Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Designer's Guide to Making Money - the abridged vesion

It goes without saying that when you work in Design, you meet a lot of really talented and creative people. Unfortunately, very few of these people are appropriately rewarded or compensated for their talent. You would think that talent must grow on trees if all of the Creatives that I know are struggling. I can assure you that it doesn't. What can be said is that all of the talent in the world won't do anything for you unless you apply it. Knowing how to apply it is really the challenge and the subject for today's conversation.

I will keep this short and simple. If you want to make money with your design skills, then make something. Make T-shirts, make stickers, make posters. Just make something. The Design world is currently divided into two types of companies: Design Firms and Service Firms. The service firms are the ones who crank out chain stores and insurance company brochures. The Design Firms are the ones who make plaster molds out of coffee lids and turn them into a wall treatment. The current economic climate has made mince meat out of service firms. They are laying people off because their big client has cut their budget and therefore they are out of work. The Design firms are picking up the trash from this economic tornado and making stuff with it. In short, there is always money to be made with great Design, but service providers are a dime a dozen. Let's look at some examples.

Kate Spade started out at a magazine as a Senior Editor in charge of accessories. She was providing a service, competing with all of those other magazines out there. Every month racing around to compile pictures and reviews of the best belts, handbags, jewelry and shoes. Think about how exhausting that must have been. She was not designing anything, although she clearly had the eye and talents of a designer. One day Kate decides that there are no great handbags out there and starts her own line. She has a bunch of them made and gets a booth at a big show at the Javitts center. Immediately, orders from all the Fifth Avenue stores start rolling in and the rest is history. Kate made the switch from service provider to Design provider and now she is a household name.

Martha Stewart started a catering business in 1976 and catered many high profile parties in NYC. At one such party, she met a book publisher who loved her recipes and offered her a book deal. I think we all know how that one turned out. Now Martha could have gone on catering parties and providing a service, but now she's got her name on everything from Furniture to Paper Products. You could make a million meals and never be successful, but make one cookbook and it will sell while you sleep. To sum up, make something.

I recently came across a graphic designer who sells all sorts of 'swag' on his web site. He puts his name on a pocket comb and calls it a 'hair organizer'. It sells for $3 and people buy it. Why can't anyone do this? Anyone CAN do this. While working for a big architecture firm, I realized that I was killing myself making them a lot of money, but I wasn't getting anything out of it. I was just providing a service, and at a meager wage at that. Many of us have jobs. Many of us make our companies a lot of money. But many of us are still unfulfilled creatively and as a result, no amount of money will ever seem like enough. So let me offer you this advice. Brand yourself. Make something that screams of your personality. Whether it's a special kind of cupcake or a typeface or a prefab composting shed. If you put it out there, someone is bound to see it. And if you are as good as you think, you will be rewarded for your efforts.


  1. I believe this is what Oprah calls an "AH HA" moment. Thanks! I needed that!

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