VP Creative Director at Davis, Mark Roberts is a creative problem solver with over 20 years experience. His portfolio includes work for Bacardi, Benjamin Moore, Ford, Jack Link's, Kraft, Mondelez, Unilever and Vincor.
Where do you look for job-related inspiration?
I think we gain the most inspiration by exploring ideas beyond the immediate context of our discipline - to see what consumers see and understand what motivates them to act, react or purchase. We try to walk in their shoes and get a sense of what gets them excited and why.
What is your most valuable design tool?
The most valuable tool for any designer is their mind. And a pencil.
What is the biggest challenge the industry currently faces?
Our Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) clients are facing an increasing number of competitors in their respective categories. It's great for the consumer to have many choices, but this makes it increasingly difficult for one product to 'break through' and establish a strong connection. Couple that with the growing ability for smaller players to manufacture and market products quickly and efficiently and you're looking at an extremely crowded market.
As a result, branding has to work much harder to help a product stand out. A large part of our job is to help marketers see their brand's true point of difference and really highlight its unique strengths, not just the 'hot innovation' that is selling well today.
What is the biggest challenge your agency currently faces?
A shortage of adaptive talent. We're looking for big, strategic thinkers with a fine eye for craftsmanship. We need people who can think big, but also deliver on the small, with the same desire to succeed and attention to the outcome. Big ideas, conceptual thinking and brainstorming revolve around what we want the consumer to feel when interacting with our brands; but we also need to refine and finesse when it's time to make the ideas reality. There are lots of people who can do one or the other really well, but we seek out people who do both.
When recruiting we look for our people everywhere, in any skill set and in multiple industries - packaging, corporate, advertising, etc. We look for people with a fantastic portfolio and then train them in the area that they should develop. We encourage 'the craftsperson' to think big and we teach the big picture person to focus on the subtleties that will motivate a purchase. This can only be done by clear and constant communication.
What recent tasks/knowledge/skill sets are part of the job description now that did not exist for designers when you first entered the industry?
To me, the most obvious change is the need for a strong understanding of new media and how it can be used to communicate with the consumer. Previously you needed to understand how consumers would connect with a product in store, on TV, on the radio or in print. Now there are so many ways to get your message out it's really a continuing learning experience on how to leverage these resources.
Another skill we, at Davis, teach early is articulation of strategy. Designers today must have the ability to create, explain and sell.
What advice would you offer a graduate looking for a job in graphic design?
The core thing I look for when interviewing young talent is the ability to articulate the 'idea' behind the design. I love looking at a designer's sketch book to see what paths they explored, what they abandoned and why. As a Creative Director you look for the ability to think through complex communication challenges.
Also, realize that you are still learning. If you show up, engage with opportunities, contribute everywhere you can, solve problems big and small and offer a little extra wherever you can, this behaviour will make you a 'valuable' problem solver which in turn makes you a 'go to' designer who would be very hard to replace.
What is the most exciting/innovative project you've seen (or worked on) in the last year?
Jack Link's rebrand is currently rolling out across North America on packages in multiple distribution channels and also off-pack at, for example, national league baseball fields. Applying brand strategy and design to a category-leading brand and seeing the fruits of our labour in research results and the market never gets old!
What are your 'words to live by' when it comes to executing a successful creative project?
Be open-minded. Be curious. Keep learning.
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