Want to boost your income as a designer? Here's how to take your earnings up a notch.
However, we all know that exposure doesn’t pay the bills, which is why many designers who specialize are earning more as a result. Becoming an expert in your field is not only a good move professionally, but also personally rewarding. So if you want to specialize your skills, find your niche and earn more as a graphic designer – here’s how.
Many young professionals are urged to “find their niche” to become established in their chosen careers. This can be overwhelming, especially for those who aren’t yet sure what really interests them. Some students can even reach graduation before realizing that the career path they’ve chosen isn’t right for them. Despite this, finding your niche is still sound advice.
In a field like graphic design, every job advertised receives dozens (or hundreds) of applications, which is why you need that ‘wow factor’ to stand out. And while many companies are outsourcing more of their creative work to freelancers, the number of people turning to freelance work has resulted in an overcrowded marketplace.
Generalist designers can be successful, of course. However, choosing a specialty and honing your skills is a more reliable way to establish yourself as a professional – and a well-paid one at that.
Finding your niche doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require patience. It’s important that you specialize in something that you find interesting, fulfilling and challenging enough to keep you on your toes. The design style you find easiest might not necessarily be the right choice if you tend to get bored, but picking a specialty you struggle with can also be risky – even if it’s something you enjoy. You need to have confidence in your abilities – and your clients do too.
When choosing your design niche, personal preference should be balanced with practical considerations. It’s hard to find the ideal career; design might be your passion, but it’s also what pays the rent and puts food on the table. That’s one of the classic problems faced by designers who don’t specialize: they are outshone by colleagues who have spent years honing a particular skill set and have the portfolio to show for it.
Designers have a huge variety of sub-specialties to choose from – web design, UX and UI design, digital marketing and advertising, motion graphic design (such as animation and kinetic typography), 3D design, industrial or product design, branding design, publication design, packaging design, environmental design – the list goes on and on!
Each of these specialties involves a certain set of skills, education or greater experience – not to mention a different creative approach. Not every designer is suited to all types of design, and knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important when it comes to finding your niche. We’ve broken down a few popular design specialties to show what they involve, what skills they require, and who they’re best suited to.
Web design is one of the most common design specialties. Coined the “original” form of digital design, it’s one of most established design niches.
People who specialize in this field can expect to work alongside UX and UI designers to create effective, accessible, aesthetically-pleasing desktop sites and mobile apps. There is an overlap between web design and UX/UI design, but web designers don’t necessarily need to specialize in those particular elements.
Just like web design, marketing and advertising design is a hugely popular career path. Marketing and ad designers are very sought after, as businesses are constantly upgrading their promotional material to keep up with the newest trends. Those who specialize in this field need to be highly innovative and adept at researching consumer needs. Marketing and advertising is all about engaging with potential customers, making it imperative for designers to have excellent communication skills.
Designers who choose this career path can expect to work with both digital and print marketing material, and produce visuals for social media. To establish yourself in this niche, you might need a degree in design or marketing (though not in every case), proficiency in software like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, and a willingness to collaborate and receive regular feedback from clients.
With the increased focus on video marketing, motion graphic design – also known as motion design – is increasing in popularity. The demand for motion designers is rising fast, and it’s a great career path for anyone who excels at animation. Designers who specialize in this field will often create work for film, television, or video marketing. They’ll work on animated videos, movie trailers, commercials, title sequences, and other similar digital media.
To make a name for yourself in this niche, you need to be proficient in video and have the skills to stand out. A degree in design or the arts is hugely beneficial, as is a strong portfolio of work. Clients will want to see examples of the projects you’ve worked on, so it’s a good idea to build up a portfolio that showcases your talent. As video content becomes even more in demand, this is an exciting niche to be in, as the creative possibilities are almost endless.
Like motion graphics design, 3D design is exploding in popularity. It takes the concept of motion design one step further, involving the creation of three-dimensional models, visual effects, and animation. These 3D graphics can be used in everything from ad campaigns and video games, to films and product design. Designers who want to specialize in this field will need extensive experience with software such as SketchUp, Autodesk 3DS Max, Rhino, and Blender. They’ll also need to have an aptitude for art and animation, and strong technical knowledge.
Following this career path requires a good few years of studying and experience. Designers with solid practical and technical knowledge will find this a very satisfying niche to work in, and it can be very exciting too.
Some people see industrial design and product and packaging design as two distinct specialties, but for many, they are one of the same. Either way, industrial and product design involves designing items that are going to be mass-produced – a job that often incorporates elements of engineering.
Industrial and product designers need to have many skills, as well as an analytical mind and a practical approach to their work. People who enjoy functionality and aesthetics are likely to find industrial, product and packaging design a very fulfilling field to work in.
Graphic design attracts creative people, and the field certainly has many opportunities to specialize. “Finding your niche” can sound like the airy-fairy advice given by ill-prepared motivational speakers. Yet in graphic design, it’s something worth listening to.
Settling on a specialty can be tedious, and while you need to be practical in terms of building a stable career, it’s important to ask yourself if you can see yourself working as a specific type of designer for the foreseeable future. You also need to address changing trends and how they’ll influence you. In every sector, product and marketing requirements shift over time, and this may also affect your decision.
Specializing can be financially rewarding, as clients are prepared to pay more for professionals who have become experts in their chosen field. On a more personal level, honing your skills and achieving excellence in your creative work is one of the most fulfilling things a designer can do.