Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes
Hi Sabrina! Tell us about what you do at BuzzFeed.
I am a product design manager at BuzzFeed, so my responsibilities include coaching individual designers, growing the design team, plus establishing and maintaining our shared design process.
You made the transition from Visual Designer to Product Designer. Why did you make that decision and what advice can you give to other Tech Ladies ready to make the leap?
In some ways I think my transition happened as the industry around software design was also making a transition away from these more specialized roles and towards a more holistic one where a designer is responsible for a product from end to end. So that includes visual design, but also includes user experience and product definition. I wanted to expand my responsibility into those areas because often times good visual design is so dependent on good user experience.
It could be frustrating to be handed wireframes that didn’t make sense and expected to just ‘make it look good’, so I really wanted to have a voice in shaping the UX and the structure of the application I was designing. I was lucky because at my first job a lot of my more experienced co-workers who were interaction designers really encouraged me to take on small UX projects and would find opportunities for me to gain more experience in that part of the design process.
My advice for anyone looking to transition into a new or expanded area of responsibility at work would be to try to pick-up small low-risk projects that allow you to gain experience and contribute to your portfolio. If that’s not an option then self-initiated personal projects are also a great way to force yourself to be responsible for parts of the process that may be outside your existing area of responsibility.
You were recently promoted to manager. What have you learned so far? Any advice to those looking to move up?
I’ve learned that management, when it’s done right, is really a support role. I think a lot of people look to move into management thinking it will gain them more visibility in their workplace. To some extent this is true but I think good managers will try to direct the limelight towards their reports, advocate on their behalf, and give them opportunities to grow.
There are certain tasks that might be easier for me to accomplish myself, and would probably make me look good, but it would be a disservice for me to not to recognize that as a learning opportunity for someone else on my team. Something I’m learning is how to balance being selfless with being selfish as a manager. It’s not good to be an extreme in either direction, and easy to burn out if you don’t practice self care and prioritize yourself from time to time.
My advice is to fully understand what management means at your company. At some smaller companies it may be more of a player-coach role, while at larger ones it tends to be strictly people management. If the role of a manager is vague and undefined at a company, that’s a major red flag to me. That should be a red flag for anyone, even if you don’t want to be a manager.
Also keep in mind that management is not the only way to “move up”. Many companies are now adopting separate tracks for individual contributor versus management roles. This is because someone is an amazing designer does not mean they will make a good manager; and the same goes for engineering.
If this is an area you’re interested in, my advice is to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and fully understand the responsibilities. Then I would look for opportunities where more management may help your team. For example, are deadlines getting pushed back because the team keeps going back and forth on a design and can’t come to a decision? Can you help establish a decision making process for that team? Also mentoring and managing an intern is a great way to try out management responsibilities.