Thanks to the fluffy pink mustache bouncing happily on its drivers’ dashboards, Lyft has always had a friendlier look that was sharply in contrast to the clubby brand aesthetic of its biggest competitor, Uber. Today, however, the mustache rides are coming to an end. Lyft is retiring its hirsute upper lip mascot in favor of something new and a tad more sophisticated, which the company hopes will become as iconic as the taxi sign.
It’s not just a sign, though. Designed by Ammunition, the prolific industrial design practice headed up by the guy who hired Apple’s Jonathan Ive, it’s a multifunctional, two-sided LED display called the Lyft Amp, and it aims to solve the biggest pain point in the ride sharing experience.
Here’s a common scenario for anyone calling a Lyft. Their car arrives, they get a message telling them which car to look for, and then they have a hard time finding it anyway–either because the car is nondescript, or because it’s busy and there are many similar cars, or even numerous Lyfts waiting for passengers at once. To use Lyft regularly, then, means accidentally climbing into the wrong car at least once by mistake.
This problem is what Ethan Eyler, head of ride experience at Lyft, calls the “pain point of the last 50 feet.” The user experience of ordering a ride through the Lyft app is smooth; there are rarely any problems when a passenger is actually in the car. It’s getting them from the app to the car that’s the problem.
Here’s where the new Amp comes in. In appearance, it’s a small pill-shaped display that sits on a driver’s dash. Like the Glowstache before it, it serves first and foremost as a way of identifying Lyft vehicles on the road, with a series of frosted LEDs on the front gently pulsing with the company’s signature magenta-and-mulberry color scheme.
But it also functions as a hardware extension of Lyft’s software. Thanks to the fact that it pairs to the app, the Amp’s front-facing display can actually change its colors to signal to a passenger their ride is here. So instead of walking outside when your Lyft arrives and looking for, say, the silver Nissan Altima, a passenger’s Lyft app will tell them to look for the car with the shining green symbol, or the blinking blue one. And if passengers see their Lyft waiting down the block or across the street from where they are, they can actually use their own smartphone to flag down the driver: Upon request, the Lyft app will turn a smartphone screen the same color as the Amp, so it can be used to signal a driver from a distance.
“The hardest thing to get right was the lighting quality,” says Christopher Kuh, VP of industrial design. “We designed the Amp so there’s a real fluidity to the lighting that gives the colors this light clouding effect.” The result is that unlike a regular set of LEDs, the Lyft amp’s light quality seems more organic. It has a dreamier, disco-like feel, says Kuh, akin to an effect you might see at an “Under The Sea”-themed homecoming dance. “We played with other ideas besides the amp,” says Kuh, like a magic wand for the antenna and an infinite mirror for the license plate holder. “But ultimately, we decided on a dashboard device, because we realized we already owned this space.”
Eyler says the Amp’s colorful LEDs will let Lyft do fun things in the future, like set off digital fireworks on the dash of every car at New Year’s, or turn it into a red, white, and blue flag on Independence day. A World’s Series win could be celebrated by having every Lyft Amp turn the color of the winning team. And inside every Lyft vehicle, the Amp serves a functional purpose as a small secondary display for drivers. It easily gives them their passenger’s name, in addition to functioning as a more ambient mood-setting display.
The goal is for every Lyft vehicle to have an Amp, unlike the less-than-ubiquitous Glowstache. “The Glowstache was an additive element to our brand,” says Eyler, acknowledging that many customers never even saw a Glowstache in real life. “This will be our icon, every car will have one.” The Amp will start rolling out to Lyft drivers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco first, with other markets getting them as soon as possible afterwards. The Glowstache might have been beloved, but it was the icon of a younger company. Lyft and Ammunition hope the Amp will serve as a more sophisticated–but no less playful–emblem, while also solving a real problem for customers.