Interview with Sam Lind
Hey Sam, How’s it going?
It’s going well. We’ve been busy working on a lot of exciting things lately.
Yeah, it’s definitely been exciting given current events. So what do you do at DoorDash?
I’m the design manager for the core consumer team. We design the end-to-end customer experience — finding a restaurant, placing an order, tracking a delivery — for our mobile apps and website.
And what was your journey to being a design manager here?
I joined DoorDash a little over 2 years ago. Before that I was at an agency called Odopod for nine years, and before that I was at Yahoo for six.
During my time at Odopod, the world of digital design shifted substantially. The first iPhone had just been released and it ushered in a new class of digital products along with a new industry focus on mobile. During that period, I was lucky to contribute to work for EA, Tesla, Sony, PlayStation, GoPro and more.
Over time, though, the nature of our work changed. As our clients built their own in-house product design teams, we were hired to define the product vision, but the in-house team carried that vision forward. It was fun to do that visionary work, but I started to feel a little disconnected from the day-to-day execution. That’s when I started looking for an in-house role.
Funny you mention EA because you’re into video games, right?
Yeah, I play my fair share of video games, mostly Destiny these days. It’s been a great way to remotely stay in touch with my brothers and friends for the past six years. It’s engaging enough to be interesting, but repetitive enough to encourage a sort of mediation.
The amount of detail invested in the story and graphics is sincerely impressive as well.
Bungie definitely invests a lot of time in the craft and details that make the whole experience feel complete and rewarding. Even the in-game UI — which uses a free cursor rather than a directional selector — is pretty unique for consoles. The game also has a strong community of creators who make apps and web tools that let you manage your in-game inventory, capture and reflect game play stats, and more. It’s inspiring to see what people can build with an open API and a little imagination.
Speaking of craft, you’re generally known as the craft enforcer, so to speak here at DoorDash and amongst your team. Is that true?
*Laughs* I hope so! Craft is often undervalued. It’s not enough just to have a good idea, you also need to bring that idea to life through careful execution. A great idea executed poorly loses a lot of value. To execute well, though, you need to both go wide to explore a range of possible solutions, and go deep to pay close attention to the details. The first iteration is rarely the best iteration; set a goal to create 5, 10, 20 different versions of whatever you’re working on and I bet the later explorations are the strongest.
In a similar vein, you and your team do a great job with delightful-ness — this is especially apparent with the cuisine filters at the top of the home page. Where did the idea for these come from?
One of my first projects at DoorDash was focused on improving the home page. We wanted to add tools to help indecisive customers find something to order. Through user research, we found that cuisines are really powerful: they inspire customers to try something new, they remind customers of restaurants they had forgotten about, they also help convey the breadth of selection available on DoorDash.
So cuisines are important and should be prominent, but we also wanted to make them fun to use. The illustration style is inviting and friendly, and the tap animation is the icing on the cake that makes them a delight. The team, led by Ben Sorensen, put a lot of work into each animation. The work involved a lot of unique design debates too, “is this exploding pad thai fun or just a mess?”
Never heard of someone trying to balance delightful-ness and messiness, but there’s a first for everything, I guess! What’s your favorite icon, and why?
I like that the bowls are all similar, but there are subtle differences that are unique to each cuisine. My favorites are probably the pizza and the sandwich, though. They have enough detail to be interesting and unique, but not so much that they’re distracting.
Back to your team, how do you think they would describe your leadership?
Building on the previous point about craft, I think they would agree that I have sharp attention to detail and hold a high bar for execution. I’m careful not to be prescriptive, though. I want to provide clear feedback, but I want my team to feel empowered to own their work and be the thought leader in their product area.
Empowerment is arguably one of the most important things you can instill in designers. That said, what type of culture do you try to instill amongst your team?
Open and collaborative. That might sound cliche, but it’s truly important given the structure of the team. Each designer owns a product area, so each designer works very independently. To keep the team from drifting apart, I encourage the designers to reach out to one-another regularly, align on common patterns, seek advice, share their perspectives. We need to create organic connections across projects that would otherwise have no organizational connection.
Agreed. So, I also hear that you’re hiring. What type of designers are you looking for?
We are hiring! I want designers who are independent owners and makers. Designers who can partner with their cross-functional peers — product managers, engineers, analysts, and more — to identify opportunities in their product area and drive change. We’re always juggling near-term product improvements alongside long-term strategic thinking and planning. A designer on the consumer team should be able to move seamlessly between the two and help the team decide where to focus their effort.
I also want designers who are eager to reach outside of their product area and make connections between their work and the work being conducted by the Dasher or merchant teams. Our three-sided marketplace is complex and most of our problems can’t be solved in a silo; we need designers who are looking out for opportunities to collaborate.
With that said, what advice would you give designers that are looking to apply to your team?
Two ideas spring to mind: First, when you present your work, demonstrate that you understand the problem you’re solving. How did you uncover the customer pain-point? How did you evaluate the size of the opportunity?
Second, show your craft and process. How did you arrive at the final solution? What other solutions did you explore along the way? How did you determine and verify that the path you selected was the right one?
We want to see the thinking behind your work.
Great! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DoorDash is growing fast and the team isn’t resting on our laurels. Everyone, across all disciplines, is excited to radically improve every aspect of our product. We’re also eager to stretch our team culture, grow our skillset, and learn from new team members with new perspectives.
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For those readers who are interested in joining Sam’s awesome design team, please check out these links:
Please learn more about other design leaders at DoorDash:
Christopher Payne — Chief Operating Officer
Kathryn Gonzalez — Manager for Design Infrastructure
Radhika Bhalla — Head of UX Research
Rajat Shroff — VP of Product
Tae Kim — UX Content Strategist Lead
Will DiMondi — Manager for Merchant Design