Design Gurus Series: Q and A with Frank Yoo, Head of Design at Lyft

Competition in Silicon Valley is fierce. From Apple to Google, the best organizations have realized that differentiation through user experience design is a key component to a product’s success, or failure. In this Q and A, we speak with Frank Yoo, Head of Design at Lyft and get his thoughts on creativity, inspiration, process, team building and the joys of fatherhood.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I have many sources of inspiration. I like to spin records as a creative outlet. Mostly old-school house music, and it’s strictly vinyl. It requires focus, but it’s also an effective cathartic escape. At Lyft, it doesn’t take much to get me inspired. I’m always fired-up about my work. All I need to do is check in and read the latest Lyft driver story or observe a user research session. After that, all I can think about is how we can make the experience better for our incredible Lyft community.

On the management side, I have an amazing coach and several advisors that help me gain perspective on people challenges and growing a team. I also like to listen to audio-books on my commute to and from SF. I just finished Ben Horowitz’ The Hard Thing About Hard Things. That guy is a beast.

Describe your design process?

My process is pretty fluid, but one thing I must always do is set-up my design file and tend to my physical design space. If I start off disorganized, it’s very difficult for me to recover and maintain focus. Cross-functionally, I’m a big fan of ad hoc syncs vs. scheduled meetings. We only have two design reviews and one day of user research per week. Beyond that it’s simply about executing and constant communication.

How do you handle designers block?

During the day, I’ll take a solo lap around the Mission (where Lyft is HQ is located) to clear my head, and then treat myself to some bougie coffee. I’m also a huge fan of chef documentaries. There are so many creative parallels in their stories to what we do as designers, but their perspective is completely new and fresh. On the flip side, one thing I try to avoid is over-reliance on examples and design audits. Of course I’m constantly checking out new apps; I just remind myself that this tendency can easily become a crutch which could lead to a derivative body of work. I don’t want that.

Who are some designers that you admire? Why?

Julie Zhou, Julie a huge inspiration for me. She just seems to get it. Her blogposts are spot on, and her experience in UX and product management combined with her keen observations of organizational design give her insights extra weight and relevance.

Luke Wroblewski, Luke is like an encyclopedia of design and mobile technology. He’s in perpetual motion: writing books, speaking at events, building companies, advising, raising a family, riding bikes … I’ve never known anyone to work harder. He is always the first person in, and the last person to leave. I had the privilege of working with Luke at Yahoo! where I learned the finer points in case building, substantiating design decisions, and time management.

Katie Dill, I had an opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with Katie last year. I was amazed by her product insights and intuition, how crisply she communicates her message, and her unshakeable presence on the stage. She is a straight-up pro and a very cool person.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

There are two events that initiated big, positive changes in my life. The first and most important was becoming a dad where I’ve learned to take greater control of my priorities. It’s crazy how fast your life zooms into perspective when you bring a baby into the world. It’s been my proudest moment by far. Secondly, joining the team that became Lyft, then building a world-class design organization, and thriving at the incredible pace that comes with creating a new category of technology has been the experience of a lifetime.

What advice would you give to younger designers getting started now?

Reach out and talk to as many people as possible. People with more experience and sharper skills. People who do things or see things differently from you. For me, this took the form of tweeting at strangers, participating in quora discussions, getting a coach, and hosting numerous coffees and lunches. Go to events on topics that you’re passionate about, and put yourself out there. I wish I had done that more often when I was a young upstart. I’ve learned so much from my friends here in SF; there’s such a dense concentration of big brains and amazing people. It would be a shame not to tap into it.

Also, do lots of work, do favors, work on your own portfolio and side projects. Do whatever you can to get some experience under your belt. It will help you gain facility with creation and building tools. Soon enough, you’ll be spending less effort learning fundamental skills, so you can then direct your focus on making great stuff. That’s when your output will get you noticed.

Frank Yoo and three other design gurus will be speaking at the next Uncharted Minds Thought Leadership Series on July 8: Silicon Valley Design Gurus from Airbnb, Medium & Lyft Share Their Secrets. Wednesday, July 8, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT) San Francisco, CA