In my previous role as head of UX for G Suite at Google, I led a team of 180 designers. I also worked on smaller and more agile product and design teams at GoPro and Walmart Labs. If there is one thing that I've learned in my 20+ years in design, there are vastly different opinions about what "design executive" actually means, and where that role fits within an organization. Now as GV's head of design, I coach portfolio company founders and executives on when to hire a design executive and how to bring design thinking into their products and organizations. And one of the most critical conversations I have is about why designers should have a seat at the executive table.
One of the fiercest advocates for designers having that important seat is Katie Dill. She's the former Head of Design at Lyft as well as the former Director of Experience Design at Airbnb. Today, we're thrilled to welcome her as GV's newest advisor, where she will help our portfolio companies with common design challenges and best practices.
Many of us in the design community have been having that "seat at the executive table" conversation for years; Katie lived this experience as she worked her way up to reporting to Lyft's CEO as part of the executive team. In that role, she championed a design-centric approach and customer experience — and ultimately helped to change how design was perceived within the company.
When Katie first joined Lyft, this wasn't the scenario. "We made major changes to how design was organized," she says, explaining how important it was to make sure the team was collaborating across functions. "Part of this was getting designers out of a siloed room and into a room with engineers and product managers. We staffed these groups on teams together, so they could create a cohort and work more collaboratively."
Katie's key advice for design executives: You have to ask for that executive seat. "In a rare moment of courage, I wrote a letter to my boss, the CEO, and our leaders that I should be on the executive team," Katie recalled. "I laid out the gaps and challenges our organization faced, and how I could be helpful to fill those gaps." At first, the answer was no, but she persisted. "I learned more through that process, built a better relationship with our CEO, and was eventually brought into that executive room."
Katie had come to Lyft from Airbnb, where design is a part of the company's DNA. "Airbnb is founded by true designers, and embeds design thinking into everything the organization does," she noted. One similarity between the two companies is that both Lyft and Airbnb put great emphasis on design and customer experience.
Katie cautions that it's essential to be strategic when having these conversations. "You shouldn't need a title or a reporting line to have influence, and there needs to be a why," she cautioned. "Don't be afraid of 'no'. Try to understand it, and work with it. There are other ways you can create that solution you're striving for."
On the executive side, it's crucial that founders and CEOs know where to house design within their organizations by looking at overall business objectives. As Katie advised, "Understand your customer and create a culture where great ideas can thrive."
We're excited to work with Katie as she helps our portfolio founders and executives find those moments where great design ideas can thrive and flourish.