What it’s like to intern as a product designer at BuzzFeed

A memorable 12-week design internship for the books

August 15, 2018

9 mins

Read this piece on Medium

We went in a clockwise motion around the boardroom table sharing our biggest pet peeves: inconsiderate dog owners that walk faster than their pups can follow, the haunting gap left by the door when someone leaves your room, and pesty alligators that block off roads (a Florida thing). I was less than an hour into the intern orientation at BuzzFeed, and this refreshing round of ice-breakers had shaken off all my first-day jitters. Somehow, I could already tell the summer would be a special one… and I hadn’t even gotten the office tour yet.

How I Landed The Gig

Earlier this January, during my last semester at Georgia Tech, I found myself still stuck in the “yikes-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-after-graduation” phase. Sure, I had five months left before officially relinquishing my student status, but rejections from on-site interviews in the fall left me in a mildly defeated state.

Around this time, I luckily stumbled upon the Medium article, “Be BuzzFeed’s Product Design Intern This Summer,” which highlighted an opportunity that seemed perfect to venture into. It appeared to be a great way for me to get a definitive answer between pursuing a career in software engineering and product design. Not to mention, it seemed like a priceless experience where I would be able to grow immensely; I’ve always valued the saying “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Fast forward to February — I receive an email from Kelsey, one of the design managers. She wanted to hop on a 15-minute intro video call to learn a bit more about me as a candidate. Thankfully, we had a great conversation, leading me to the portfolio presentation round with BuzzFeed’s other design manager, Caylee. I set up a slide-deck that showcased two personal projects from conception to launch, which included the messiest parts of my processes: what I tried that didn’t work, variations I came up with before narrowing down to the one I shipped, and things I would’ve done differently. The final interview was to understand more about my interest in BuzzFeed, what I was looking to learn from the summer, and how I thought BuzzFeed could help me with this. We also touched on how I work with others and approached collaboration.

A late Friday afternoon in March, while I was out in San Francisco attending IDEO CoLab’s Makeathon, I received an unexpected call from Caylee to notify me that I had gotten the offer! Looking back, I have to give kudos to the team on their response time, the transparency of the entire candidacy process, and for respecting my timeline with other companies. Shortly after, I accepted the role and the rest is history.

Fun fact: I reached out to former 2017 product design intern, Derrick, shortly after receiving my offer to ask him more about his experience. After we realized we would both be in London the following week, we met up in person and grabbed dinner and drinks with our combined friend groups!

Contributions? I Made Some.

A week before my first day, I learned I was placed on the Tasty team — pretty fitting for a huge foodie like me. My first project was to design a feature that would display nutritional information across the Tasty website and app. On my second day of work, I quickly understood how highly requested of a feature it was: I was sifting through a couple hundred relevant support tickets to better understand our users’ needs. Additionally, I researched popular diets and dietary restrictions to learn more about what was most important to show. After sharing my concepts with my mentor during check-ins, the rest of the design team in critique meetings, and Tasty product managers, I finalized designs so it could be built in the future.

My second project was focused on creating a new “lean-back” experience for Tasty users who want to predominantly consume video content. The goals were to increase view count and offer a more seamless transition from one recipe page to another. We wanted to do this by creating an entertainment-centric way to watch our videos, as most of our viewership stems from Facebook and Instagram sources.

The first week, I started off the project by catching up on our internal research relating to videos. I also created a slide-deck that detailed my analyses on popular video trends across recipe platforms, entertainment hubs, social media networks, and news outlets. Then, I planned and hosted my very own internal design sprint comprised of seven participants: designers, engineers, a data scientist, and a product manager across various teams at BuzzFeed. I brought in donuts to try and compensate for their generous donation of an hour and half of their workday.

I ended up grabbing some great ideas from the sprint and then spent some time sketching explorations on my own. After finalizing on four concepts to test, I set up video calls with Tasty users to conduct research studies. It was my first time, so I was pretty nervous, but I ended up having so much fun with all my interactions. In addition to the comments they provided on the prototypes, users didn’t hold back from telling me how much they loved Tasty. One user mentioned how much his granddaughter enjoyed making our desserts, and another mentioned how she and her husband cook our recipes together (aw). Special shoutout to Elaine, Hana, and Sami who helped me take notes during my sessions! After wrapping up my findings, I went through more cycles of iteration (with feedback from mentors in between) before speaking with PMs and engineers regarding my final design decisions.

Aside from my main projects, I helped design promotional artwork for the Tasty and BuzzFeed iOS apps and curated the “We Were The 2018 BuzzFeed Intern Class And Now We’re Crying In the Club Because Summer’s Over” article. I also led a re-design for the BuzzFeed careers page for Hack Week. Although my team didn’t manage to get a working demo by the end of the week, the VP of Engineering still gave us a personal shoutout.

Novice Designer → Not-So-Novice Designer.

It’s hard to stress how many resources there are for a junior designer like myself to grow at BuzzFeed. On Mondays, senior designers host “Study Hall,” similar to office hours for design. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we engage in critique meetings where we share our work for a combined six hours. On every other Friday, we host Design Club where a designer comes into the office for an hour to share his or her journey. I always left the talks super inspired — similar to the feeling I get when I finish watching TED videos that make me question my collective life choices. I had two weekly check-ins with my manager, Sofia, as well as one with my mentors, Celine and Caitlin. To add onto all this, no one at BuzzFeed ever turned me down for a coffee or lunch chat if I asked. It was genuinely so rewarding to be surrounded by a myriad of opportunities to grow as a budding creative.

Aside from picking up new Sketch shortcuts and learning how to link GIFs into Google Slides, I’ve gained some valuable takeaways from this internship that will stay with me as I continue on in my career. I learned that it’s important to continuously ask for feedback no matter what phase of the design process you’re in, to involve product managers’ and engineers’ judgements as early as you can, and that design processes can differ contrastingly from project to project. Designing for real-life audiences has given me a perspective that no university class could ever provide me with.

Having Fun At Work?!

Gasp, how scandalous. Well, it’s true — you can have the best of both worlds, especially at a magical place like BuzzFeed. When I wasn’t creating pixel-perfect designs at the office, I was meeting celebrities, playing with puppies, and eating all the leftovers from our Tasty kitchens.

Quite honestly, celebrity spottings were almost too common for my own good. I had the chance to meet Henry Golding, lead actor of Crazy Rich Asians, and listen to him talk about his route to stardom in his charming accent. He featured me, ahem I mean our group photo, on his Instagram page! I was also serenaded by both Jesse McCartney, my teenage heartthrob, and Mason Ramsey, acclaimed yodeler, when they stopped by as guests for our Music Break Tuesdays.

I had my own taste of short-lived fame when I took over the BuzzFeed EXP Twitter handle with my partner-in-crime, Jarvis (another intern). For a week, we documented our day-to-day’s and ended up creating a “Which BuzzFeed EXP Intern Are You?” quiz with other colleagues. As a result, people from all over were tweeting at me with their screen-shotted answers, including our former VP of Design who promised me a souvenir from Japan.

Every Friday, we had themed happy hours. I was able to help out with chalking when BuzzFeed’s Asian employee resource group — A*FAMILY — hosted theirs, despite holding no skills in the 3D word art department. During BuzzFeed’s “Global Week of Service,” I “volunteered” time out of my day to spend with puppies from the local rescue organization, Rescue City.

The list goes on and on and on. Did I mention I had a lot of fun?

Ending Remarks

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better internship. BuzzFeed is home to some of the coolest people I’ve had the privilege of surrounding myself with. Ironically, back in 2013, I visited BuzzFeed’s old office on a Girls Who Code class trip. Who knew my life would come full circle and that I’d be interning here five years later? Thanks again to the product design team, the Tasty team, and the intern fam for these memorable few months — this summer was definitely one for the books 😜.