Office Hours: I’m senior director of design and head of consumer at Lyft. I'm Jenny Arden.Featured
Hi Everyone! I’m senior director of design and head of consumer at Lyft. Prior to Lyft, I was director of design and GM of transportation at Airbnb, user experience design lead at Google, project lead at IDEO, VP of design at Goldman Sachs, VP of user experience design at JPMorgan Chase, design director at Intralinks, and graphics designer at Dell. I have an undergraduate degree in graphic design from the Rhode Island School of Design and an undergraduate degree in physics from Brown University. Ask me about design, user experience, leading teams, transitioning from finance to tech, brand building, marketing, consumer psychology, strategy, or anything else!
Would love to hear more about how you pivoted from a functional area (design) into more of a GM role and any tips you have for others looking to do the same!
Yes, would love to explain more! Like many designers, I have an entrepreneurial bug and dreams of becoming a founder. When I set my own growth goals it is always in service of that dream. So while at Airbnb I had the amazing opportunity to work under Brian Chesky, the CEO of this amazing company and he’s a designer (we also both graduated from RISD). Through him I saw what an exceptional design/business hybrid leader could look like. We discussed my career and the areas where I wanted to grow and determined that building my business acumen would bring me closer to my goal. Out of that conversation, I started to incubate a business at Airbnb with Brian’s mentorship and guidance (think of it as a startup founder role with training wheels). We created the GM title for the role because much of what I was doing was not design specifically. I created the business case, pitched the idea to our board, received funding, and built the initial team. This was by far the best education for becoming a founder I could ever ask for. As for others thinking of becoming a GM, it can definitely be done if you’re passionate about creating a thriving business and you’re able to see how all the parts adds up to the whole. Your background will definitely skew your particular flavor of a GM you might become. For example, I’m particularly skilled at storytelling, getting everyone to rally behind the mission, and big picture thinking but I doubt anyone would suggest I should run a complicated earnings calls. That being said, stepping out of your functional swim lane and into other areas of the business until you can make well informed opinions and decisions will help you on the path to GM. And if you’re as lucky as me to find a business leader to sponsor you and teach you everything they know, take them up on it immediately and absorb every bit of wisdom they have to offer.
Thanks Jenny! This is great advice.
Wow that’s amazing! As a designer, I totally relate to having the entrepreneurial bug. But instead of taking a slow and steady approach to it I jumped in the pool! I so wish I had someone to coach and mentor me like that because there are just a billion things I don’t know and new questions that arise every day. That’s just pretty neat.
I *LLOOOOOVEEEE* this. Love that you leveraged your job to build those skills within it, and sounds like you had an awesome friend/mentor/boss. And hi!!! Also a graduate from Brown (and got into design taking classes at RISD.)
So much has changed in the last 2-3 months. For one, many consumers are dealing with sub-optimal digital experiences because they have no choice. Pre-COVID, if something wasn’t working just right there was always a fall back plan. That Zoom call wasn’t working...let’s reschedule to meet in person. You’re pizza delivery is late...I’ll just run down to the store. Out of shampoo...I’ll order some more and it’ll be here tomorrow. Now that EVERYTHING is on-line, we are both grateful for the services at our fingertips and also way more forgiving and tolerant when things are not working as they used to. That pizza might be arriving late (something that would have annoyed you in the past) but now you pause with gratitude that it's coming at all.I also think this moment in time has opened up some major shifts in fundamental services we receive. For example, over the last 8 weeks my kids have seen three doctors over Zoom. They have diagnosed conditions, prescribed medication, and followed up with amazing attention to detail. Telemedicine, on-line education, long-distance socializing are all going through a major renaissance because we are now seeing what can be done when there is no other option.
Thanks for your time and insight @jennyarden. When thinking about Design Strategy and leading teams through big-picture decisions, how did you build this strategy skill? Is there a need for an MBA or degree to support design 'strategy' work? (And I'm assuming not, so...) How do you establish business and strategy credibility without those classes or degree?
I believe strategy skills are built through repeat problem solving. When you solve enough problems you start to see patterns from successes of the past and you’re able to connect dots. I think most people with an MBA would tell you that the best way to learn strategy is by doing. The reason why HBS focuses on the case method is you can learn from real-life situations that business executives have already faced without having to go through it yourself. It accelerates the process by imagining the scenarios, inputs, actions, and ultimately the outcomes. Study these stories. If you need a lightweight way to get started, listen to episodes of “How I Built This”. Every episode has some element of strategy that you can learn from.How to establish some credibility here is to show your dedication to learning. Ask questions, study (like really read books), talk to people who are good at strategy, and be willing to pitch your approach even if it sounds stupid. Overtime, you’ll get better and more sophisticated. You’ll start to notice people nodding their heads a bit more when you talk. You'll start to see how your approach ends with results that you can quote and use again later. Overtime, you will become a stronger strategic thinker.
hi @jennyarden! I'm working on an MVP for a product, and I'm bootstrapping it. How do I balance keeping features in for the MVP that will help prove validity with making things as simple and fast and low-effort to test in order to get insights faster, and spend less on dev? I'm getting scrappy, but would love any ideas on how to balance these two factors!
Great question! MVP can be a loaded term and difficult to know where to draw the line. I would start with establishing the primary use case and focus the design entirely on those flows (and key differentiation). Any additional feature might improve the allure but right now, you want to make sure the base purpose is really well done and clear before you start adding more features and use cases. I also like to group features under “initiative umbrellas” and create milestones with each initiative. For example, let's say you’re building an app for cooking at home:Milestone 1: (MVP) Allows users to find recipes and use the UI while cooking. Milestone 2: (enablement) - shopping lists and every way to plan and collect ingredients.Milestone 3: (engagement) - social tools to share what you cooked with your friends. Milestone 4: (levelup) - you can input a few ingredients and the app would tell you what to cook. Milestone 5: (transform) - you take a picture of your fridge and the app will tell you what to cook.This not only helps you spread out the eng load, it will help the designer focus on a theme/problem to solve and not try to design everything all at once. Of course as you move through the milestones you might go back to an area you already designed but this is the natural way products evolve.
Hi Jenny, would love to hear any thoughts you have on how to lead a design audit and design system implementation as a new person at an early stage startup. Thank you!
Hey Jenna, thanks for the question. Starting a design system project is like trying to get everyone to speak one language when there are 10 dialects being used interchangeably. It’s pretty daunting to rein it all in. I was at Google when the Material design project started and also at Airbnb when we were just starting our design system. In both instances it started when designers identified components that were serving the exact same purpose but were designed and implemented in different ways. A good way to start is to focus on a few components and bring them to one design. At Google I remember it started with simple CTA buttons (and states). At Airbnb it was a calendar widget. Start with a few simple repeated UI components and begin to build a library of universally agreed upon designs. Then work with your engineering team on creating the code that can be reused. In the end, everyone will be grateful to not have to design and code from scratch and you can keep growing the library as you go. Also, don't forget documentation! If you want people to follow a pattern and use a library you have to explain how to use it. A readily accessible internal site is usually the best deliverable for this.
One of the problems I see with reference architecture - design component library is an example- is that they are designed for stability and are inherently resistant to changeFor eg, a design component library built on kendo + angular that takes months to put together and is unusable in react. So now sunk cost syndrome kicks in and the decision becomes that this is the ref arch and must be used. Same for any other standard eg rest vs graphql, oracle vs mongo, sdlc vs agile etcDisruptors in search of operational excellence become the old guard and are in turn disrupted by new teams. I am sure there is a mba case study here
This is such a great observation and I couldn't agree more. A good design system is ever expanding and evolving. Where design systems fail is when people believe it's done or even worse, when it's fixed and can't be changed. Lyft is coordinating this through people and documentation but it's far from efficient and requires a lot of education. Major opportunities in figuring out how to make the process more streamlined and organized across functions.
One way that I am trying to solve this is to create an "innovate" space which is separate from the "operate" space. Projects in innovate have more flexibility in their design and architecture decisions but also take on more risk. Limiting blast radius is important. Agree that there needs to be a better way than even this binary grouping or the default documentation, review, and approval process
What books (or other content) have been the most thought provoking or influential in your approach to design, strategy and leadership.
The most influential content I have consumed:Creative, Inc. : I continue to come back to this book year after year. It’s the story of Pixar and how they evolved to making amazing high quality movies in an ever changing environment. It describes the creative process, how to empower people, how to hold a high bar, and how to deal with failure.The Score Takes Care of Itself: This book is written by Bill Walsh who was the coach to the 49ers during their peak success. I love so much about this book. Specifically, his approach to driving to a culture of excellence and providing actionable and encouraging feedback just when people need it.Without Fail: I devoured this podcast. Like I said in another post, I’m an entrepreneur/startup junky and love everything about building something from nothing. I also value grit and bravery. In this podcast, Alex Blumberg interviews highly successful people who have made it through some dark times and share their lessons from other side.
I think you meant Creativity, Inc. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077903 for anyone writing down these titles!
Hi Jenny! I'm curious about what's the biggest pain points you have observed for design teams these days? I'm thinking about making tools to address pain points for designers. Thank you.
A lot of the challenges for design teams I see are related to process and what I call operational excellence. Organizations these days are super complex. You have requirements coming from multiple functions, sometimes several levels of leadership with differing opinions, and of course deadlines. As creative thinkers we tend to believe the best idea will prevail. Honestly, that’s not always the case. The reality is, it’s the strongest idea THAT CAN BE DONE that makes a team successful. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be innovative or think big, but too often I have seen design teams brainstorm and get very excited but then there is no path from there. The best design teams set a strong target (the dream) and create tangible stepping stones to get there while taking into consideration the complexities of their organization and industry. Right now all of this is being managed in the heads of some super skilled managers but wouldn't it be great if somehow all of this was articulated more clearly in some sort of tool?
Can you speak to the discrepancy between how much the user thinks the driver is getting paid and how much they actually do and how user facing design can improve the misinformation? It is remarkable to hear so many ride share hailers that say they don’t need to tip because their driver is already getting paid a lot, and then watching their shock as they find out the actually split. What if the user had better access to this information, would this promote tipping and in turn build a sustainable ride share economy with living wages?
Thanks for hosting office hours @jennyarden ! How do you approach designing with inclusion and ethics to minimize potential harm and bias? What are examples of when this has happened well (or wish it had happened differently)?
Hey Amy, thanks for the question. This is a topic near and dear to me as with so many designers I know. Designers carry a lot of responsibility in making sure the products we create serve all people and never inflict harm. Here are a few best practices:1. Fight for transparency. The last 4 years have revealed some disheartening moments in tech where the business models have overshadowed the user's needs. The result is that we are all much more skeptical and wary of everything we consume on-line. Trust has most certainly been eroded. Designers have an immense responsibility to create transparent designs that reveal intent. Any obfuscation is no longer tolerated and it's up to us to prevent that. Designers also need to remember that you are literally paid to advocate and fight for users. Never stop doing that no matter what direction or requirements you receive.2. Build an inclusive team of designers and researchers that come from different backgrounds and therefore think differently about the same problem. Most of the time, designs are not intentionally meant to be non-inclusive or harmful. It’s usually a failure that was overlooked because the person behind the mouse didn’t realize the consequences of their design. Hiring people that see the world from another perspective (and empowering them to speak up and be heard!) will help you catch these moments.3. Talk to you users and recruit participants from a vast array of locations, backgrounds, and experience levels. Your product will only be as good as the feedback you seek from your users. The more diverse opinions you seek from real people the closer you will be to achieving inclusivity.4. Follow industry best practices for accessibility. Big companies like Apple and Google already provide basic free tools to help make digital products more accessible. This will help your team get to a base minimum and reach more people.5. Finally, be willing to admit when you got it wrong quickly and never just say “they don’t get it”. For example, I used to work on financial apps for “regular consumers". Often if users didn’t understand the fees or the interest they were charged we would just assume they were not financially literate. The assumption is if they understood these basic concepts they would love the design. This is a ridiculous statement. Design has a responsibility to teach people what is the purpose/meaning of the information they're looking at. To not take on that responsibility is consciously deciding to not be inclusive and even worse, opening up the possibility of inflicting harm.
Huge thanks for these insights, @jennyarden. Spot on! And aligned with the research we’ve been finding in interviews and working with product teams. Designers play such a key role.
👋Hey Jenny! I'm curious about your degree in physics and how it has influenced or helped your various roles, if at all!
I can't say that I used that degree directly but it did teach me a couple things:1. How to fail. I completely bombed the first advanced class I took towards this degree. I was mortified and humbled. But I loved the field so much that I kept going even though I knew it was going to be a serious struggle. Out of this I figured out how to be far more patient with myself and that there was no room for slacking off.2. Anything can be explained with a good visual. The true connection between physics and design is that both are trying to make sense of chaos and abstract concepts. The more that can be visualized, the closer you will be to a commonly understood solution or hypothesis.3. I like rolling with the nerds. 🤓 I have never been one of the cool designers with the black outfits and fly sneakers. I geek out on the math, the data, and the strategy. I felt more at home in the Science Building than the studio most of the time.
Thanks a lot for your support here! We are working on a homepage redesign for our SaaS startup - GrowthChannel.io. I'd be glad to get your feedback on the initial mockups (before we proceed further with design & dev): https://www.dropbox.com/s/fyabssn2snohjug/New%20GC%20HP-4.pdf?dl=0
Thanks so much for sharing your background! I am a CS student with a budding interest in design as well, and I'd love to here any suggestions on getting the equivalent of your dual undergrad experience at RISD. I'm currently a rising senior in undergrad now, so I have less time, but are there educational paths or training you'd recommend to be able to pursue the career track you have? Thanks again!
Also, after reading more about your background (you're very cool :D), I saw that you said you didn't do "all the right things" and didn't "climb ladders" because that wasn't your personal style. What advice do you have for other women seeking to have that kind of control over their careers? Does it take a certain genius to pull off, or are their strategies to controlling one's trajectory? Cheers!
Thank you! I'm going to tuck some real talk into this one. ;) What I meant in that quote is that I never made a career move for title, money, or power. I have worked in some very large organizations that requires a certain level of political savviness and stamina to rise to the top. I just don't have that in me and if I'm really honest, it's frustrating to witness the rise of those that do (especially male counterparts). That being said I have no regrets. At the end of the day I value building things and I'm most excited about my work when I'm doing something that really scares me. If there's any "control" I've had in my career, it's knowing what I'm good at and only taking roles that I know will appreciate and fully utilize those skills. So no, this is not about being a genius but knowing what you want to do (and not want to do) and sticking to it.
As a CS student you're in a great position to cross over into design, specifically UX and Product Design. Some of the best designers I know also code and have a CS background. You do not need formal education in design to land a role if that's your career goal. You do need a portfolio that demonstrates taste and best practices for building usable products. Here's how I would go about this:1. Learn best practices in Product Design through vocational classes. You can find these at Khan Academy or General Assembly. 2. To build a portfolio you need to find projects. It's completely ok to make something up that you find interesting, it doesn't have to be paid work. In your case you could also find freelance front-end work where the client doesn't have a designer and is looking for one person to do it all (not that rare or a need). If you do this make sure the client agrees that you can include the finish product in your portfolio. 3. Look for UX apprenticeships and internships at a tech company. Sadly, these might be rare for the time being but often students are selected based on passion and raw talent. If you land one of these roles you walk out with a household name on your resume and more importantly, a portfolio piece.4. Once you have 2-4 projects that you're proud of, build a portfolio website (remember that your portfolio site is also a portfolio piece so make it good). In your case, show off your coding skills and highlight that capability. This is what makes you a unicorn candidate.Hope that helps, good luck!
Hi! I'm transitioning from VC to being a startup founder and taking on the branding and design aspect of things, among others. Do you have any suggestions on how to navigate the transition given that I'm not a professional designer. I'm decently skilled but I'm struggling on how to form my own ideas and then translate them into reality.
Hi Jenny! So excited to meet you! I’m currently taking a UX/UI class to make a career transition from digital marketing! I have a lot of transferable skills, but do you have any advice for a newbie? Would love to learn more about your transition from graphic design as well!
Hey there! The main advice I have is develop these two skills as quickly as you can 1. taste and 2. best practices for UX/UI design. Taste is subjective but when you see it you know. It's a certain quality to the details and subjective design decisions that make a product a bit more appealing. Best practices are easier to learn. Constantly observe and apply patterns that are commonly used in every day products. Overtime, if you focus on these areas you'll start to create a portfolio that will catch a hiring manager's eye. Good luck!
@jennyarden This all make sense! I'm currently working on the best practices for UX/UI by taking a class with the Flatiron School. For the taste side I've been trying to make an effort to expose myself to different designers and a lot of designs to learn what is most appealing. I think this also has been helping me figure out my own style as a designer. Still working on seeing myself as a designer though; that impostor syndrome is a tricky one. Thanks for the great advice! I really appreciate you taking the time to respond (you have a lot of comments here!)! I would love the chance to set up a chat or informational interview with you if you'd be up for it?
I started as Jr. Front End Developer at my work and now transitioning more to a design-focused role in my team (still juggling a few hats). I am wondering how did you transition from your graphic designer experience to design lead and managing a team? Curious to how to eventually get into a lead role.
Hi @jennyarden I'm curious how you found your calling in design. Physics seems like an almost opposite place to start. Why did you decide to take the leap and do a second undergraduate degree? I'm in my early twenties and on alternate days I want to grow become an amazing product manager or leave it all behind to find my purpose - haha! Would love to hear how you found your way :)
Actually, I started with design and then added physics later. :) I was the first student to receive degrees from both RISD and Brown at the same time (it's an official program now). I found that I needed both to feel whole. Design satiated my need for aesthetic appeal, organization, problem solving, and having things make sense. Physics stretched my brain, it forced me to be creative and analytical at the same time (and math, lots of math). I found myself feeling lopsided without both. When I graduated undergrad there is no way I could have told you that I would someday lead large design teams. My role wasn't in existence yet. I found my way by focusing on the problems I wanted to solve and always taking the jobs that made me "uncomfortably excited".As for becoming a PM or something else, sounds like you have lots of skills to offer. I would just keep your eyes open and don't take the safe path. NEVER COAST. Take some risks and go just beyond what you think is your capability. If something feels like it's scary but you truly want to do it anyway, you're probably on to something.
Hello Jenny,A friend and I are trying to leverage the knowledge of Latin American experienced VCs in order to help startups in the region grow. We are not designers at all (dev and hustler) but we would love your advice.
Hi @jennyarden , I am an IT student but I find that I'm more interested in graphic design. How can I start my career in Graphic Design and get a job?
Hi @jennyarden! I’m a UX manager with a background in interaction design and content strategy. My goal this year is to up my visual design game so I can be more a effective coach in art direction. I’m strong in typography and OK with color. What do you recommend?
Thanks for your time @jennyardenWhat characteristics and skills do you think a Senior Product Designer possesses (as opposed to mid-level)?I’m trying to understand what skills I need work on to move to the next stage of my design career.Thank you!
Hi Jenny, thanks for offering your advice. I am a product designer relatively early in my career. I am curious how you thought about career growth, both from within a company and thinking about when to move on somewhere else. How have you made these choices in your career?
Hi Jenny, Thank you for offering your advice. I would love to talk about design considerations for deep tech and multi-sided enterprise platforms like AirBNB and lyft. I am launching a startup that attempts to bridge buyers of energy flexibility (energy markets, utilities, etc) with net zero communities and builders. I would love to hear your take on how design and UX can influence uptake and success for multi sided platforms. I will send you a DM.Tanya
Thanks so much for joining us, @jennyarden Elphas: please reply in the comments with your questions for @jennyarden before this Friday. She may not have time to answer every single question, so please emoji upvote the ones that interest you most. Thanks!!