This month we get some InSight from Bob Calvano Vice President of Design at A+E Networks. Bob is also one of our keynote speakers at our December 3rd event; Theory+Practice: Managing Change Within you In-House creative team. Register today join your peers for an informative and fun evening of best practices and networking.
Your full name:
As far as the government is concerned I’m Robert James Calvano. But please, call me Bob.
Where do you work? What does your company do?
I work at A+E Networks. A+E is a global entertainment media company with six original brands: A&E®, HISTORY®, Lifetime®, H2®, FYI™ and LMN®. We reach 330 million people worldwide, can be found in eight out of 10 American homes and have over 500 million digital users.
What types of services does your team specialize in?
My team and I work on the digital side of the business, so we specialize in creating products to distribute our content digitally across multiple platforms. Let me explain that a little better… We create apps for smartphones, tablets and emerging platforms like Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, and whatever comes next. We also create responsive websites and interactive experiences for desktops that translate to tablet and mobile devices. We are visual designers, interactive designers, mobile designers, user experience designers, and some of us hack around with code as well.
How many people make up your team?
We are an incredibly small team for the number of products we have and the amount of work we do. There are only 10 of us!
Your title/role within the company
I’m the vice president of design (and UX). Let me unpack that a bit… I oversee all creative and UX design for A+E’s digital platforms. I’m tasked with establishing and developing a creative structure, process, and team to deliver innovative solutions that result in engaging, user friendly, and intuitive digital products. On top of making sure that consumers enjoy using our products, I make sure we are addressing and meeting business needs. I’m also focused on strategy as well as generating a holistic design approach that fits A+E's portfolio of properties. In many ways I'm a dot connector: I connect dots across the design team, across the digital product teams, across brands, and across other departments in the company such as marketing and analytics.
Share a best-practice leadership experience
It’s hard to narrow this down to an “experience”, there are many facets that make up a best practice experience… As a leader, I believe one of the most important things you need to do is listen. Most of us think we listen, but we need to listen and observe free of judgment — this isn’t easy and it takes practice. As a leader I also believe it’s important to put the needs of others first, be supportive, provide the team with everything they need to be successful, and support a continuous learning environment. Add all of that stuff up and you have a best-practice leadership experience.
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
We have a few new projects that I’m really excited about. First, we recently launched “Planet H” which is a new brand extension from HISTORY designed for kids ages 7-11. What’s really exciting about this is that we did it digitally. You can’t tune in to Planet H on TV (yet). What you can do is download games to your mobile device and tablet that allow kids to explore historical topics and eras through play. We currently have two games available and there are more to come in the near future.
The other thing that I’m excited about is the new design and development we have done for our Amazon Fire TV app. We had a little more creative freedom with this app compared to platforms like Apple TV. Fire TV will compete with Apple TV and Roku for market share, but we have apps on all of the platforms.
One last thing… A+E recently launched a new network called FYI — everything we are doing for FYI is exciting. It’s all new and lots of fun to play with a new brand and bring it to life digitally.
If you could share one piece of advice for an up-and-coming creative leader what would it be?
Never become complacent, always stay curious, read everything you can. You have to fully dive in and be committed. You also need to be confident. That’s more than one, but they were short.
What inspires you?
I don’t have one source for inspiration. I look everywhere, constantly. It’s something I’m aware of everyday — the looking for inspiration, I just never know where it’s going to come from. Working in Manhattan offers infinite sources for inspiration, but sometimes the pattern of cut grass on an athletic field inspires me. I have been guilty of not noticing what’s right in front of my face in the past, so now I take the time to notice everything my mind can take in. It can be people (famous designers or homeless people, etc), examples of great design, architecture, music, ripples in a pond — I never know what is going to spark an idea.
What is the first thing you do each day to organize yourself?
I’m a list maker, and my list is always in front of me — I use sticky notes and they are organized on a section of my desk. It gives me a quick reference to the big projects and smaller tasks I need to take care of and what time frame I’m dealing with. I don’t like the sticky notes on my desk, so each day I look at those notes and figure out which ones need to be removed, which ones I would like to remove, which ones I can delegate, and fantasize about a few I’d like to throw away. Then I allow myself to go on a bit of a tangent that has nothing to do with those sticky notes. It’s a 15-minute tangent that usually has to do with looking for inspiration. Then I’m ready for the day and those sticky notes.
Have you noticed any changes or trends for in-house creative in the past year?
Corporations are relying on the in-house team more and more and the result is that teams are getting bigger. Corporations want more from the in-house team, and the in-house team has been adapting to those demands. They are either hiring full -ime employees or bringing in freelancers because they are taking on more responsibility. When you take on more responsibility, you notice you have a few gaps on the team and need to figure out how to fill those gaps quickly.
What has been your greatest challenge as a creative leader?
Being a creative leader isn’t an easy gig. You have to be good at a lot of things, and many of these things were not part of my curriculum while getting a fine art degree. I continuously find myself knee deep in change. Getting everyone on board with that change is difficult. Even when you get people on board, the execution of change can be messy. If the change extends outside of your creative team and affects other departments and perhaps how you work with your clients, well, the complexity increases. That said, managing change is difficult. When in doubt, call in an expert.
Where were you born?
In the lovely town of Passaic, NJ.
Where do you live now?
In the historical city of Morristown, NJ. It’s a beautiful suburb and we (wife, kids, dogs) love it.
What is your favorite indulgence?
I like Robert Graham and Elie Tahari shirts. Can’t get enough of them in my wardrobe.
What talent do you have that most people may not know you possess?
I play the drums — I’ve played them for just about my entire life. I’m also really good at applying faux finishes (with oil paint). Water-based paint sucks for faux finishes. I make kick-ass pancakes too.
What was your very first job?
Hmmmm, someone may get in trouble for breaking child labor laws. The point is that I wanted to start working as soon as I could — legitimate or not. I worked in a retail store at a very young age folding clothes, and keeping the store neat and clean. Then when I was 13 I got a job with a landscaper. Cutting grass and trimming bushes was great exercise, but it was the wrong line of business for me.
What is your favorite food?
This question is virtually impossible to answer. I love food — from fish, chicken and steak, to a big fat pork chop (bone in). I eat as healthy as I can, but I have a weakness for a good cannoli.
What do you plan to do when you retire?
I still have to get two kids through college, so there are many days I feel like I will just die at my desk and that retirement is not an option. But I have actually given this some thought recently. I will never stop designing or making things. In “retirement” I think I would be really happy opening up a small shop to restore vintage drum sets. I would get to work with my hands and play the drums all day.