David Lanphear

The Rideshare Life

The task was narrow: Design a life insurance product for ride share providers.

When given an objective like this, it’s most people’s general inclination to start diving into the details. Do drivers want guaranteed life, whole life, universal life, or term life? What kind of terms are they interested in – 5 year? 15 year? What kind of limits are acceptable – $10? $50? How long would they be willing to spend filling out an application? Should this protection cover them always or only while driving?

This. Is. Not. How. You. Design.

The right way to approach a topic such as this – take a step back and validate the large assumptions in language that people understand (provided the large assumptions haven’t previously been validated through similar research means). My project partner and I were fortunate to have great management who accept appropriate pushback and allowed us to explore our larger assumptions, namely:

  • Do drivers actually want life insurance?
  • Why do drivers want/have/need life insurance?
  • Is life insurance the most pressing ‘protection’ on their mind?

Pushing back a bit like this can feel uncomfortable. Why would we risk opening a can of worms instead of solving for the task at hand? Because to answer those questions, the context in which we are working, is key to fully understand those who we design for –

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.  –Eero Saarinen, Architect

Simply designing life insurance for ride share employees would not have helped us understand the drivers’ true desires and needs. So we broadened our context to understand how life insurance was viewed in the larger context of traditional benefits. You see, ride share drivers are part of a much larger trend of a growing population of 1099 workers. And exploring the needs of these 1099 drivers meant we were able to see what benefits really mattered to them – and validate or invalidate our assumption that life insurance is ultimately desirable.

We Took Rides

So we took rides. Lots and lots of rides. At first, we had a postcard-sized “ride guide” with some quick-hit questions to help us understand the driver mentality. We learned, and quickly modified our guides to be more specific around topics that seemingly mattered to the drivers.

With modifications came additional length. And back of the napkin prototypes. So we sourced individual drivers and brought them in for conversations and feedback. Everything this first week+ was sacrificial. After all, you can’t get too attached to anything at an early stage.

…And We Traveled

Exploring the ride sharing market and design for life insurance products

You can’t get new perspectives from the same old places! When it makes sense to travel and unearth insights in potentially new areas – do it!

As the heading to this post shows, our initial rides were in Boston because:
a) We’re already here!
b) It’s a major metropolitan area with major metro prices, demands, and traffic.

We also decided to take a road trip to upstate New York. We did this because we wanted to explore an area with good health, lower costs of living, and a driver pool that is relatively inexperienced (ride share services just began in NY in July).

Finally, we took a trip down south to an area with a different socioeconomic bent and lower life expectancy (remember, our primary focus is still life insurance).

…And Heard Stories

Meet Shirline, a sweet 60-something female who retired a few years ago after a long career in preschool education and daycare.  After taking care of her elderly parents a few blocks away, Shirline had flipped on the app to meet some new people and to “keep her busy.” That’s when she was matched with us.

“I just do it as a recreation. I need a little extra cash for something” Shirline explained. It turns out, that little something would turn into a birthday gift for her grandson. As it became evident her priorities were largely in helping others, we steered the conversation towards how she cares for herself. It turns out, traditional insurance such as health and life were benefits that she already had. She didn’t drive for benefits, but loved that others would be able to benefit from her driving (such as helping attain a nicer gift for her grandson).

Meet Jose. Jose is a full time hustler in the best sense of the word. He holds down five jobs as a newspaper delivery person, a non-profit worker, an Uber/Lyft driver, a personal chauffeur, and a nighttime food delivery person – all to make ends meet.

It was last year when hardship really hit him the most. While enjoying some time with friends, Jose injured his foot in a friendly soccer match. With a 12-year old daughter depending on him, he couldn’t forgo income to take time off to heal. So he continued to drive which only made matters worse.

“I was delivering for 2 weeks with my foot in the air crying. My abscess was leaking, it was about to go into my bloodstream. I had no insurance” Jose told us. Luckily, a sponsor organization paid the $60k medical bill and Jose was able to get the surgery he needed. But Jose still felt the sting from missing a few weeks worth of work.

…And Backed The Stories Up With Metrics

While hearing stories as qualitative points of inspiration and direction was hugely inspirational, we also took many more rides where we recorded responses in a quantitative way.

Qualitative data – whether through third party research or your own – is instrumental in making a well-rounded case for a product design decision. Design isn’t just about the art of the process, it’s also about the business fundamentals that will contribute to making a well-designed product a success.

In this case, we played 3 separate card sorting games with ride share drivers in exchange for tips. Most drivers were happy to play along, while only a few felt a little uneasy. Not everyone is willing to play, but when they are, huge value can be created…

…And So We Co-Created

After hearing stories, collecting data, and showing off some low-fidelity prototypes we were in a groove. We shared our preliminary findings with internal stakeholders and they helped us to understand particulars of certain products, offerings, and internal mechanisms of certain benefits. Armed with this knowledge, we dug in and used a Whine & Dine format (similar to a casual focus group) to validate our findings and to run a co-creation session!

The group helped us to re-imagine a protection that secures their abilities to drive now, while adding on what people in the biz call a “rider” for additional benefits – such as life insurance. They helped us disprove certain assumptions (drivers actually don’t want to put coverage on hold during low-income months) while building a product unique to their actual needs and viable as a new product offering for the business.

Without first securing the ride share drivers’ abilities, they were less likely to want or need additional coverages. Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, we found that we first must enable their present before they could look forward to protecting their future. And with that, our new insurance product was designed.

As the research & preliminary design portion of this project has recently wrapped up – I cannot share what the final insights and outcomes are. All I can say is that I am very excited about the results of this research and this will not be the last you see from the Liberty ride share design team. 🙂


  • Liberty Mutual Benefits

  • December 28, 2017

Tasked with figuring out a desirable life insurance package for sharing economy drivers, me and my small team set out to understand what it meant to feel protected while on the road.