Since entering the transportation market in 2012, Lyft has only continued to grow. So much so, it's odd to think the startup launched just six years ago.
But Lyft remains focused on the future, with self-driving Lyft cars already on the road in some cities. It's an exciting time to be on Lyft's design team, and as we learned from this interview, it takes a lot of passion and hard work. Audrey Liu, director of product design at Lyft, answered all our questions about how to get a job working as a designer at Lyft.
Hey Audrey, let’s get right to it! First, can you please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Lyft?
Let’s see, I’m originally from New York and have been in design for a while. I started off in consulting at SYPartners and am now a director of design at Lyft. I lead the work of several teams including our Driver Design teams, Growth, and Support and Safety — a team of about 25. In my role, I’m responsible for building the team (I do a lot of recruiting!) and providing strategic and creative direction for our products.
Looking at your current design team, how many of them came through internal referrals or headhunting, and how many came through the traditional application process (percentage-wise)?
More than 75% of our hires are actually made through referrals or were sourced by our team, but we get a ton of great candidates through our application process as well.
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
First, I love a message that is short and sweet, but that shows a genuine interest in the problems we’re solving. Lyft’s mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation, and we’re incredibly mission-driven as a company. Seeing an applicant’s passion stands out. Always include links to your work, and talk about what you’re interested in and where Lyft fits in with that.
How important is a complete portfolio? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at Lyft?
Portfolios help us understand the work that you’ve done, but even more importantly, they help give us a better sense for how you approach and solve problems. So portfolios are important, but they don’t need to be an exact replica of your resume. Just show a few projects that are important to you, that highlight the types of problems you like to solve and how you go about tackling them. It’s not so much about showing the right solution, so much as it is showing us your process, so that we can figure out which problems you might be best suited to tackle with us.
"A pet peeve of mine is when there really isn’t a good reason behind the work."
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
I always enjoy seeing a bit of storytelling in a presentation. It’s such an important skill for designers and is a tool for sharing work broadly across teams and functions. Telling the story of your work — how it all relates, why it’s important — matters. Additionally, it’s important for designers to show that they understand the goals of their work and that those goals touch on both user and business needs. A pet peeve of mine is when there really isn’t a good reason behind the work, or the designer doesn’t show an interest in or understanding of its impact on the business or user.
As for things I don’t ever want to see again: There was/is a trend of designers showing their screens on devices at an odd angle (e.g. floating above a surface at a slight 30-degree tilt). Don’t do that. It doesn’t show your work in a meaningful way.
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being invested in other interests? For example being active bloggers or otherwise outspoken in their community?
Yes! Other interests or other manifestations of your passion for design are key to helping us understand who you are as a person (not just a designer), what you prioritize and where you choose to invest your time.
Product work is part of each designer’s role at Lyft, but there is much more outside of product that goes toward helping to build a strong culture inside Lyft and in the broader design community. When I learn more about a designer’s outside interests or their design-related work outside of their job, it helps me see how they can contribute to the team in other valuable ways.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
You will meet with about 4-5 members of the team. They could be a mix of designers, user researchers, producers and cross-functional partners. You’ll start with a presentation where you’ll be asked to share a couple of projects. Then you’ll meet with each person 1:1 to dig into different topics, and you get to use the time with each person to ask questions of your own, too. (It’s important that you get to know us as well!) One of those meetings will be a design exercise. We try to keep it fun and light, and to use our time for us to get to know one another.
Of course product design skills are essential for the work you do. What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills?
Our product experience includes both online (our apps) and offline (everything outside of the app) experiences, so we’re always looking for designers who consider problems and experiences holistically — at a service and hospitality level.
Similarly, designers who are considerate of all of the aspects of an experience, including the writing, the illustrations and animations are also really great. Beyond that, strong facilitation skills and narrative storytelling. The ability to prototype is also key, but coding isn’t necessary. All of these aren’t necessary, but demonstrate that you think about the end-to-end experience and are able to bring it to life in different ways.
Lyft has a pretty unique vibe that’s offbeat yet accessible, which we assume carries over into your office culture. Would you hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
We look for the total package. To be a valuable member of the team, you have to meet the mark on both soft skills and hard skills. One without the other is pointless.
"Lyft is a high-growth startup and, as most of us know, that’s no joke."
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at Lyft? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us! (:
Every designer at Lyft is passionate about the problems that we’re trying to solve. Within a super diverse team, our belief in wanting to impact transportation systems at large, create access to mobility for more people, and set entirely new expectations for how we live as communities, is the throughline that unites us all. It is a passion that exists outside of pixels and it’s one that I look for, because that level of interest is also what will help us uncover new opportunities and solve problems in big ways, not just iteratively.
I sometimes see designers applying for a job at Lyft because they think it’s a cool company (which it is, don’t get me wrong), without really considering the level of drive you need to have to thrive in this team and to tackle the challenges we’re rallying around. Lyft is a high-growth startup and, as most of us know, that’s no joke. There are tons of ups and downs, so if you aren’t deeply committed to creating huge impact in the world, you simply will not survive. Come here for the right reasons. In fact, go anywhere for the right reasons.
Do you have a favorite story of an application that really stuck with you? Something that stood out and got passed around between your team?
For me, it’s not about the uniqueness of the application, it’s about the quality of the work and the thinking behind the work. Does this person care about the details and their craft? Do they demonstrate empathy and understanding for the people they’re designing for? Are they passionate about solving big problems? Those are the things we notice — especially when they’re missing.
How do you think Lyft is different when hiring new talent compared to other companies?
Other companies share this characteristic, I’m sure, but we are extremely mission-driven. Designers, product managers, engineers, marketers… everyone comes to work at Lyft because they firmly believe in our mission to change the state of transportation. They want to see a world that invests in more parks and less parking lots. So in hiring, we don’t oversell on perks, because we’re focused on finding the people we can count on to be as invested in our mission as we are. The people who will make us all better.
Any parting advice for us? Something we forgot to ask that a potential candidate should know?
Be yourself and try not to be nervous. Our goal is to find designers who will help push the team forward. That means that we like contrarian thinkers and we like diverse points of view. Don’t just tell us what you think we want to hear, tell us what you really believe.
Thanks so much, Audrey! Really appreciate your honesty and practical advice. For those interested in applying for a design job at Lyft, here are your main takeaways:
1. Show your passion for what Lyft does.
Lyft wants to know that you care about and feel invested in their mission to change transportation. Show your passion for what they do, and how your skills and the work you've done fits into that.
2. Share the reasoning and thinking behind your work.
You could have beautiful, relevant work in your portfolio, but if you're not explaining that work and the thought that went into it, it doesn't mean much. Write great case studies that show how you approached your work and why you made the decisions you did. The same goes for your interview. Before you meet with the Lyft team, review your projects and refresh yourself about the story behind them so you can speak confidently about it.
3. Do your best to make an inside connection.
More than 75% of Lyft's hires are made through referrals or were sourced by their team. If you don't have an inside connection, do everything you can to get noticed by their team.
We've interviewed companies like Disney, BMW, Fuzzco, Spotify and more. Catch up on the How to Get a Job at X series right here.