5 Culture Principles in DoorDash Design
What makes our culture uniquely different
With almost every candidate that we interview, there’s a common question that they ask:
“What is your culture like?”
Culture is such a nuanced and abstract thing that’s hard to substantiate. We all feel it and live it every day, but it’s intangible. If you have a healthy, well-meaning design team, you’d often hear descriptors like… open, wholesome, collaborative, caring, authentic, psychologically safe, etc. In DoorDash Design, of course, we also have these as a baseline. But what are some other things that are very uniquely us? There are five principles that we champion day to day.
In each principle below, I’ll be using gardening as a metaphor since there are a lot of similarities between team building and gardening — both take a great deal of intentionality, strategy, and care.
#1 We own the business outcomes, not just the design craft in order to truly have a seat at the table.
If we were a gardener, it’d be important for us to acknowledge that we’re working in a commercial gardening business, not just in our private backyard. Our job doesn’t end with harvesting juicy oranges — we need to make a business out of them.
Similarly, our job as a designer doesn’t end with just designing beautiful products — what matters ultimately is whether the product we shipped solves a real user problem, and as a result, it moves the needle in our business. Everything that we design needs to benefit the business ultimately, and it’s important to tie our role to the business impact. (Check out what Impact means at DoorDash Design here) Strong business acumen enables us to be a stronger influencer in the org and solidify our seat at the table.
An interesting thing about the working model within the DoorDash Product team is that we ask PMs to co-own the craft, and Designers to co-own the business outcome. By enabling our cross-functional teams to co-own the responsibilities, we work toward the shared goal, speak the same language, and get to empathize with each other more. This is a true cross-functional collaboration.
#2 We master the product we design. Inspire with strong conviction, customer obsession, and perseverance for excellence.
In other companies, I’ve seen that managers only focus on managing people, and the execution is an individual contributor’s job. Executives typically operate at a 10,000-foot view and they don’t really grok what customers’ needs are on the ground. In DoorDash, we believe that knowing the details is the only way we can excel in execution, and it’s critical for everyone to be able to operate at the lowest level of detail. This holds true in all levels, positions, and all functions in the company, starting from Tony, our CEO, who’s an incredibly customer-centric leader.
There are programs initiated to build customer empathy in DoorDash. Our WeDash program helps us experience the three-sided marketplace through the lens of Dashers. We shadow support agents to observe customer calls. We also encourage attending user research sessions to get customer feedback firsthand. Customer empathy is heavily emphasized especially in Design, as we’re ultimately responsible for delivering the experience to people. It’s also wonderful to have the whole company championing the UX team so that we can do the right thing for customers in the long run.
#3 Designing a product is an iterative process. We champion the highest craft but also know when to make trade-offs to learn something fast.
Just like gardening where we need to constantly learn through testing soil, sunlight, water, fertilizer, etc., designing a product is an extremely iterative process. It’s very rare that we can get to the perfect end-to-end state on the first attempt.
A lot of us in the Design, Engineering, and Research fields are trained to be perfectionists. Designers are trained to catch a pixel that is off from a mile away. Researchers are trained to present the most complete and comprehensive readout. Therefore it can feel counterintuitive to test what we know as an imperfect experience or to provide bite-size research insights before the full report is ready. This is where the training and reality start to deviate as we work in tech. Especially in a growth company like DoorDash that is still going through a lot of experiments at high velocity, we must learn to strike a good balance between craft and speed. It’s important to sharpen the intuition on when to push the team to slow down to deliver a better-crafted experience vs. when to make smart trade-offs to learn fast.
In DoorDash, we practice a “cupcake” philosophy in product development. Cupcakes are small in scope, but it’s complete and delightful — and most importantly, it adds value to our customers. Rather than shipping a half-baked untasteful birthday cake, we should always strive to ship a cupcake. In every ship review, we ask ourselves: Are we shipping a cupcake?
#4 We have the courage to take risks, try new things, and act with a sense of urgency. Learning from mistakes is just part of the process.
In the gardening practice, sometimes you need to make a bold decision like pruning large branches to stimulate bigger growth of the tree, or burning a certain part of the forest to create nutrient-rich soil. Although these seem like scary and radical actions at first, they are essential for the long-term growth of the product and business.
When you work in a company for long enough and work on the same product for long enough, it’s easy to become complacent. It feels comfortable to play safe and be agreeable. However, that’s the easiest way for any product to become stagnant. We need to be bolder, more fearless, and willing to take risks in order to continue to be a trendsetter and industry leaders. Innovation takes courage. And in the end, even if the attempts were to fail, we still learn from our mistakes and become 1% better next time.
#5 We stay flexible, resilient, and optimistic.
Gardening takes a lot of patience and optimism, and it’s a long game. Especially in an unpredictable climate, things may not turn out the way you expected sometimes, and that is ok. One of the characteristics of growth companies is that there are a lot of moving parts and unexpected changes happening because we’re learning through experiments. Also, solving problems in the three-sided marketplace can be very ambiguous and complex — a surprise always awaits us on every corner we turn. And this unpredictability can be even further accentuated in the current macroeconomy.
In order to succeed in such environments, our mental core must strengthen by staying flexible, resilient, and optimistic. Otherwise, we will constantly feel defeated or overwhelmed, and our job won’t be enjoyable and fulfilling anymore.
What are some of the unique aspects of your Design team’s culture? I’d welcome a discussion about this topic.
And if you feel inspired by our culture principles and want to take part in our journey together, we’re hiring and waiting for you! Please check out our career page and apply.
Helena Seo is the Head of Design at DoorDash.
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