Roger Bova Helped Give Budweiser a New Look. What’s He Planning at Barton F. Graf?

New head of design on his past triumphs and future challenges

Roger Bova was one of only three designers at Anomaly when he joined three and a half years ago. And while he grew the agency's design department into something much larger—working on giant brands like Budweiser, for which he helped usher in a new design language—he never lost his taste for smaller shops and building something from the ground up.

That's partly why, earlier this month, he left Anomaly to join fellow New York shop Barton F. Graf 9000 as its first head of design.

Bova's admiration for Gerry Graf's agency was extensive—for "the body of work it's put together, Gerry's history, the disruptive angle the work has." He also wanted to be part of a smart, growing agency again. "The [head of design] role hasn't existed in name, but I'm lucky Barton already has a great crew of designers that have been instrumental in its success," he said.

At Anomaly, Bova's work included print, out-of-home, animation and package design for Carhartt and several Diageo brands. But his efforts on Budweiser may be his most famous. "Roger's work on Budweiser took everything we knew and felt about the brand and made it feel current and awesome," said Graf.

The Bud projects included the 2013 launch of the bow-tie can. "I had been inspired by some of Matthew Craven's patterned drawings, really loved them and was really trying to get weird in that direction," he said. "In the end, the out-of-home had to go simpler, but that exploration inspired the animated commercial that eventually aired."

He also led explorations into a new Budweiser design language that kept the bow-tie mark but would eventually lead to an evolution in the packaging and brand guidelines. "In the beginning, their ribbed red, white and gold logo was where the buck stopped, but constantly trying new ways of approaching it—knocked out, all vector flat, key-lined—gradually introduced a more malleable suite of marks for the brand that's evident today," he said.

Graf also pointed to Bova's designs for Goodhew socks, which Graf said "took a little-known company and instantly gave me a feeling for the spirit of the brand."

Bova is most proud, though, of designing a literary magazine called A Public Space. "It was my first solo job and the greatest test of my chops at that point," he said. "The identity and look-and-feel came easier than the more technical layout of the journal. I hadn't done that before—designing for ease of use—so I didn't burn out someone's eyes with long text body widths, real 'inside-baseball' design. It was tough, and I loved the result in the end."

For Graf, the time was right to hire a head of design.

"We have been asked to work on more design-focused projects," he said. "And if we want to call ourselves one of the most creative agencies in the world, we need great design. All the agencies I have admired—Goodby Silverstein, Wieden, Chiat, Crispin, Droga5—all had one thing in common: great design departments."

Graf added: "Great design is the fastest way to communicate the soul and mission of a brand. It instantly gives the brand a sense of intelligence and creativity. It weaves a thread of communication. With great design, we can communicate what the brand stands for everywhere it comes in contact with people—ads, web design, collateral, packaging, in-store experiences and product development."

One example, from among many, of Barton's recent design jobs: working with GoDaddy's web designers and UX team to create a simpler, cleaner and smarter experience for GoDaddy users.

Bova also sees an urgent need for the new role.

"Barton has great clients, so developing a structured design approach and process is not only paramount for them, but for the agency as a whole," he said. "When you have a system, things run smoother and therefore time and energy are freed up for design exploration, which as we all know, we never have enough of."

Asked about his personal design philosophy, Bova said: "To me, design has always been about problem solving. From solving my own personal projects—that problem simply being self-expression—or a client's communication problem—announcing a new product—it's all a puzzle. How you approach and solve that puzzle is what defines you as a designer. I feel that frees one to try many answers out and see what works. It gives you freedom to explore different directions and answers."

He added that the interplay between design and advertising is more exciting than ever.

"Advertising and design, who leads who at the big dance, that's the classic question," he said. "The answers are so nuanced and particular to a company's structure, client needs and personalities. The biggest shift is really all the old silos folding into the current digital landscape—skewing media so quickly it forces creatives to keep adapting. It's great. I find that fluid world incredibly exciting for everyone—designers and advertisers alike."

Bova started his new gig on Aug. 3, and it seems to be going well so far.

"It's been great, and everyone's been warm and enthusiastic," he said. "And being by Madison Square Park, I have solid lunch options."

See more of Bova's work on his website.