As we scale our design team exponentially, we’re constantly looking for ways to stay connected and inspired. Just one year ago, we fit in a single conference room. We all knew each other’s names, the ins and outs of each other’s projects (and lives), and the daily wins and struggles we each had as designers at an ever-expanding company.
Now we’ve reached the point where we’re not just 20 designers sitting together in a single pod of desks in one building, on one floor. We’re a design team of 150 people strong, stretched down Market Street in San Francisco; embedded in city teams in Chicago, DC, London, and Cape Town; and plugging away at product in LA and Amsterdam (and hopefully New York soon — we’re hiring!).
In order to grow as a single, unified design team, we’re exploring ways to connect that are meaningful, don’t require a huge commitment of time, and that are a step above sharing funny GIFs in Slack (although we can’t discredit Oprah and her bees).
One of our first forays into a cross-team project was tackling Elle Luna and the Great Discontent’s 100 Days Project. Twenty designers across different design teams at Uber wanted to imagine what we could produce with a small bit of time every day. We each chose our own theme and medium and — as the name of the project indicates — worked at it for 100 days to see what we could accomplish. We shared an Instagram account, a few hashtags, and lots of stress over how hard it is to dedicate yourself to making something every day. Did we all finish? Definitely not. But we all learned quite a bit about ourselves and our coworkers along the way. Six designers decided to share their biggest takeaways:
Process is the Perfect Space
Victoria Stanell, #100DaysofSpace
What I learned from being a part of the 100 Days Project community is that I had a creative point of view about something I’ve always cared deeply about, but never really expressed outside my head. I’ve always loved astronomy and meditating about our place and purpose in life, and this was my first time showing that to the rest of the world.
When I first started this project, I put pressure on myself to package every piece within the bounds of a perfectly contained “universe” (as a writer, it’s dangerously easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism). But as ideas and inspiration kept flowing and diverging into unexpected paths, I found it easier to let go of the system and enjoy seeing where every day’s curiosity would lead me.
On days when I posted something that “stretched the theme” or “wasn’t up to the collection’s standard,” I had to remind myself that there were infinite possibilities to explore — and I could paint any of them the next day.
Starting With a System
Mason Field, #100LineDesigns
Starting has never come easy for me — don’t ask my team how long I waited before stepping foot in the gym across the street. I’ve attempted a couple 100/365 day challenges and almost every day I’d face the same dilemma of not knowing what to draw, or what to photograph. The difference this time around and the reason I was able to finish was because of a simple system I laid out before day one began. I eliminated variability by starting with black, 1 point stroke illustrations in a 100 point square. These parameters allowed plenty of flexibility when choosing objects, but eliminated indecision when sitting down to execute them.
As the first week passed, then the first month, I wanted to expand the system — you can see a huge difference in the first 50 and last 50 designs. The greatest part for me was that the difference came from introducing color and fill, there wasn’t a need to rethink the concept! If you start with a working system, introducing new elements can spark ideas and allow a completely new look to evolve.
Turning an Idea Into a Collection
Zhen Zeng, #100Drawingsof2Things
Where do great illustration ideas come from? I often find myself spending more time searching for ideas rather than acting on one. Then this idea hit me: what if I added a tiny bit of constraint and just let serendipity take care of the rest? To do that, I made a jar full of tiny cards with a unique word written on each. Every day, I would pick two cards at random and use them as inspiration for what to draw. The combos were always surprising, a little whimsical, and sometimes a bit weird, like Giraffe + Sweatpants, Pizza + Umbrella. I looked forward to each new combo as much as the viewers did.
However, like many #100DayProject participants, I found it difficult to actually create something every day. What kept me going was the motivation to push my creativity, the project was the best way to prove my commitment to others, and more importantly, myself. After countless attempts at completing illustration series (not sure why my ideas always come in the form of series), I simply refused to wave the white flag this time around. So in the end, this project was more about 100 pieces rather than 100 days.
A Word to a Story
Nuri Kim, #100WordsBookKor
For my 100 Day Project, I created a book with 100 words to pass along to my future daughter. From this project, I learned that you can create a compelling story with just one word, as long as you have a clear audience in mind.
I picked one word per day and drew a simple illustration of it, and wrote the word in both English and Korean at the bottom. Each time I picked a word I was also creating a story around the word to make my daughter more curious and imaginative about the world she will see. As of today I am at 86, and the little girl in my mind is waiting for the next page.
Inspiration Takes Effort
Ching Lai, #AHundredMonsters
Before the 100 Day Project, I pretty much drew monsters when an idea conveniently hit. The thought of creating them every day, in front of an audience (and for 100 consecutive days!) was a new concept to me. But the pressure turned out to be effective.
After a wave of initial ideas, I wasn’t sure how to stay inspired. My usual go-to’s for creative inspiration — art books, blogs, art galleries, museums, and current events — weren’t enough anymore. So I searched elsewhere, and hard. I started scanning my immediate environment for ideas — even if I was in the hardware store, listening to a song, or mid-conversation with a friend. But sometimes, all it took was putting pencil to paper for a creature to emerge too. By putting in the effort upfront and drawing shapes and eyes, new and unexpected creatures formed on their own.
Lessons from a Non-Finisher
Stacey Corwin Farrelly, #sdcfpaints
Starting the 100 Days Project amplified my (faulty) sense that designers need to be masters of every visual craft. For my project, I was set on not only doing something every day, for 100 days, but teaching myself a new design skill. For some reason, I actually expected to pick up a brush and just be a great artist. I didn’t think about the patience and time and skill it takes to actually learn a new craft. I felt like as a designer it was my duty to just. be. good. at. everything.
Looking back, I’d like to say that time got in my way of completing the project, but I’m sure it was also the struggle of not being good or patient enough to see it through. As designers, we need to lean on each other to build on our skills — something I should have done more of during the process instead of being so determined to do it on my own.
So what did I really learn?
Admit to not knowing: The first step to being really great at something is acknowledging how far you have to go. I’ve seen that idea come to life in my daily work and it’s taken me from a black and white, wireframer to a bonafide product-shipping designer.
Getting comfortable with not being good is hard. That’s also what makes it so rewarding.
That’s a wrap on this project. Stay tuned for more comings and going from the Uber Design team. As always, we’re hiring! And if you have any thoughts or suggestions on how our design team can continue its love fest, please share with us on Twitter.