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Lyft’s plan to win the transportation wars: Put designers in charge

The stakes have never been higher for Lyft, which unveiled a new design-focused strategy that aims to reshape the way people get around.

Lyft’s plan to win the transportation wars: Put designers in charge
Left to right: Jessica Rosenberger, Rocky Jacob, Brian Ng, Renato Valdes Olmos, Nick Barrett [Photos: Lyft]

Today Lyft announced the hiring of five senior design leaders–a major hiring spree meant to bolster the company’s long-term goal of owning a range of transportation options that make it easier to get around cities.

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The slew of new directors will head up passenger and driver experience, overall platform development, and industrial design. Within a company that’s primarily focused on an app-based marketplace, they’ll be dedicated to Lyft’s presence in the physical world–mostly in the form of bikes, which Lyft now dominates through its acquisition of bike-share company Motivate, and scooters, which Lyft launched in the fall. It’s all part of a new emphasis on providing different kinds of transportation–not just cars.

“People grew up with cars as freedom, and they are, to a degree,” says Katie Dill, Lyft’s vice president of design. “But when you spend a disproportionate amount of time in traffic or looking for parking, that’s not solving the problem.”

Instead, Lyft wants to redesign the end-to-end experience of getting around, whether that means biking, taking a bus, or hopping in a shared car. But people are ingrained in their ways–and to convince people to opt into its ecosystem, Lyft’s leadership knows that it needs to offer a significantly easier way to connect multiple modes of transportation. “No one is going to change what they’re doing unless it’s an improvement on what they’re doing,” Dill says.

The design team’s new directors aim to help the company with this mission. Brian Ng, who formerly worked as vice president of design and product at the customer relationship management software company SugarCRM and has previously led design teams at Apple and Salesforce, will focus on building out the company’s enterprise business, payments, identity verification, data, and internal productivity. Former Salesforce director of UX Jessica Rosenberger will work on Lyft’s passenger and driver experience. Renato Valdés Olmos, previously the head of design at senior home care startup Honor, will oversee what Lyft calls the “core experience,” which includes everything from the app to autonomous vehicles. Former managing director at industrial design studio Branch Nick Barrett will work with Rocky Jacob, previously chief product officer at the luggage brand Rimowa, to lead the new industrial design team’s work on bikes and scooters.

Their hiring suggests an important strategy for Lyft: that doubling down on design will help the company win the mobility wars. The shift started when Dill came onboard about a year ago from Airbnb. She says that when she arrived, the design team was organized like an internal agency, which meant that designers were isolated. Now, under her leadership, designers sit with product managers and engineers, and she has peers at the executive level in those disciplines as well, who all report to the executive vice president of technology.

Will the internal reorganization, which gives designers a seat at the table throughout the product development process, impact the quality of its products? Will the design team at Lyft be able to power the kind of financial growth needed to succeed as a publicly traded company, as Lyft is reported to soon become? Whether Lyft wins the mobility wars and helps to fundamentally change the way people get around is yet to be seen–for now, it’s investing in a strong design team to lead the charge.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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