As the creative director for Polyient Labs, Cody Robertson oversees design and brand strategy for Polyient and its portfolio of clients. Before he joined the Polyient team, Robertson spent more than a decade serving in senior creative roles at agencies and firms in New York City, Los Angeles and Phoenix working with a number of world-class brands. On an interesting note, he recently earned a certificate in Blockchain Business Innovation and Application from MIT. His work has appeared in CEOWORLD magazine, Modus and Starternoise. We sat down with him to get his take on today’s creative world.

Give us a snapshot of today’s graphic design market.

I think today’s graphic design market is divided between a state of division and a state of consolidation. Look at Dribble’s “2019 Annual Global Design Survey,” which paints a pretty clear picture of what’s hot in design. Not surprisingly, UX/UI/Product/Web design all are poised to reign supreme. Designers in these areas make up the biggest demographic globally followed by graphic designers, brand and logo designers, and then illustrators.

With everything going online, there is an obvious need for interface, app, and web designers in the workforce. Most graphic designers I encounter are incorporating UI/UX, motion design, or illustration into their repertoires.

What this means is traditional graphic design appears to be dying, but, in fact, it’s evolving to fit the landscape of today’s digital world. There is still a need for traditional “graphic” graphic designers, but I see—thanks to the rise of blockchain-powered apps and the decentralized web—designers are finding a second wind by selling digital artworks, gifs or illustrations colloquially known as “crypto art.” In fact, crypto art is ushering in a whole new art wave being born from graphic designers.

What are your clients looking for today?

With the globalization/democratization of design via the web, every designer’s portfolio of pixel-perfect work is online for everyone to see. So, it is not hard for clients to find good designers, but it is surprisingly hard for them to find great ones.

As a result, clients these days look less at the quality of the art, and instead take into consideration the quality of the entire design experience. Clients still care about the quality of the art, but they also look for well-rounded, communicative and diverse designers and teams that will not only deliver the cleanest, slickest, best-executed approach to a client’s idea, but can also make the client-designer process enjoyable, transparent and productive.

What really wins clients over is a well-rounded team that can firmly guide the client through the process—while being open, empathetic and pragmatic throughout.

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What are some of the most critical things important to today’s brand owners?

With regards to today’s most successful brand owners, the biggest change I’ve seen is this: For better and for worse, brand owners genuinely care about what you and I think of their brands.

This isn’t the same as your general affinity toward the brand. (Chances are you will buy the product no matter what.) What has changed is brands now care how often you think of them and when and where you think about them. We saw this en masse in 2019, which marked the age of “The Branded Experience.” Brands begin to care about creating immersive ecosystems of products, services, and experiences alike all around a single brand. Then brand owners invite consumers into that world.

Look at what Apple and Supreme have accomplished. Small brands can capitalize on this phenomenon and achieve impactful brand experiences by creating a seamless experience for their customers. This means adopting a design language, unifying your digital interfaces, creating brand guidelines and even small things like making sure you shoot all your photos the same way or use the same filters.

Brands used to be about a few colors and a logo. These days, brands have evolved into everything from virtual assistants, artificial intelligence, wearables, logo-stamped bricks, smartphone-branded credit cards and even to branded flamethrowers.

What’s the one quality every art director must have today?

Throughout my career I’ve worked with many great and a few not-so-great art directors. What really separates the average from the admirable is empathy. Art directors know how to communicate abstract ideas and are masters of their trade. However, there are those lacking empathy. I’ve seen too many brooding Don Draper-type art directors and too few who can really take a step back and put themselves in the position of the client, the user, or the consumer.

Design is just as much about emotional intelligence as it is analytical thinking. What makes a great art director is one who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and think about problems and solutions from a holistic point of view, taking into account the actual humans who—in the end—consume the work.

With the world changing in drastic ways—seemingly on a weekly basis—it’s hard for someone to get by on only one skill set.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

This has been a significant influence in my career. I am a firm believer that soft skills are of the utmost importance for designers. With the world changing in drastic ways—seemingly on a weekly basis—it’s hard for someone to get by on only one skill set.

The opposite is the generalist crowd or the fabled “unicorns” (or in the tech world, “full-stack” developers.) They can do everything well enough, but, rarely, anything excellently.

It’s important to strike a balance: Being really spectacular at one or two things and being decent at a variety of related disciplines may be the best goal. For example, a UI designer who has a firm understanding of UX, but also understands some code and how the business operates.