Uber Freight + EDI

Innovating within the freight industry



Project Focus


The freight industry can often be overlooked as a place for innovation due to its set ways and old school attitude.  However, Uber Freight is interested in bringing technological innovation into the freight industry to positively improve the lives of truckers, carriers, and people working at facilities.  To help discover and explore various opportunity areas Uber Freight partnered with several of Northwestern’s Engineering Design Innovation master’s students in Spring 2018.  I had the opportunity to work on the project as part of a pair tasked with exploring potential opportunities within small facilities (facilities that accept  less than 10 loads per day).  The project is under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), resulting in the exclusion of several details of project documentation within my portfolio.  

Intended Users

For this project, my pair and I focused on balancing the needs of truck drivers, Uber Freight, and people working at facilities, specifically people who unload truck trailers at small facilities.


My Role

  • Interviewer
  • Observer
  • Note Taker
  • Presenter

Key Skills

  • Design Research
  • Synthesis
  • Storytelling

Key Tools

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Google Suite


As a final deliverable, my pair partner and I presented three different potential directions that Uber Freight could pursue within a general opportunity space focused upon trust and transparency.  These potential directions were expanded upon through explanations of our research as well as analogous examples that helped describe the directions.


Primary Research Exploration

To start off with, my pair partner and I conducted in-context interviews, phone interviews, observations, and sent out a survey.  The purpose of this initial research was to explore the freight industry and understand the various moving pieces of the freight industry, with the hopes of picking up some of the lingo along the way.  

Through this exploration, my pair partner and I spoke with the following people:

  • 4 Uber Freight Employees
  • 4 Drivers
  • 7 People who work at facilities

We were fortunate to have an Uber Freight contact person that connected us to people inside Uber Freight and a driver, which allowed us to begin to understand the brokerage and driver perspectives within the freight industry; however, we ran into issues when trying to connect with facilities. We received a list of facilities from Uber Freight and found facilities through researching online, yet it was difficult for us gain the trust of facilities, mainly because we found that many facilities regard their freight industry process as a trade secret that must be protected to remain competitive within the freight industry.

Thus, we tried arriving at local small facilities with the hopes of gaining their trust in person as well as observing what happens at a facility inside and outside. In several instances this technique worked. We were able to interview people who worked at facilities and spend some time experiencing what life is like inside of a facility.

Visiting facilities to observe and interview people working at facilities

Visiting facilities to observe and interview people working at facilities

Additionally, one of the other student pairs established a connection to a facility out of town and they invited us to join on extended facility visit.  I was able to join the group heading to the facility and had the opportunity to observe and ask questions at a large facility that received several different kinds of loads and operated within a unique business space.


We then utilized the information we gathered and learned through our research to try and create frameworks that helped synthesize our research and provide potential opportunity areas to further explore.


Stakeholder map prototyping to try and gain a better understanding of the key people involved in the freight industry

Ecology map prototyping to try and gain a better understanding of the interactions between stakeholders

Journey map and emotional map prototyping to try and better understand what drivers are feeling during specific moments


While my pair partner and I felt blessed by the research opportunities presented to us and created by us, we felt that we were still missing pieces and perspectives of the freight industry and turned towards secondary sources as a way of continuing to discover various areas of the freight industry.


Secondary Research

Given drivers’ busy schedules and inconsistent hours, we found it difficult to fully connect with drivers in the freight industry.  Thus, my pair partner and I turned to secondary research to help us better understand truck driver’s perspectives.


We joined several trucker Facebook groups, examined forums like Reddit and The Truckers Report, and read many blogs created by truckers.  While searching the various rabbit holes of the web, we stumbled upon a trucker podcast that happened to be live at the time of our research.  Spurred on by curiosity, my pair partner and I called into the podcast to ask several questions of the host of the podcast as well as their friends that joined the call.  Through this interaction we were able to find an additional way to connect with truck drivers that allowed us to further understand their perspective and ask specific questions.

We arranged trucker’s screenshots on a board and grouped and connected the information we collected.

While we examined secondary sources, we captured notable and interesting screen shots, specifically focusing on information that we hadn’t previously heard or discovered.  After completing our initial explorations, my pair partner and I printed off all of the captures and began to group and regroup the captures to try and identify patterns and connections between truck driver’s thoughts.

This process allowed us to better understand truck driver’s perspectives, specifically their pain points, as well as gain a greater understanding of problems that can arise during facility interactions.  We were able to identify roughly 11 areas of interest, which we then utilized to form initial insight coupled with our primary research findings.  


Midpoint Presentation

From our research exploration stage, my pair partner and I presented three different opportunity directions, supported by our initial research and three “how might we” statements. This information was shared in a gallery style format, where we were able to interact directly with a variety of Uber Freight employees through answering any questions they had and receiving feedback on our work.  From these conversations, Uber Freight explained which opportunity direction they were interested in and helped shape our work for the next portion of the course.

Below are several boards that we constructed and utilized to help communicate our research and potential opportunity directions.


Research Deep Dive

After understanding the direction that Uber Freight wanted us to pursue, my pair partner and I contacted additional people within the freight industry to try to gain a better understanding of the opportunity space.  In the two weeks between our midpoint presentation and final presentation, my pair partner and I spoke to three more truck drivers and three different people who worked at facilities.  Additionally, we had the opportunity to visit a facility and conduct observations focused on our specific opportunity area.


Final Presentation

We then utilized the findings synthesized from our research deep dive to better understand the opportunity area.  To help fully explain our story and directions we met with one of our professors, Antonio Garcia, who helped us refine a factual, actionable, and empathetic story that we were then able to present to Uber Freight.

The below photos display my pair partner and I working with Professor Garcia to continue to refine our story. 


Presenting at Uber Freight

Based off of our work, we presented three different possible direction that Uber Freight could pursue in the future.  These directions leveraged the capabilities and strengths of Uber Freight to address pain points that can arise for drivers and people at facilities during the time spent at facilities.  Overall, Uber Freight was please with the work that we presented. I enjoyed the partnership we shared with Uber Freight as well as the unique project that we had the opportunity to work on.



I’d like the thank my teammate David Jacob for all of his hard work on this project and continual curiosity when exploring the freight industry.

I would also like to thank our professors Jim Wicks and Amy O’Keefe for their continual leadership and support throughout the entire process as well as our teaching assistant Nicholas Phillips.

Lastly, I would like to thank my specific point of contact at Uber Freight, David LeDonne.  He helped David and I continually through out the project, was always ready to answer our questions, and truly helped us explore the freight industry.

Working with Uber Freight was a wonderful opportunity and I’m glad I had the chance to explore a new industry and continue to refine my design research and synthesis skills.