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The Perpetual Evolution of a Digital Design Team

The digital media landscape is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace. It’s more complex today than ever before with an endless stream of new platforms, devices and screen sizes, and new ways to consume content are being added every day. To keep up, you and your team need to evolve right along with it or be left in the digital dust.

Evolution Needs to be Part of the Culture
The digital media design team at A+E Networks has been rapidly transforming along with the industry over the past few years. We have changed our process, structure and tools. We are constantly building upon our skill sets and have transitioned to a (rapid and lean) product design mindset with the user at the core of it all.

Why change everything? Because everything around us was changing. To be successful, we needed to be able to respond to changing user behaviors, new consumption patterns (aka binge watching) and be able to iterate and improve upon our products based on new insights and data.

From Waterfall to Agile
In order to keep up with the pace of a rapidly changing landscape, as well as stakeholder and user needs, we changed our process to allow for constant feedback, assessment and iteration. We have introduced the Agile framework and use Scrum to deliver value across our portfolio of digital products to tens of millions of people. We are now launching minimal viable products and iterating on them versus launching two-year-old ideas that may or may not be useful to our users.

From Brand Teams to Product Teams
Gone are the days a designer was assigned to work on one thing (like designing a website) for one brand. We have created multi-disciplinary product teams consisting of a product owner, scrum master, UX/UI designers and developers who work across various brands.

Designers are embedded within the teams and collaborate directly with all team members on a daily basis. This allows them to be a part of every phase of the product lifecycle - from early research and discovery, to product release, to iteration.

From Comps to Prototypes
The days of using Photoshop to create a static comp seem like ancient history. I still love Photoshop, don’t get me wrong, but the toolkit we are using has expanded drastically. We have moved to Creative Cloud which gives us access to Adobe’s new Experience Design app, but we have also added a bunch of new tools to the mix.

Sketch seems to dominate every designer’s monitor - I couldn’t tear it away from the team if I tried. We have also incorporated prototyping and collaboration tools like InVision, Zeplin, Proto.io, Marvel, Framer, Atomic and a few others. The tool used depends on the designer’s preference or problem they are trying to solve.

The bottom line is that the expanded tool set allows us to get quick versions of ideas or prototypes in front of people to test our assumptions. They also allow us to work seamlessly with our developers every step of the way. And perhaps my favorite…they make the design process highly visible to everyone involved.

From Designers to Product Designers
I am a huge supporter of professional development, and this fast-paced digital world we have chosen to design in requires everyone on the team to continuously evolve their skills. The entire team is becoming more well-rounded, and the lines between disciplines like UX designers and visual designers (or UI designers) are becoming increasingly blurred.

UX and UI designers are coding, UX designers are taking visual design classes, visual designers are taking UX classes, everyone is prototyping, everyone is involved in user testing, everyone is doing research and story mapping; it’s totally amazing. The end result is the emergence of the product designer.

Don’t Go It Alone
All of this change has been crazy to navigate and difficult to manage at times. In the beginning, we were not good at many of the things mentioned above. Thank God we got some help. We brought in an Agile coach and a Discovery coach to help us apply the practice, adopt the changes and get better at building products.


Bob Calvano

Currently the vice president of design at A+E Networks and oversees visual and UX design for A+E’s portfolio of properties including History, A&E, Lifetime, Bio, LMN and more, Bob’s focus is on the digital media side of the business, which includes executions on desktop, tablet, smartphone and emerging platforms such as Apple TV and Xbox. Bob also holds a position on AIGA’s National Board of Directors and plays a crucial role in determining the mission of AIGA, ensuring that the organization continues to operate in the best interest of past, present and future members.