Anchor List: Helena Seo, Head of Design at Doordash
The Anchor List recognizes extraordinary operators in the startup ecosystem. Learn more at anchorlist.com
In our highlight reel of top startup operators, Helena Seo deserves special mention for her work leading the design team at DoorDash.
“As you move up, your role gets closer to the company's business, and it's critical for design leaders to understand how design solves business problems and identifies opportunities. I stay proactively connected in various forums that discuss the company's business and try to become 1% better at it every day.”
Originally born and raised in South Korea, Helena grew up in a family of artists, scientists, and engineers. For Helena, becoming a designer was the clear path of intersection. After studying graphic design at California College of the Arts, Helena ran her own design studio before working at eBay, Groupon, and finally DoorDash.
At DoorDash, Helena’s team creates the user experience for the logistics company’s three-sided marketplace. Her team includes product designers, UX researchers, content strategists, system designers, and design technologists. One of the most critical parts of her job is to build the team and create a team culture that everyone wants to be a part of. Therefore, a significant chunk of her time and effort belongs to recruiting.
Reflecting on Helena’s impact, her team’s transition during COVID-19 stands out as exemplary work. When the lockdown arrived, Helena’s team designed rapidly for contactless delivery and iterated to improve both the customer and dasher experience. While the habit change from in-person food handoffs to contactless delivery was challenging, it was a necessary approach to address COVID-19’s safety requirements. During the pandemic, costs were also increasingly important to many customers, especially those who lost their jobs or lived off of lower incomes. Helena’s team developed initiatives to make meals on DoorDash more affordable, such as an Offers program, smoother promo code experience, and DashPass subscription programs. All of these changes have helped DoorDash become a logistics platform that serves customer needs effectively during this novel challenge.
Providing advice to other designers, Helena recommends operating at lightning-fast speed with guardrails. As she puts it, “DoorDash has grown its business exponentially over the last years, and balancing the quality of customer experience with business growth has been on top of mind across the org.” To protect the customer experience Helena’s team has implemented guardrails that include:
Customer-centric problem statements during product brief reviews (so the product does not merely solve for business problems)
Customer-centric design reviews (so design decisions solve the specific customer problems)
Training designers, PMs, and Operations teams on self-served usability testing (to build customer empathy across the organization)
Relentless focus on adhering to DoorDash’s product principles: delightful, thoughtful, trustworthy, and efficient.
Reflecting on Helena’s success, we’re particularly impressed by Helena’s customer-centric bias while also solving business goals and building a high-quality team. At DoorDash, Helena grew her team’s size by 3x in a single year and then 7x in 2.5 years (from 10 to 30 to 70 people) while maintaining a world-class level of design. Her teamwork and high standards are reflected in the quality of the product, which currently ranks #1 in the App Store’s Food & Drink category.