Cap Watkins is the VP of Design at BuzzFeed in New York. He told me how he ended up in his current role and some of the growing pains along the way that influenced his career as a designer and eventually a design manager. My favourite thing about talking with Cap is how reflective he is on what he's learned so far, which is probably credit to all of the writing he does on his own blog. He talks about the transition into his role at BuzzFeed, why he loves managing a team and advice for designers on when it's time to move on from something. Cap's experience mixed with his lighthearted humor made for a great conversation, with loads of insight.
Tell me a little bit about your current role and the work that you're doing right now?
I'm the VP of Design at BuzzFeed in New York. That's my title. What do titles even mean? [laughs] What I'm responsible for is the product design team which is 16 designers at the moment. The product design team covers the site, our apps as well as our internal tooling that we use for data analysis and ad sales. I also manage the consumer branding team, which works on logos, the style guide, and swag. If you ever see someone with a BuzzFeed T-shirt or something, we probably designed it.
I know that you were at Etsy and other companies previously. What was the path to your role now?
It was very long and fraught with danger.
I graduated college with a creative writing major and had taught myself HTML during that time. When I finished school I got a job at a coffee shop like all good creative writing majors because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life [laughs]. I was doing some web work on the side and did a website for a couple of my friends from college who were starting a company. One day they called me and said, “hey, we got funded!” They needed a designer and asked if I wanted to move to Oakland. I said yes and three days later I packed up my things and moved. That company was PMOG and was a Firefox extension that essentially turned your internet browsing into an MMO game. It was really cool.
After that I took a job at Zoosk, an online dating company. I was the only designer there for about two years. In my first job I’d learned a lot about having to write production CSS and deploy things but at Zoosk I wound up learning a lot more about the design process itself. The founders had been working at Microsoft before that, so they'd actually seen design in a professional context. They knew a lot about user testing, things like AB-testing, user flows and that was all new to me.