Design as a profession is a relatively new animal for the freight industry, which has focused on assets and operations, less so on how a given TMS might look, function and respond to a range of users.
Part of the professional challenge has been geographical, Andrew Berberick, co-founder of Baton, a freight-tech company based in San Francisco, speculated to FreightWaves.
The best freight talent is in places like Chicago, Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee, said Berberick, whose website features catchy modern graphics of moving trucks. “But that has not overlapped with where the best design talent is,” he said.
Instead, the user experience profession has been concentrated in Silicon Valley and software-as-a-service companies.
But that might “dramatically change,” said Berberick, as the logistics industry itself undergoes massive disruption. With new technology adoption and the enormous influx in venture capital investment, designing freight technology products is getting more attention.
To discuss the state of the profession, FreightWaves caught up with Suzanne Ginsburg, Uber Fright’s new head of design and research.
A former design team lead at Yahoo! and Flexport, Ginsburg talked about integrating logistics operations into the design process, designing for shippers vs. consumers, and why the job of designing for freight-tech beats that of designing for social networks. (Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Where does logistics software design fit into user experience design?
Ginsburg: “Unlike the consumer, there isn’t a playbook for designing great logistics experiences, and that’s why design and research are so important. Whereas consumers have a great mental model for how an inbox works for email, a shopping cart, it doesn’t really exist in the logistics space.”
“If you are going to design something at Facebook, you’re really moving deck chairs around. With logistics, because it’s still such an open space, there is an opportunity to innovate and do a lot of interesting work.”
Q: For example? How do you leverage design to solve shipper pain points?
Ginsburg: “When you’re designing for a consumer, for email, it’s all about the software. Whereas what makes it so challenging in logistics is yes, you have the software and it could be mobile, desktop. But no matter how great automation is, no matter how great technology is, there is always something that could go wrong. So it always has to be complemented by an operations team.
“Then there is the real world: the road, the trucks and so many things beyond their control. You can’t control the weather, but how can you provide transparency to your customers and tools to alleviate any issues, pain points that might arise from lack of control? That is an ongoing challenge for designing for this space.”
Q: Walk us through your process.
Ginsburg: “Before we build out an experience, we typically do generative research like diary studies showing what’s happening in the shipper’s day. When you do research, you want to get a good sense of how things are working for individuals, and diary studies are really helpful.
“This is particularly important when thinking about technology adoption, which is an issue on the carrier side with the aging driver population – you need to understand users’ days to build the best and easiest to use tech for them.
“Once we have the generative research, we often do journey mapping — mapping out a typical day, typical shipments, pain points, and then we derive insights from research and use that for ideation. Once we have ideas, we’ll bring them back to users and see if we got it right and if we need to iterate more.
“All this is to say because there aren’t clear mental models we can leverage, the research is really important to inspire new ideas. We don’t want to replicate technologies of the past.”
Q: How do you manage data flows so shippers aren’t overloaded with information?
Ginsburg: “Shippers want to get updates on the progress of their shipment. They want to have peace of mind that things are going smoothly. However, they don’t want to be sitting in front of their computer reloading for updates.
“So something we’ve tried to do is be more proactive on updates. The question is how frequently and what is the right channel. Otherwise it’s a firehose. Customers don’t want to have to sift through data to find what is most important, so we have to curate that data, what’s going to be most relevant for their business.
“Some days, a good experience is that they don’t hear anything from us, but when things go off track, they want more updates because there’s a bigger cost. It’s a combination of curation and personalization, and it will never be a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Q: How is design handled across the Uber network?
Ginsburg: “We have a design system at Uber more broadly, and we at Uber Freight, at ATG and Uber Eats all leverage the system. But there are different use cases when you look across the ecosystem.
“Uber the rider experience is almost entirely mobile, whereas for logistics, while the drivers are using mobile, dispatchers are using a desktop experience. And when you look at other personas, on operations and shippers, they’re mostly sitting at their desk, working out of a browser. So the form factor is quite different.
“Another aspect is data. When a driver is picking you up from your home, it’s about getting from point A to point B. But when you’re moving a shipment, there could be a lot more complexity in terms of milestones and updates. There’s a greater expectation when your business is on the line.”
Q: How would you describe the status of the freight-tech user design profession?
Ginsburg: “It’s in a very foundational state today. We’re trying to get data in the system, digitize workflows in the past that were offline. We’re streamlining, making things more efficient, and discovering how to create better user experiences through our design research.
“The next stage will be providing more contextual, more anticipatory experiences. There’s an opportunity to be more strategic in the future, especially once the whole experience of booking and moving freight is reflected digitally in a way that makes things more efficient for users.”
Q: What do you look for in a new hire?
“When I’m recruiting designers, the ones who like complexity and like the fact that it’s undefined — when there’s that hunger to really tackle this space — that’s when I know it’s a great fit.”