When you’re scaling a team the only constant is change. – Katie Dill, VP of Design at Lyft.Featured

Hi Elpha!I'm Katie Dill, VP of Design at Lyft, where I lead a team of digital designers, service designers, industrial designers, illustrators, animators, writers, researchers and producers to make transportation efficient, safe and joyful. Before joining Lyft in 2017, I led Experience Design at Airbnb for 3 years, where I grew the team from 10 to 100, and established studios in Beijing, Seattle and Portland. I oversaw Airbnb's trust and payments platform, design system, and service experience. Prior to that, I was a Creative Director at Frog Design in San Francisco. I came to design in a roundabout way. In college, I studied history and discovered my love for architecture during a semester abroad in Florence. When I thought I wanted to be an architect, I came across a video about how IDEO redesigned the shopping cart in 5 days. I started calling product designers to learn more and realized that it was my dream job. So I applied to Art Center College of Design to study industrial design. Ask me about managing and leading a diverse team, scaling your organization, designing great experiences online and offline, overcoming creative blocks, or something else!
Thank you, Katie, for joining us this week! Katie will be answering your questions on Friday. Note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
Thanks for having me on! Excited to be a part of this great community!
Hi Katie!Really love your career path the first time I heard you talk about it on a podcast. Just have one question: What can you give as an advice to product and UX designers now in 2019 in terms of designing their careers? In a way that they are prepared for the next few decades and how do you jump from one industry to another (ex from entertainment to transportation or fintech) in the best, most efficient way possible? Thank you! -nikki
Thanks for the kind words and your question, Nikki. Couple of things regarding designing your careers….1. Listen for the knock of opportunity - I got my first interview at Airbnb b/c Joe Gebbia saw me speak at an event and liked what I had to say. I almost didn’t go to that event b/c I was letting my imposter syndrome get to me. Luckily, I ended up convincing myself I should do the talk. I listened to that knock of opportunity and ended up being in the right place at the right time. Or as some say “luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” So long story short, put yourself out there where opportunity can find you! 2. Browse around - Meet people with different jobs, learn about their work and what their typical day is like. Maybe even shadow some people or take an extra class in something different. If you’re not sure what you love and what you want to be spending your time doing, take the time to explore! 3. Remember that a career is a composition of things - While it’s super valuable to have a sense of where you want to be in the long run, I wouldn’t over-engineer your career choices. Nothing is permanent and frankly each step in your career contributes to the well rounded professional you will become. Look at each gig as a stepping stone. 4. Think about pivots - This is especially the case for those jumping from one career to the next. To get your foot in the door, you’re going to need to show how you provide value in at least one skill. (Note, it’s best to be great in one thing than ok in many things). If you’re in entertainment and then you want to get into transportation, you should spend time thinking about what are the areas of overlap that you have skills in and stress that in your interviews. For example, I came from Airbnb (hospitality) to Lyft (transportation). While I didn’t know a lot about transportation, I knew a lot about two-sided marketplaces and how to design for an online/offline world. I highlighted this in my interviews and they were excited to get this expertise.
Thank you Katie, this is great! Lovely advice.
Thank you so much for doing this! And thanks Elpha for this awesome opportunity. As a marketer obsessed with behavioral science, I'm totally fangirling over your Experience Design role.You worked for many clients with an agency, big brands and double-sided marketplaces Airbnb as well as Lyft. 1. How did you go about building trust through design across multiple brands and double-sided marketplaces both online and offline?2. Did the process change with scale? If yes, how?
Great question! Trust is critical to make a marketplace work and something both companies have greatly invested in. There are a couple of things to consider when seeking to build trust …1. There is no silver bullet. Multiple things across all aspects of the customer journey can help add or remove trust. 2. It’s much easier to break trust than it is to build it. In fact one bad moment can break trust, while it’s many many instances that are required to build it. 3. Set expectations. I always loved the formula: "Happiness = Expectations - Reality.” Essentially you want expectations to be well set and the reality to either be that or better to give someone a positive experience…and build their trust. You need to be as clear as possible with what the thing is. For example, in Lyft we show you a picture of the car that is picking you up, as well as the driver and their rating. But also note that the driver isn’t wearing a uniform. If they were we’d be setting the wrong expectation that this is a fully controlled experience, when in fact each driver in an individual.4. Build understanding. Related to setting expectations, we try to give people a clear picture of what the other party is offering. Another example is Etsy. They work hard to ensure sellers have great photos of the product. But that isn’t enough on its own. To really feel trust for the seller and the transaction, Etsy, Airbnb and Lyft all use ratings and ask the supplier to offer more information about themselves to help the buyer gain understanding and faith in the product. 5. Coach all parties in the marketplace. If your business involves people it’s important to remember that everyone is different. For example, what does cleanliness mean to you? As we found at both Airbnb and Lyft, there isn’t really a universal definition. So it was important for us to inform both parties what what expected of them. For example, at Lyft we offer drivers feedback about what good hospitality looks like. This helps them conduct their business on the platform so it’s a win win that makes the experience better for all. 6. Set the stage - If you’re trying to build trust between two parties, you have a role to play to make that interaction smooth. Set the stage to help them get to know each other’s value and provide consistency through all other elements. For example, both Lyft and Airbnb provide a stable marketplace that is consistent and easy to use again and again. While every member of the community is unique, the platform brings a level of understanding and normalcy that helps engender trust. Did it change at scale? Not really. We just needed to get better and better at it as we grew, and we're constantly looking for new ways to build trust between members of the community. Want to learn more? I recommend this article by Charlie Aufmann, formerly of Airbnb. also links to Joe Gebbia’s TED talk on how Airbnb designs for trust. It’s worth a watch!
Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful response @katiedill! It's very helpful.
Hi @katiedill, thanks for your time. My question is about scaling a team. When you grew the team from 10 to 100, what were some key challenges and takeaways you had, that you now wish you had known when you started growing the team that quickly? If you have any practical tips or resources, that would be much appreciated.Second, where did you invest the most in hiring at that early stage at Airbnb, and can you talk about that decision process a little on the business + design side? (i.e. was it on the safety/trust side? guest experience side?)Thank you!
Thanks for your question! First off, it's important to remember that when you’re scaling a team the only constant is change! This can be hard on people so you’ll want to get good at change management and how to communicate and roll out change in a way that minimizes thrash and helps build understanding. As the team grows, methods, structures and tools will break and you’ll need to evolve. That’s a good thing. You should be designing the way you work and be open to new approaches. However, I recommend teams “run hot” when it comes to change. Rather than over do it with too much structure and process and reacting to every little hiccup, wait til it’s absolutely necessary. If you change too often and too quickly without people first experiencing why it wasn’t working, it will actually feel like more thrash. As far as where to focus in hiring, context and stage matters. For example, young companies that are moving fast with minimal resources are going to require folks that can wear many hats. As the company grows and matures, you can invest more in specialists (e.g., full-time illustrator or animator). At scale there won’t be an issue of does that person have enough work and it will be highly likely you need deep expertise to ensure quality. You also have to carefully manage the balance of managers vs ICs. Too many ICs without proper coverage from a manager will be an issue eventually. You will find those juggling too many reports will burn out and that the directs will feel a lack of support. However be wary of having too many leaders and not enough doers. Doers are the real heroes that get the work done and the last thing you want to do is stifle them under to many cooks in the kitchen. So as you build a team strive to have a healthy ratio (could be 1 manager : 7 ICs). The most important thing when scaling is hiring well! You may at times feel the pressure to hire so fast that you’re tempted to lower your bar. Great teams do great things and one bad hire can have a huge impact on the culture and productivity of the team. Don’t be tempted. Instead, I recommend leveraging contractors if you’re feeling the urgency to hire, while you find the right long term hires. How do you know where your bar is? Get real tight on what matters most at your company and what people need to be successful. At Airbnb, we focused on: humility, craft and hustle, and I still do at Lyft. Craft is critical to ensure you’re able to create exceptional work and deliver on the goals of the community and company. However you can’t be a jerk about and that’s where humility comes in. Design is very much a team sport and it’s essential that members of the design team (and all its functions) have a deep sense of empathy for teammates and users. Lastly, hustle. There are so many problems to solve in the mission of both Aribnb and Lyft. If we’re going to make the change we want to see in this world, we all have to be driven, passionate and proactive to take make that change. From a business stand point, it’s always a balance of future-focused things, things that keep the lights on and things that make your product stronger. Moreover it’s a balance of all parties in the marketplace. Airbnb, as well as Lyft, have teams focused on both sides of the marketplace (e.g., Drivers/Hosts as well as Guests/Riders) as well as teams that cut across these to ensure the overall health of the marketplace. A great article about Airbnb early days, by Jonathan Golden, will tell you a bit more about how the company focused in the early days:
Two questions: 1) How has your responsibilities evolved from Director to VP? 2) What are some great indicators of a strong design culture at a company? Seeing VP of Design is certainly one of them. What are some others? What would you tell a designer what to look for if they're seeking a design-led company?
Thanks for the questions, Kuan! 1. How has your responsibilities evolved from Director to VP?Now I am responsible for the entirety of the design team including UX/UI, ID, Research, Content Strategy and Operations. When I was a Director, I was responsible for just UI/UX Design. As a VP I represent design at the executive level and am accountable for the overall customer experience across all business units. But while all that responsibility is a lot, the good news is I have an incredible leadership team of Directors who run design for their areas of the business. In many ways, my job is to help bring us together and make sure we share quality standards and create a coherent Lyft experience. 2) What are some great indicators of a strong design culture at a company? Agree that seeing an exec of design is a good indicator. In addition... How do they work? Do you they collaborate across disciplines, or do they corner people off? Are designers included (and contributing) to conversations at all stages of product development, or are they just brought in when it’s time to visualize something?How are they organized? Are designers positioned well in relation to engineering and PM, or are they disconnected and perhaps reporting into a different organization? A healthy ratio is anywhere from 7-10 engineers to 1 designer. Lastly, design is something the company should care about on the inside and out. While the office doesn’t have to look like a Design Within Reach catalogue, how a company “lives” is a demonstration of what it cares about. Is the office space a pleasant and effective environment, or does it feel haphazard? How a company cares about quality and experience will show up in all that they do.
👋 Thanks for your time @katiedill! Your team’s redesign, brand refresh and design system rollout was a formidable and inspirational body of work! What advice do you have for those going through rebrands with design systems attached? When do you decouple workstreams vs launch everything together? What strategies did you use to align marketing and engineering stakeholders? How did you measure success?
What advice do you have for those going through rebrands with design systems attached? * Be sure you have a really good reason for doing this! It’s not a small undertaking. The whole company will need to be a part of it at some point and you’ll want to make sure this is time well spent. Even if you have a small team start it, eventually everyone is going to have to update their product and change their work. It’s costly. * For the reasons above, make sure you have exec buy-in, including the CEO. You’re going to need them to help rally the whole company to embrace this change. * While there is a lot of good reasons to tie the launch of a new design system to a re-design, there are a lot of issues with this approach as well. The good thing is that while you’re updating the system, you might as well take care of a few product things as well. However the challenge is that if you’re changing the product (e.g., layout, flow, features, etc.) while changing how it looks, you’re going to have a hard time assessing what change did what. This can make it hard to troubleshoot after you launch and see certain metrics go down. When do you decouple workstreams vs launch everything together? * At Airbnb we launched the rebrand in one fell swoop b/c we wanted to make sure nothing leaked and that we could make a big splash. * Another reason to launch it all together might be the nature of the work. Perhaps your hypothesis is that this change in addition to this change is what will cause a specific outcome. Therefore, separating these things might make it impossible to test this hypothesis. For example, Lyft launched a new way of visualizing your ride type options. We put it in a carousel but we couldn’t just take the current look and throw it in a carousel. We had to update the look and the function at the same time. * The negative of launching it all together is of course a risk and ambiguity. For example, at Lyft we launched a wholly new rider app all at once with product changes as well as design system changes. It was good for a lot of reasons but unfortunately when some of our metrics went down, we really struggled to know where the issues were. There were no constants! So for our most recent redesign, we launched things in part and while it takes longer to get it all out in the world, it’s helping us get there with clarity and confidence in the changes and how they’re impacting users. What strategies did you use to align marketing and engineering stakeholders? * Again, make sure you have buy-in all the way to the top * Include them along the way! While the team working on it is going to need space to create without interference, you should be including partners at key parts of the process (eg.., kickoff, research, concept review, final, etc). How did you measure success?* Well, (back to my first comment), why are you doing it? Is it b/c you have too much eng/design debt and it’s time to clean it up with a new system? Has your company evolved over the years and needs a brand refresh? Have your users' needs changed and you do need a paradigm shift for how your product works? Or a combination of these things? Once you know the reasons, you should turn these into goals in addition to your primary business goals (e.g., conversion, engagement, activation, etc.). Thanks for your questions. I hope that helps.
Thanks so much @katiedill super helpful response!!
Thanks for sharing your insights, Katie! It seems like designing for such a global audience might have interesting implications vs. smaller companies that are designing primarily for North America. Can you share a little bit about how you approach designing a universal experience for such varied users, and has there been anything along the way there that has surprised you?Also I'm also a product designer from an architecture background, it seems like there are a decent number of us!
Aw yes, great question. While I am sure you know there are cultural differences and nuances between your users even when you’re focused on one country, it’s very true that going global puts new pressure on your ability to understand and design for these differences. A couple of things to look out for is of course language, as well as the use of symbol and color. Left to right, vs right to left languages require a lot more than just flipping the page! In addition prepare for the fact that currencies are different and are often represented quite differently as well. Cultural norms and local policies are perhaps the trickiest. The closer you can get to the user, the better. If you can afford to, get out and conduct research with those users. Get a sense of what it’s like in their shoes and get their reactions. Even better if you can have a local team but I understand that’s not always possible. At Airbnb we established an office in Beijing so we could be better immersed in the culture. It was a game changer for the work and it ended up showing us that the marketplace had to behave pretty differently. For example, one thing that surprised me, is that user’s favorite methods for search were quite different from what we’re typically seeing in the United States. In the US we see a focus on a big blank search field where you just tell it what you want. In China we found users were quicker and happier with a browse feature that let them click down to things through options. But they’re a million of these little things that may drive you to make important changes to your product!Thanks Sydney! And yes, so many that came from architecture!!!
That search anecdote is so fascinating, thanks for sharing and for the response, Katie!
Hi Katie! I would love to hear more about how you set goals with your team (OKRs?) and also how you get insights on the diverse perspectives that are represented in your team. Thanks!
At Lyft we use OKRs to keep ourselves focused, aligned and accountable. For those that don’t know, OKRs stand for Objective and Key Results. We have OKRs at the top level of each line of business. These are usually 2-3 things that we think are vital to the success and trajectory of the business over the next year. Each team within the business is responsible for contributing to these OKRs in different ways. This is stated as OKRs as well. We create these very much like one would design anything. For example, for the top level OKRs, we start with a process of discovery, trying to understand current context and future probabilities. We gather isights from across the community, as well as a variety of internal perspectives. For there there’s a process of ideation where we go wide and then a process of convergence where we reduce the list to the most important OKRs. We’ll then get feedback from key advisors from diferrent parts of the company. The teams do this as well. Lastly, I will note one of the most important aspects of the OKR is the KR: how it’s going to be measured. While I believe the saying… not everything that matters can be measured, and everything that is measured matters. The reality is that teams will pay special attention to what is measured, especially if it’s how their performance is assessed. So be wary of phrasing things in a way that lets important things fall through the cracks. For example, you might say we want to “grow our user group by 50%.” Sounds good. But what keeps the team from offering endless coupons to bring new users on? A good recommendation would be to track a suite of metrics that act as a check and balance on the progress. Want to learn more? HBR has a great article on the importance of the metrics you choose: for the question, Elise.
Hi Katie, thanks for conducting an AMA with Elpha. In managing and growing such large teams, is there one piece of design advice you like share with everyone/a fundamental "never forget" in design?
We're all people. This may sounds silly but I think it's just that simple. I know it's easy to get caught up in the work and the mission. As the team grows, it can feel unwieldy and you may even have folks on your team that you don't know the name of, but it's important to never forget that we're all thinking, feeling, breathing humans! We all need the basics like love, support, recognition. So don't let yourself get too caught up in the daily grind and forget to connect and appreciate each other.
Hi Katie! We are so excited to finally have Lyft coming to Vancouver (I think we're one of the last big cities with ride share in North America?) . What are some of the things you think about as each city is so different? Do you design around a city's already established design principles or is Lyft pretty standard as it launches city to city? ie Will I notice differences in Lyft Vancouver vs. Lyft Miami? How custom is each city?
I think I just answered my own question. This article came out in Strategy magazine today about Lyft in Vancouver. Very custom approach. Very Vancouver-centric. The cliche of all our rain hurts -- but it's true!
Hi Katie! Thanks for joining us this week. I'd love to hear some of your go-to interview questions when hiring designers. Thanks!
Hello! I'm super impressed by all the work you have done. I've been a UX designer in a small software company in New York City for the last 2 years. Do you have any advice for a designer just starting out to further her career? Are there any skillsets I should focus on building? What is the difference between designing for big vs. small companies? How can I make myself standout in a sea of designers?
Hi Katie! Thanks so much for giving us your time and expertise. I am curious to know 1) what your personal definition of “design” is and 2) if/how you approach daily life with from a “design” point of view!
Hi Katie. A personal question :) Have you ever had an imposter syndrome and if yes, how did you overcome it while getting into the leadership positions?
Hey Katie, thanks for doing this! As you did, many designs start out in agencies and then make the move to go in house. What are you thoughts on the reverse, having in house experience and then transitioning to an agency? How important you think it is to have done both at one point in your career and what were the most valuable things that you got out of the different environments?
Hi Katie,How to find the right people for the team? How to build a strong team? Thank you so much.
Thank you, Katie. What an amazing career! My question is how do you recommend a newer startup approach relationships with companies like Lyft or Airbnb? Obviously for mice to hunt whales is a major investment of time. Do you have advice on the right strategy to pursue?
Hi Katie,Two questions for you:- How did your career evolve to managing creative teams? Any recommendations for testing whether people management is a good fit before jumping in? - Are there skills or mindsets from your training as an industrial designer that you wish were more common among product/UX designers? Thanks for making the time to discuss!
Hi Katie! I'm finishing my UX program and soon I'll be getting into the job hunt, I'm having an impostor syndrome and lots of anxiaty for that, I know I can do the job and I know I'm talented but feeling like being from another country (My IT degree is not from a University in the US) might play on my disavantage. I know it's not the type of question you're asking but I have the feeling that you might have an idea or be able to help because of your experience in managing design teams. Do you have any tips?