Courtney Allison Brown, Design Operations Lead: People Development at Capital One

Courtney Allison Brown, Design Operations Lead: People Development at Capital One

Within Capital One, design spans a huge gamut of things. From actual products to experiences, visual design, interface design and more, designers tackle a wide variety of needs, projects and products. At the center of these efforts, DesignOps aligns teams and workflows, so everything is humming along optimally.

As the Design Operations Lead: People Development at Capital One, Courtney Allison Brown ensures the organization for design is well managed. While her day-to-day constantly changes, a common theme is making sure there’s a solid footing for design. That people have an understanding of what everyone is working on, communication is flowing and designers continue to grow, learn and take on new challenges. Courtney joins us to talk about her path from art school to Ops, and how creating art keeps her fresh and helps her to explore new opportunities and ways to connect.

 
 

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Show Notes

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Carl: Welcome back to The Bureau Briefing. Today, we have with us the design operations lead as well as an artist and a connector. The design ops lead from Capital One, it is Courtney Allison Brown. How are you, Courtney? 

Courtney: I'm great, thanks. How are you?

Carl: I'm good. Now we met in Utah, right? 

Courtney: Correct. 

Carl: What a crazy town that was. 

Courtney: It really was. It was very cool, though. I like it a lot. Especially since we were staying outside of Salt Lake. It was very kind of desolate but also really cute. 

Carl: It really was. And we had no choice but to get to know each other. 

Courtney: Right. 

Carl: Because there really wasn't anything else going on. So I was so glad to get to know you there, and I'm glad that we have you on the show today. And one of the things I want to talk about before we get going too far is you posted on Instagram this road trip that you took. And I was just infatuated with it. Because you know what? It looks like kind of a Griswold experience. 

Courtney: Yeah. 

Carl: So can you talk just for a minute about that road trip? 

Courtney: Sure, absolutely. Yeah. My husband is in school right now, he's in for his master's degree up in Maine. So we decided at the end of his first semester to take a nice little road trip out to the west. We ended up starting in Richmond and driving all the way to Texas and New Mexico and back. So I think we did around 5,000 miles roundtrip. 

Carl: Whoa. 

Courtney: In a little less than two weeks. So it was fun. 

Carl: And talk about, what was the highlight of things that you saw? Because there was a world's biggest ball of yarn kind of thing. 

Courtney: Yeah, definitely. We saw the Cadillac graveyard, I think it is. 

Carl: Yeah. 

Courtney: That's near Amarillo, which was pretty amazing. We got to go to Marfa, Texas, which is really cool. We saw some old west kind of stuff that my husband was very interested in. Passed through a couple of other interesting places like Roswell, New Mexico and White Sands. So it was pretty fantastic. We definitely got to hit a lot of the Americana along the way, which is some of our favorite stuff. 

Carl: I have to say, the two of you belong together. If you drove 5,000 miles, went to those types of exhibits, and were having a great time ... which, social media can lie a little bit. But it totally looked like you were having an amazing time. There's no way I could convince my family to do that. It's just not going to happen, so. 

Courtney: We're pretty good travelers together. We travel very similarly. You definitely get to that point when you're traveling for that many hours in a car that you're like, okay, we're just going to listen to a lot of podcasts and look out the window. And you know honestly, that's kind of a saving grace, is doing that. Because you still get to enjoy something, but you enjoy it in silence.

Carl: Well now, so talk a little bit about yourself. Because you started off as an artist. 

Courtney: I've kind of bounced around, yeah. 

Carl: Yeah. And so talk about that and growing into this role as design operations lead. Because I think there's a serious connection between spending 5,000 miles on the road with somebody and being able to connect designers with the rest of an organization. There's a level of patience that you must have that I think we should all hear about. So talk a little about your history. 

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It probably has some correlation to what you're saying. I started out as a broadcast designer back forever and a day ago when I lived in New York, and kind of went down that route for a while. And ended up switching over to being a producer for broadcast. And that kind of naturally transitioned, then, into digital just because that was the new thing. And it was something that was very intriguing to me because it constantly was changing and giving opportunity for learning and just keeping my brain fresh, which is something I really need in my life. 

Yeah, so then that kind of worked its way over to being here at Capital One as a design operations lead/design manager. So it's an interesting hybrid role. But with all of that, I've always also dabbled in the arts. So I went to school for art, I have an art project that I work on on a regular basis around demotional data visualization and yeah, so it's kind of fun. It's nice because it keeps me fresh and kind of always exploring other opportunities of what's going on and ways to connect them. 

Carl: So a lot of people talk about design ops. But this is actually your job. 

Courtney: Right. 

Carl: So what is a typical day or week like for you? 

Courtney: There really isn't a typical week. And I think that can be said for a lot of these types of jobs, like producers or project managers, design managers. It's all constantly changing, just because of the world that we live in and the work that we do. But I think a lot of it comes down to kind of like the basic week would look like you're connecting with a lot of people always on a regular basis, you're making sure that people are communicated to, that people have an understanding of what everyone's working on and how we're doing it and making norms out of that. 

So it's a lot of those kind of tactical things that happen on a regular basis. You know, it's a lot of fun because you get to know all of the different designers that you work with. You get to really get inspiration from the kind of work that they're doing. And being able to also bring that into your world on a regular basis. So if you have a brain that's really well split between being creative but also having that analytical mind and that process mind, it's a great hybrid role for that. 

Carl: So how much do you get to stretch your creative mind when you're working with everybody? 

Courtney: Pretty often. I mean, there's a lot of creative problem solving that has to happen. For sure. I mean, like I said, with everything changing on a regular basis, you're kind of always have to be on your game for creatively problem solving things. To make things happy, and make people feel fulfilled with the work that they're doing. I mean, it's a whole gamut of things. 

Carl: So what are some of the typical projects? 

Courtney: At Capital One, obviously, we've got a huge gamut of things. I mean, there's people that are creatively working on actual products that we're producing for Capital One. So banking, credit cards, things of that nature. 

Carl: Right. 

Courtney: There's people that are working on actual services and experiences. So things that are occurring in our cafes. There's even the service design around how you apply for a card. So there's tons of different creative outputs that are occurring. I never realized how many disciplines there are until I started working here. Between physical design, service design, there's actual visual and user interface design. I mean, there's everything. So it's definitely a lot of variety, which is great. 

Carl: I mean, if there's a platform, Capital One's going to be on it, right? 

Courtney: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we've definitely broken out of just being a bank. 

Carl: So when you're working with these teams, how many different people could you be working with in a week? 

Courtney: It really depends on the team that you're on. I'm more of a core functionality, so I work across all of our design organization. I have some touch points outside of just the design work, based on what we're doing, it might have to do with recruiting, or HR things. But it really does just depend on the team that you're aligned with. So I touch pretty much everybody though within design because the stuff that I work on gets sent out to all of them. 

Carl: And I imagine that a big part of your job, obviously, is keeping things moving. 

Courtney: Right, yes. 

Carl: I mean, operations is about keeping things moving forward in the right direction. How much of your job is trying to maintain a level of consistency across these separate design teams? 

Courtney: I mean that's definitely something that we are all working towards on a regular basis. Because of the way that we've grown, there's a lot of different maturity levels within our products and teams and things like that. And again, also because of the banking landscape changing on a regular basis, there's always new teams being formed to fulfill those needs that are coming up from our customers and just internally, as well. So yeah, it really just depends across the board. I mean it really is hard to hone in on one. But we definitely strive for consistency. 

And that's something that we're definitely getting towards. It's just that, as you know, with a variety of teams at different maturity levels, you're always going to have some challenges with that. But it also opens up a lot of learning opportunities for how we're going to move forward in the future. 

Carl: One of the things that's always impressed me, I think the first time I looked at Capital One, I actually worked for an advertising agency, and we did a lot of those ... I don't want to say horrible, because I still know some of these people. But we created thousands of credit card designs. We had one wall that was lightning wall, one wall that was the puppy wall, one wall was the kids wall, you know? And so different designers would just rock all of these designs. And then you would basically get compensated based on how many people would select your design. Which was very innovative, right? It was something that was brand new. 

And that was my first experience with Capital One is being a different kind of company. And then, once you go through the whole adaptive path and coming into Capital One you go, whoa, they have a real appreciation for what's going on here. Talk about your decision to go to Capital One. What was it about that organization that you saw that you could have a life there?

Courtney: Well I hadn't really considered Capital One too much until I actually moved to Richmond. And I didn't move to Richmond, Virginia, for Capital One. I just moved here because I thought the city was amazing. But I started looking at opportunities. And it seemed like everybody I met either had worked at Capital One, is working at Capital One, is going to Capital One. And I never heard anything bad about it. Everybody's like, "This place is amazing, the people are so great and it's innovative and people are so smart." So that really intrigued me, because I was coming out of an advertising world and I was looking for something to use my same skills, but looking for something a little bit different. Because I had never been on a corporate side before. 

And just hearing that really made me interested in it because I wanted some place to feel fulfilled, to be challenged by people who were incredibly smart. And as soon as I got in here, it's amazing to me two and a half years later how many amazingly smart people I work with. It's a daily shock. 

Carl: And you're going through this huge ... It feels like from the outside that Capital One's going through a huge growth. 

Courtney: Right. 

Carl: When it comes to design. So what role do you play in maintaining ... Again, it's a little bit of that level of consistency. But just, as you go through a lot of growth, obviously things get a little shaky. So how do you help maintain that level of ... I don't even know what to call it, but I guess ...

Courtney: Normalcy? 

Carl: ... quality, right? 

Courtney: Yeah, quality and normalcy. 

Carl: Yeah. 

Courtney: Yeah, I mean the team that I work on specifically within design is really focused on making sure that our organization for design is well managed within Capital One. And that's very important, because each organization has their own structure, their own setup. And everybody's working on their own different things. But if you don't have those core competencies set up, you're going to break. And we've really tried to make sure that there's a solid footing to build our organization on. And that's basically what I focus on on a day to day basis. 

I ask designers, "Do you feel fulfilled with what you're working on? Is there something that ..." All the people that are in my role within their lines of business ask that question. So it's a constant thing of making sure that people are happy with what they're working on, because then they're going to want to keep working on it. They're going to want to keep growing and learning and stay with the company. So that's been a big thing that we've been focused on with regard to making sure that we have solid footing, and growing and keeping things moving forward. 

Carl: So one of the things you mentioned before we started today was this idea of a connection between the design teams and the groups that are outside of Capital One. 

Courtney: Right. 

Carl: And that that's something that really energizes you. So share that. 

Courtney: So I don't get to work too much with that unfortunately, but I love getting to see the connections. And sometimes I'm great at making those connections for people. If someone reaches out about a question, I'm like, "Well I don't really know who that is." But because everyone is so communicative, we're easily able to make those connections so people can grow relationships outside. But the way that a lot of our design organization is set up, that our designers sit within different lines of business, or in tandem with them. So they're working together to build a product. 

So you've got design, you've got tech, you've got product. There's just all these different teams and they work together to build these items together. So that's why it's so strong, because you're getting the perspective of so many different groups. 

Carl: And do you ever get called in? Do you ever have two groups who are working together and they call in design ops to help them figure something out? 

Courtney: We haven't had that too much because we've been very focused on the design work by itself. But if there's an issue that comes up within the design work, we definitely step in to try to help smooth that over. Or maybe another group that is in a supporting role like we are to do that as well. 

Carl: Well if anybody from the rest of the organization's listening, they need to call you in. Courtney is going to make it happen, and she's going to be super smooth about it. Everybody's going to feel great about it. What are some of the other things about working at Capital One that have just kind of surprised or energized you? 

Courtney: I think just the kindness of people that work here. If you're not out to really work together with people and grow together and problem solve together. And just be kind about the way you give feedback and criticism, praise. That's been the biggest thing that's been a surprise to me, is just how kind this entire culture of people are. 

Carl: You know it's amazing. I hear about this, I have a lot of friends that are at Capital One that I've known for a long time that are now at Capital One, and they tell the same tale. 

Courtney: Yeah. 

Carl: They figured there'd be a honeymoon period and then the reality would set in, but no. They still seem to really love it years later. So that's just really refreshing to hear. And what a difficult thing to maintain in a really large organization. 

Courtney: It really is. But I think it's kind of a natural process that if you're not fitting into that kind of a world, then generally people make the choice to exit. Because it's an investment, you're investing in people. You're investing in the people you work with and the people that you manage or the people that you even manage up to. And you have this loyalty and these relationships you're building. Oops, sorry about that. Those relationships that you're building. And you want to make sure that people are taking care of each other. 

The work that we're doing, it's such a human thing, dealing with peoples' money. I mean it really is. But you want to make sure that ...

Carl: It is. 

Courtney: ... you're able to take care of them and you understand people. So it's a big thing. It really is. 

Carl: Well what's next for you? You've got another road trip planned or anything fun on the personal side? 

Courtney: Yeah, we're going to be doing another road trip in August. So it'll be very similar to this past one, but we're going to go a little further west so that'll be fun. And aside from that, I might just do a trip up to Maine to see my husband in the summertime. 

Carl: Well there you go. And you know, it's funny because if you're traveling during August, I think heading west is a good plan. Especially, you're in Richmond, that definitely is slightly different weather than Florida. But pretty hot there, so.

Courtney: Yeah, it does. And you know, we actually were expecting the west to be crazy hot where we were going and the weather was amazing in August, I was shocked. 

Carl: That's great. Well I look forward to follow on Instagram for the next road trip. 

Courtney: Yeah. 

Carl: And Courtney, thank you so much for joining us today on The Bureau Briefing. 

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. 

Carl: You got it. And everybody listening, great touching base and we'll talk to you next week. All the best. 

Image via Capital One


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