Being a designer isn’t limited to working in the arts – anytime we create with intention, we’re designing.
Design isn’t usually the first thing people think about when it comes to running a successful business. But it actually plays a large part in organizational activities, such as crafting teams, creating processes, and solving problems.
Our interview with Katie Dill, Vice President of Design at Lyft, shares how companies can use design to achieve success, tips on getting inspiration, ideas for overcoming blocks, and more.
Katie, where did it all begin?
I grew and went to school in New York. At the time, product design wasn’t a thing anyone talked about – it was pretty much only interior design or fashion design.
I graduated college and moved to Boston. I thought I wanted to be an architect and was trying to figure out how to get into the field. A friend of mine had an idea of making this shopping cart video, which I know has become kind of famous in the design world. I watched it and fell in love with this idea of product design.
I started calling product designers to learn more and realized that it was a dream job. I actually applied to one school that I was smitten with – Art Center College of Design. It’s amazing they let me in – I didn’t know how to draw. I studied industrial design and it changed my life.
What’s your current design role at Lyft like?
I lead a multifunctional design team. Our Design Organization is comprised of four functions: design, research, operations, and writing. Most designers on the team do both interaction and visual design and own their work end to end. In addition, we also have a talented group of system designers, illustrators, 3D designers, and animators. Our research team knows our community better than anyone and helps to ensure we’re building things that meet their greatest needs. The operations group, including Design Producers, help to organize the work. And the writers ensure our product communicates clearly and effectively.
How is Lyft a design-focused company?
Lyft was built by individuals who believe that user experience is a key part of a great business. I think there’s a danger when we think that design is something owned solely by designers. From the get-go, our founders prioritized user experience and have worked to make our products based on the needs of our passengers and drivers. Putting the user experience at the front and center of everything we do was embedded in our values from the beginning.
What’s your process for making a design-related change?
Research! We look at research as being the cornerstone of all of our decisions and we use different types of research at different stages. Before we even set out, we ask “What problems should we solve?” “What are we hearing from our passengers and drivers?” “What ideas have we heard?” Once we dig into that, we’ll start pen to paper to come up with some hypotheses about how we can make lives better.
We’ll put those ideas in front of different passengers and drivers to get their reactions and then we’ll improve the design based on that. Lastly, when it’s shipped out to the world, we’ll go back and see if people are using the product as intended or if there are ways that we can improve it.
Tell me about your creative space.
Because of my role in leading a large team, I spend a fair amount of my day connecting with different team members. When I do sit down to get to work, I have a desk in our design studio. It has wall-to-wall whiteboards, bright lights, and a clean open space where ideas are meant to flow.
Otherwise, a lot of my thinking work happens at home. I live in the Presidio in San Francisco and am surrounded by trees. That always brings a moment of Zen where creativity has an opportunity to come out.
Are there any specific things that you do to get inspiration?
I’m a big fan of designing your process. For example, think about what do you want to get to? What does success look like? And then work backwards from that, thinking about what steps you would need to include and where you can interject learning and inspiration. I think bringing in team members that have different points of view or exposure to something different is a really great place to start.
I also really like “trend scraping.” So before setting out to do work, I take a look at competitors, but more importantly, at analogous, but related product offerings. For example, at Lyft, we aim to provide great hospitality. Though we’re rideshare – it’s really about the hospitality. So we look at companies that excel in this. They might not be in our space, but they’re inspirational in different ways.
How do you overcome designer’s block?
We take in so much information every day that it can be very difficult to quiet our minds down and focus in on something. So I try to look at it as “sit down, focus.” If you are losing focus don’t give up too quickly – I think there’s some risk there. One thing that I love doing is the “Pomodoro technique.” Basically, you set a timer for 20 minutes and tell yourself, “Don’t look at anything. Don’t open emails, don’t open text, don’t check Instagram. Just focus for 20 minutes.”
What’s great is that it’s short enough to where you’re not worried that there might be something else you’re missing. But it’s long enough that you can get yourself into some sort of focus area and perhaps flow will come out of that. But if 20 minutes comes around and you’re still stuck, then it’s time to get up, walk around, go look at some inspiration and then sit back down and set your timer again and give it a try.
What’s one expertly designed product that you’re obsessed with?
Apple Airpods! I love them. They’re a great example of well thought out product. They got all the details right by thinking through how it feels, how it sounds when it clicks shut, how it pairs with your device, how it stops the music when you remove it from your ears. It’s magical in the way it requires so little thought but instead works naturally in your life.
When it’s all over, how do you want to be remembered?
As someone who helped people with their careers.