Sana Rao — Deliveroo

A global citizen currently based in London, Sana leads product design for restaurants at Deliveroo. She also loves drinking tea, reading books and writing poetry.

What led you into design?

I had an artistic inclination growing up and did a lot of sculpture and painting – the fine arts room in school was my refuge. At some point in high school, I realised I enjoyed my art most when it communicated with someone, for a specific purpose and not just for pure self-expression. It was my mother who pointed me in the direction of design as a discipline and encouraged me to explore design colleges. I went to the National Institute of Design in India, which is a unique institute, set up with the help of Charles and Ray Eames, on the invitation of the Government of India. That’s when I truly fell in love with design.

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up around 6:30am, train and meditate with Headspace for the next hour, and then get to work around 9am. At Deliveroo, like most fast-moving startups, it’s 'go time' from the moment you enter. Since today's Monday, I have a bunch of 1:1s set up with my team. Afterwards, we do a planning session for the Restaurant design team and later there's a team-wide stand up in the afternoon because a few colleagues work remotely from the US. Early evenings are usually for design critiques or interviews. After work, I like to catch up with my friends, read or write. On particularly intense days I like to end the day by writing in 750words which I’ve been using for years.

What’s your setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

I feel so lucky to live in London – this city inspires me endlessly. I love to wander around, exploring new neighborhoods in search of little-hidden corners to write or read in. Perhaps to balance my fast paced lifestyle, lately, I’ve been inspired by the idea of the small and the significant – finding moments in the day that help you zoom out and get perspective.

Also, I try to invest in learning new skills as often as possible. At the moment I’m learning pottery. There's nothing more inspiring and liberating than learning something from scratch and giving yourself the permission to fail and grow.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

It’s not a digital product, but the “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” book, which was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. You can check it out here. Everything about the book is perfectly executed, from the language and illustrations to the diverse range of inspiring women they manage to cover. I'll probably be raving about this one for a while.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

In typical designer fashion, whenever I look at my older work, I'm never satisfied. But there are a few of projects that have helped me grow a lot as a designer.

Twitter Live – the last project I led while at Twitter – is one of those. It was a totally new product for the company and I was lucky to be part of the team that brought it to life. It evolved from only an idea to a successful launch, then live streaming NFL Thursday Night Football and the US presidential election, among other things. Recently I caught a peek of it in an exhibition at the Design Museum, here in London, which made my day!

My first project at Twitter was also a massive learning experience, it was the first redesign project Twitter had done in years. I was responsible for leading the overhaul of user profiles on our native mobile apps.

Apart from my day job, I co-founded while at SVA as part of a course called Entrepreneurial design – It was called Postcard Poets. It was a labour of love in the truest sense and it really helped me understand the value of creating authentic communities.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

I’ve recently moved from Twitter to Deliveroo, and one of the first things that struck me was that so much of the challenges here are physical and operational rather than purely digital. I lead up the restaurant design team, where we think about the most effective ways of sending orders to the restaurants and helping them prepare the food exactly in time for a rider to arrive and pick it up for delivery. The parts where different players in the ecosystem overlap are the hardest and the most interesting to design for.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I think every designer has to follow their own path to figure out what works for them. I don’t subscribe to a singular idea of success or ambition.

However, the one thing I do encourage designers to do is to write, as writing is no longer a skill that’s just limited to copywriters. Designers are solving more complex and nuanced problems and need to be able to articulate their work in an equally skilled and nuanced way. John Maeda’s Design in tech report also mentions writing as a critical skill in design. As a bonus, it’s also a great way to attract other like-minded people.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Over the coming year we're growing the design team at Deliveroo so please check out https://careers.deliveroo.co.uk/ if you’re interested in any opportunities here.

I’m also fairly active on Twitter as @sanarao, and usually Tweet about design, diversity, tech culture and poetry.

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