AMA with Jenny Arden (Lyft)

2 years ago from Jenny Arden, Director of Design @ Lyft

  • Jenny Arden, 2 years ago

    Not a problem, happy to keep answering questions (it's not like I'm going any where!).

    Usually a Design Director for a product team is responsible for all aspects of design that contributes to the end-to-end experience. This includes interaction design, research, content strategy, production, and program management. They might not directly manage all those roles but they're accountable for the final output (what lands in user's hands). In addition to growing leaders/managers under them they are setting the vision, strategy, and process in which their team(s) operate. There are many flavors of this based on personal strengths. Some people lean more into operations and are especially skilled at team management and creating well-oiled machines. Some are stronger at vision and can see the future (and the path to get there).

    Biggest challenges of a Design Director

    • You need to be highly effective at influencing other leaders not in your function. These are individuals that may not understand design or how you can help.

    • Your job is to advocate and represent what the user's need which is often in direct conflict with what the business needs or what can be built (in a reasonable timeferame). This means you have to be willing to respectfully debate your PMs and Engineering partners. Often you have to let go and compromise. You have to be willing to commit to a plan even if you don't entirely agree with it sometimes.

    • Typically a Design Director covers a large scope and many surfaces. The trick is to stay close to the work while seeing horizontally across. Magic happens when you are able to connect dots for your teams.

    Creative Director tends to be more of a marketing and artistic/creative title. At Airbnb we had Creative Directors in Marketing and at our Art Department team which was like an in-house creative agency. These individuals lean more into aesthetics and can really articulate the abstract concepts and goals of the project. They still manage people but their reports are usually focused on more specific skills/trades/crafts (copy writing, photography, illustration, marketing strategy). Their scope can range quite a bit depending on the company and team.

    Biggest challenges of a Creative Director

    • Often their teams are operating like an agency and have to triage a lot. Managing requests and prioritizing constantly.

    • Getting introduced to the work early enough to be able to drive some of the strategy and direction is always challenging. Often these leaders are getting late requests and time just prohibits stronger ideas.

    • There's always a threat to 'take it outside" and hire an agency instead, especially if the team is already at full capacity. The risk is losing oversight of high impact work and Creative Directors often find themselves overextended as a result.

    There's also a new title/role that I see emerging. As orgs become more complex and Design VPs/Directors are taking on more strategy and business leadership responsibilities we're finding that we can't do the job like we used to. Often vision is deprioritized and teams (across all functions) feel that they don't know where things are going. They want to know how work now will connect to the future.

    In enters the Senior IC!

    I see a future where product centric Design Directors are partnering up with product "Principal Designers". The first will manage the team and handle the operations, they will stay in the know of decisions and do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to gaining alignment with cross functional partners. The second will stay close to the work and guide the teams with a strong and compelling vision. The crossover between them is strategy and communication. We're testing this at Lyft, honestly not sure if this exactly how it will work but I believe strongly that 1. not everyone should/can be in every meeting 2. we need to divide and conquer based on strengths at all levels to succeed.

    6 points