Cathy Davenport Lee is the Vice President of Interactive Design at HBO, where she runs a team of designers, working on digital promotion materials for HBO shows.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My background is in digital design. In school I learned a really wide mix of subjects: 3D modeling and animation, coding, graphic design, video editing, illustration, 2D animation, etc. They threw it all at us!
Currently, I serve as VP, Interactive Design for HBO’s Program Marketing department. I run a team of designers with various backgrounds (visual, UX, motion) and we work on digital promotion materials for HBO shows.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Good question. It changes all the time. It’s usually filled with a high volume of meetings on various HBO titles as well as internal regroups on workflow and process.
I jump around to several different initiatives on a daily basis and check status with project leads on various deliverables and give guidance where needed. It is never boring! And very rarely slow.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Before the current health crisis, I worked onsite most of the time. Currently my whole team is working remotely, and has been since mid-March due to quarantine protocols.
Given that we’re digitally-based, it can be easier to complete our work remotely, but there are still some challenges. I expect for NYC folks that we will continue to work remotely for a while, and there is no pressure from the company for anyone to return before they are ready.
In terms of how it affects me personally, I have two small children and no family close by nor childcare at the moment. We live in an apartment and the outdoors areas are communal, so you have to be careful of maintaining social distance.
But, we’ve gradually built a routine to adapt. My spouse and I each take one child during the day, and work in separate rooms, to make the childcare easier. I turned the dining room table into my “office”. It has been challenging but also rewarding in interesting ways.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
This is such a great question and am so glad you asked. For much of my early years in this industry, I felt beholden to the social pressure to work until collapse. 12-16 hour days were normal for me.
Sleeping at the office was not infrequent. But what happened, in my mid-twenties, is that I burned out – hardcore. I decided to go freelance for a year, which changed my whole mindset.
I realized how much more efficient I could be when I was well-rested; when I was able to selectively choose my most productive hours and re-arrange my schedule accordingly. It inspired me to form a whole theory around creativity as being a sustainable resource.
Although we all have to work hard or awkward hours occasionally, that should be the exception, not the norm. We need to conserve strength so that we have the energy to expend when we need it and that we’re clear-headed.
Working sustainably leads to better work, better morale, less turnover. It is only good. It is a combination of good planning and setting expectations that the working day is 8 hours, and that we’re all going to mostly log off at a certain time. It’s not easy to fight social pressures to be “always on”, but it’s very important to do so.
After I became a mom, I’ve had to reevaluate how I get this balance in my life, and no lie, it is extremely tough to have a full-time job as a parent in addition to a full-time job as a creative manager.
Sleeping enough is a luxury that parents don’t necessarily get to have much of the time. I’ve had to get creative about how to make it work. What I can say is that work-life balance as a parent does not look like a Norman Rockwell fantasy life, and you can’t expect it to.
You have to learn how to be okay with cutting corners on some things (like homemade meals or a perfectly clean house) and how to work with your spouse to make sure you’re splitting the workload fairly. This is also challenging, but has greatly increased my efficiency at work and my ability to delegate tasks.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I’ve recently started making a list once a day, every day, of 5 things that happened that day that were positive. In a time of terrible tragedy for many people worldwide, it’s been important to try to train my brain to notice what is working. It sounds insignificant but it has been incredibly effective as a habit.
The other thing I do is dress for work every day (and change to something comfortable when the workday is over). It really helps.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Ha. So many! I’ll try to keep it to a few.
- Web Design. The Evolution of the Digital World 1990–Today – A history of digital design put together by the founder of The FWA, Rob Ford. Spoiler, I’m quoted in the 2007 chapter.
- Project Inkblot – An org that I recently became aware of that consists of artists and designers who teach how to design with a diversity mindset.
- Creative Bloq – Tutorials, inspiration and reviews for almost every aspect of design.
- Greyscalegorilla – Tutorials centered around C4D and integrations with AfterEffects.
- Asian Not Asian – Love these guys – they are often hilarious and incredibly insightful about various topics.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I’m a bit of a techie. I often buy various IoT devices because I’m just curious how they work and curious about the applications of them.
As an example, in my home, I’ve replaced nearly all the lights with Hue bulbs and have a Google speaker in most of the rooms. Using voice-activated assistants has been a huge parenting hack for me. I can turn on the TV, or dim the lights when it’s bedtime, without having to get up from the computer and stop what I’m doing.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Ariana Huffington comes to mind. Love Thrive!
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
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