to do the right things. The work we do has dramatic personal and social impacts—we need to consider those impacts as we create and take responsibility for outcomes. Look for opportunities to do the greatest good. Act responsibly.

10. Read between the lines.

Understanding comes when you get beyond what’s said and into what’s implied. It’s the only difference between hearing and actually listening. Most of what you need to know is buried beneath the words, in the customer’s actions and desires.

11. Difference isn’t a goal. Better is.

True progress implies improving something, not merely making it different. We don’t ever want to equate novelty with greatness. Originality is overrated.

12. Let the work change you.

What you bring to the game is important, but what the game brings to you is what makes the real difference. Be open to learning. Be open to growth. Be open to change, because change is the only constant. Be confident in what you know as well as what you don’t.

13. Experience everything.

Precise design requires imprecise inputs. Read, draw, write, get your hands dirty. Regardless of your background, maintain an interest in the craft of design. Practice photography. Admire industrial design. Observe architecture. Design a costume. Bake a cake (and bring it into the office to share, please).

14. We have eyes and ears in the field. Leverage them. Consider their needs.

Our operations teams are some of our greatest assets. They’re on the ground in every part of the world and stay close to our customers. Leverage what they know and what they can learn for you. Work hard to make their work easier, and they’ll do the same for you.

15. Think and design for the whole world.

Human needs are fundamental, but they can vary. Understand what you don’t understand about the needs of other locations and other cultures. Many parts of the world lack things we take for granted: connectivity, free data, high-end phones. Cultural differences drive things as simple as what looks good, what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and as complex as how people engage with technology and other people. Understand these differences and adjust your approach.

16. Embrace diversity.

Exclusion is created by our own biases. We can reduce the negative impact of those biases by working in diverse teams that provide different perspectives on culture, emotion, gender, and thought. It’s not only good practice, it’s good business.

17. Get to the middle from the edges.

The roads less taken. The broken journeys. Foreign languages, technological variances, and people who are excluded for any reason. When we start by solving deeply for “edge cases,” the middle will often take care of itself.

18. Just start making.

As important as it is to be thoughtful, long periods of contemplation and analysis don’t benefit from your design skills. Dive in. It’s the activity of creating things (and analyzing the data it generates) that leads to solutions. Rapid creation and refinement also keep you open to change and less attached to specific iterations of the ultimate solution. Make it (and post it), and it will tell you what it wants to become.

19. We’re all “peers before the object.”

We hold the quality of the work above the roles of the people contributing to it. Separate your sense of self from the things you work on. Be vulnerable, not arrogant. Don’t take criticism of the work personally. Don’t close yourself off to possibilities. Don’t close others off from you. Everyone does better work when they’re focused on the work.

20. Uber is a verb. Uber is a noun.

When you create a category, you often have the privilege of naming it—“Ubering,” “Taking an Uber”—with all the opportunities and responsibilities that this implies. We are the category leader. We set the tone for every other participant in the industry. We must balance the desire to own our brand with the fact that it means so much more.

21. The experience goes way beyond the screen.

We need to take responsibility for the whole journey, not just the relationship between customer and screen. This means understanding how the digital interactions we encourage affect physical relationships and interactions beyond the device.

22. Every screen has a focus.

There may be many things that a customer can accomplish on any screen, but especially in mobile, determine the one thing that a screen should direct the customer toward. Design primarily for that. But remember there’s a hierarchy that connects the screen that came before it and the screen after.

23. Create stories, not interfaces.

The experience you’re facilitating is a story, written in text and screens and taps and clicks and swipes. What’s the story you’re telling, start to finish? Make sure that every paragraph and page, every button and screen, come together in support of the story the application or service needs to tell.

24. The work should speak for itself.

You’ll always need to explain the rationale behind your work to your peers, but you should never rely on this explanation to “sell” the customer. They won’t have your slide deck or your dulcet tones. They only have what you made, and that should be all they need.

25. Every application and service has a soul.

Find the epicenter of the experience you’re creating. In architecture they call it the parti, the central idea or concept that informs the design. It’s the “embedded sensibility that infuses the whole.” Take responsibility for creating and nurturing the soul of your application, especially as it goes through the awkward process of becoming real.

26. Stay human-centered, not screen-focused.

People want to interact with people, not screens. And they don’t want to interact any more than needed to accomplish their tasks. Because our experiences are directly connected to events that happen in the real world, we need to focus on people and what they want to accomplish.

27. Be your own best critic.

If in two years’ time you look back upon your work and you can’t find anything to change, you’re either not growing or you’re not looking hard enough (or both).

28. Take pride in every act of design.

Every artifact you create represents your beliefs about the importance of design and craft. From your visuals and writing and research to the documents used to communicate them, and ultimately to the final shipping product, make it pixel-perfect. Our customers’ perceptions of quality are informed by more than just the functional and performative qualities of our applications.

29. Make use of what already exists.

Pablo Picasso is known for saying, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” (In fact, Steve Jobs stole this quote from T. S. Eliot, improved it, and made up the Picasso attribution.) Always remember that creating something great starts with appreciating what’s come before it. Innovate judiciously, and when you do, understand that your responsibility to the system is as great as your responsibility to the feature you’re currently focused on.

30. Much of your success is determined by your context.

So, if you need to, change the context. In other words, if you have to redesign your relationship to the team, alter the goals, change the rules, or otherwise adjust the world around you to ensure success, start there. Design is a process that encompasses so much more than manipulating pixels.

31. Trust your instincts.

You’re born with a talent for learning. You’d be amazed by how much you already know and how much you have already internalized. Trust yourself, but then verify your intuition. Bolster your instincts with research and testing.

32. Interactions are relationships

We want the same thing from our interactions with technology that we want from our relationships with people. Apps should understand our desires. Anticipate our needs. Foresee consequences. Be considerate. Make connections. Handle routine chores without asking. Remind us when we need reminding. Filter out the noise. Value our time. Reward loyalty. Be there for us in the tough times. How hard can it be?

33. First impressions shape our experiences.

The entrance to a building. The opening paragraph of an essay. The first date. Your initial impression of an application influences how you think about the entire experience. It can do a lot of damage or a lot of good.

34. Evangelize research and design.

Not everyone is a designer, but design is valuable to everyone. Not everyone is a researcher, but research is valuable to everyone. Educate those who don’t understand our techniques and perspective. Make your work as inclusive as possible. Use your work as an input, not just an output. It will make others more likely to accept your point of view and learn more.

35. Know the grid. Use the grid.

Applications are an assembly of grids (the layout) and components (the functionality). This is a function of the technology we use to build them. When we create and adhere to a simple, understandable grid structure, we simplify development and generate cleaner experiences for our customers.

36. Motion should carry meaning.

How and when things move, and what their movements reveal, are powerful aids to using an application. But motion overused becomes a liability. Be clear about your intent and judicious in your use. Choreograph your experiences with harmony, hierarchy, and focus.

37. Logic shouldn’t trump emotion at the experience level.

A customer’s relationship with an application or service is as much emotional as logical. When you’re trudging through the inevitable analytical processes that dominate technical creations, don’t lose sight of how design makes you feel. There will be plenty of people focused on the technology. Your job is to stay focused on how humans will engage with it.

38. Think of products as services.

It’s not about what we’re building. It’s about why. Focus not on the product itself, but rather on the service it’s providing. That’s when your efforts shift to improving the lives of people who rely on us.

39. Be T-shaped.

You can go deep in one or more areas—like motion or visual, long-form or headlines, field research or surveying—but make sure to broaden your experience. Build facility with many tools and become adept at understanding a diversity of design and research tasks. The world needs versatility, even in its specialists.

40. Design thrives in constraints.

Technical and resource constraints are excellent catalysts for innovation. Know the constraints (your engineering and PM counterparts will be thrilled), and remember that it’s impossible to think outside the box if you have no box to begin with.

41. Go for tangents.

Avoid non sequiturs. Slip into adjacent cracks. If your solution isn’t connected to anything anybody else is thinking or doing, then it’s probably better off as your next startup.

42. Create hierarchically.

When everything is important, nothing is important. Create clear focus on the task at hand, emphasize what’s most important, and reduce clutter.

43. We have a culture of making.

Whatever your responsibilities, invest time in making. We all need to judge our work on what actually gets made. The more you engage in making, the more you’ll bring to the process and the team. If you’re a designer, write some code. If you’re a writer, draw some layouts. If you’re a researcher, propose design changes.

44. Your first responsibility is to the whole.

The application, service, or feature you’re working on is important, but the collective qualities of all Uber experiences are much more important. We have to move from focusing on parts or features or even applications to looking critically at our entire ecosystem. This is the only way customers engage with the things we make.

45. Create futures, not features.

Build something people want to be a part of, not just something people want to use. They’ll be more understanding of where you are as long as they know where you’re going. This experience should be holistic and complete, not episodic or feature-based.

46. If you don’t draw, you can’t think.

You can be creative without drawing, but drawing is important, especially when doing creative work. It unlocks and it unblocks. It helps you see laterally. Pictures operate differently than words. Everyone should draw.

47. Interfaces are compromises.

Every interface element, no matter how successfully implemented, is as much a barrier (between the user and the thing to be used) as an aid. Minimize barriers. Use direct manipulation whenever possible. When you have to add something, first see what you can remove.

48. There isn’t enough contrast.

Unless it can be changed in a preferences setting, whatever looks good to you is not going to have enough contrast for many of our customers.

49. Tools are meant to be improved.

If your method or tool isn’t helping you gather the right data, tell the right story, or create an amazing design, innovate on that method or tool. Take the time to invent a better way to work.

50. Don’t be afraid to disagree.

The more lofty their title, the further the individual is from the day-to-day reality of the product you’re working on. You are closest to the work. If you have an alternative point of view—an informed, considered POV—it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re heard. It might not change anything, but it might provide an insight others weren’t considering.

51. Understand type and how to use it.

Typography is fundamental to visual communication. A deep understanding of type, and of the rules of typography, will improve your design sensibilities (even when your designs are type-free).

52. The text is too small.

Unless it can be changed in a preferences setting, what looks good to you is going to be too small for many of our customers. They may not have your eyesight, and most of them won’t be sitting in front of a large display.

53. It’s really about what the type says.

Every string must say something essential. Communication is about what’s conveyed, not just what’s spoken.

54. Leverage the power of naiveté.

Become an expert at knowing nothing. Sometimes all the skills you have and all the information you know are the biggest things holding you back. It’s only when you ask difficult questions and open yourself to new possibilities that creativity flourishes. Be simultaneously humble and proud.

55. A great product is often the result of what was removed.

More features don’t equal better experiences. Look for opportunities to remove. There will be plenty of others trying to add. The idea you’re most obsessed with is probably standing in the way of creating something better. Let it go.

56. Connect with your crazy.

Your rational self is necessary, but your crazy self is inspired. Find ways to stay connected with your crazy.

57. Your actions cause reactions.

The real-world impacts of all our products include different levels of perceived and real risk. For every feature, ask if it compromises comfort, safety, or security.

58. Visualize successful outcomes in detail.

Making something appear real has benefits. It can rally people around the idea. It can help you do a “taste test.” And it can also convince you that the idea is weak and not worth investing in.

59. Divergent thinking isn’t as valuable as convergent thinking.

The desire to be different is a negative impulse. Creativity is a positive activity. Celebrate what exists. Learn from it. Refine it and make it amazing.

60. Ideas are easy.

Your defenses should go up the second you hear someone say, “I have a great idea.” Execution is what matters. What can you do to advance the idea? How motivated are you to go through the hell of making it real?

61. Build trust.

Our customers aren’t merely data or potential transactions. They’re real people with real lives, needs, and expectations. Remember that it’s easy to lose trust, and it’s hard to earn it back. Build trust with every interaction.

62. Design for uncertainty.

There’s nothing worse than uncertainty. Our storylines include points of uncertainty and friction, in-between moments that degrade the overall quality of our experiences. Look for opportunities to reduce these gaps and provide reassurance where they exist.

63. Change starts with a great story.

Stories are the best way to teach, inspire, persuade, and understand. Powerful stories grounded in real experiences are magnetic motivators. Shared stories are at the heart of positive changes in corporations and cultures. Find your collective story and tell it.

64. This is an art, not a science.

Data is useful, but only when you ask the right questions and draw the right conclusions from it. Deductive and inductive reasoning are great starts, but abductive reasoning is what creative thinking is all about. Imagine worthwhile outcomes and then look for reasons why they’re logical. Draw insights from your data, not conclusions.

65. There’s no substitute for passion.

Become the superuser, the product champion, and the rallying point for the team. Find the motivation in yourself. Bring passion to the work—it’s infectious.

66. Emphasize the “viable” in MVP.

People talk a lot about the MVP as if it’s the thing we’re all focused on. But it can’t just be minimal, it must also be viable: robust enough to sustain its own life. Create that 1.0 with a firm vision for version 10. But create a 1.0 that will thrive.

67. Great design feels inevitable.

Your design doesn’t need to be surprising. More often than not, your design should simply complement existing behavior, existing wants, or existing needs in the most elegant way possible. One step at a time. Don’t be fooled by the gleam of originality.

68. Everything is a conversation.

Every interaction should be conceived of as a conversation. This framing is particularly useful as voice and chat interfaces begin to dominate interactions. As the technology improves, the interaction becomes increasingly human and natural. It’s the future. We need to build for it. And our customers should feel they’re in control of that conversation.

69. The environment is our biggest user.

Every design decision we make at Uber affects the world around us. Be considerate of our environment. Look for opportunities to increase not only the sustainability of our business, but also the sustainability of our planet.

70. Connect humans, facilitate relationships, engender respect.

We design connections. Like matchmakers or party planners, we do everything to forge relationships that are positive, fruitful, and beyond expectations. We may enable all of this with technology, but the interactions that matter most are all human.

71. Give people superpowers.

Use technology to liberate people from mundane, repetitive tasks. Design force multipliers for empathy, surprise, and delight that can help us earn customer love. Create catalysts for self-actualization.

72. Design for people in motion.

Understand the ergonomics of operating hands-free or at arm’s length. Go beyond visual affordances to build interactions that use sound, voice, and haptics to help our users to focus on the world around them.

73. The best way to advance your career is to work.

We place value on things that are real. The more you create, the more your contribution will be valued. If the work is there, the recognition will follow.

74. Don’t demand attention and don’t distract.

Our applications and services are primarily experienced in places where we shouldn’t be the center of attention. Whether our customers are walking or riding, make sure that their primary focus stays where it belongs: on the physical world around them.

75. We make to learn.

Design is a process of discovery. Don’t just tell the designer or developer what to make. Use design as the center of your process to discover what to make, and how to make it together.

76. Your work is the best part of someone else’s day.

Creativity is substantially enhanced in an environment of open engagement. This may be hard work, but at its best it’s intellectually stimulating, collaborative, and focused on not just the functional and performative aspects of applications, but on joy of use. Leave angst to artists. Share the joy. Design should be fun.

77. Recognize patterns. Create patterns.

Pattern recognition is an essential skill for creators. See the patterns in user behavior and how to change them. Understand the implicit patterns of use, layout, and function in your work. Then, make them explicit.

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