When starting out in graphic design, it's common to do the type of work that you're passionate about. As a kid, I used to sketch illustrations of weird and wonderful characters from my own imagination. I'd also draw out scenes from my favourite TV shows such as Star Trek and The X Files. As I grew, my attention turned toward games design, 3D graphics and eventually into UI design for websites.
Getting in touch with what internally motivates you is really important. But when it comes to niching down as a graphic designer, you'll need to connect that passion to something else that you care about so that your offering becomes more targeted and specialised.
In our capitalist culture, design services are predominantly used to sell products. There is nothing wrong with that per se; after all, commercial design is supposed to communicate ideas, cultivate desire and prompt action. But if you're only passion is for the craft of graphic design itself, you might be in for a bumpy ride when it comes to choosing which projects you work on.
There's a simple reason for this: if you don't define what you're going to use your skills for, your clients will.
Let's examine why that can be problematic.
It's wonderful to be passionate about creating stuff. Being able to visualise an idea then bring it to life is a unique and amazing human talent. But when our skills are commoditised by the market - by other people's goals - we often find that we're not doing the work on our own terms. We're doing it for someone else. And that can be detrimental to our passion for the work, because if you don't really care about what your work is going to be used for, you might not give it your all.
If this sounds familiar, you need a graphic design niche.
Many of us in the creative sector really enjoy our work. Or at least, we love the process of creating. This is fundamental, because you can't be satisfied in your work if you don't get pleasure from your daily activities. But problems can arise when you throw other people into the mix. Clashes of opinion, shifting scope and tight deadlines can really damage a project. But what if we could neutralise - or at least soften - the impact of these common problems?
The key is to use your skills only on projects that mean something to you personally.
In an ideal world, you wouldn't just be hired to create a logo or design a website. You would proactively seek clients and projects that make an impact on things that you care about.
The idea is to connect your passion for graphic design to something else that stirs your interests. You could be a branding specialist for golf courses, a packaging designer for vegan food brands or an illustrator of Victorian townhouses.
There are buyers in every part of the market. Your task as a creative service provider is to link up what you can do with some specific, personal interest. This is your niche, your little segment of the market to own.
Finding your graphic design niche is easier than you might think, but it does require that you follow a process. Luckily for you, I've mapped this out for you:
What events have occurred in your life that were really positive? What have you done that's brought a sense of wonder, or magic into your life, even if for a short time? Write down everything you can think of.
(If you need help with this download my niche quiz)
We all have a number of interests but often, we do stuff on autopilot. By writing down your positive experiences, you can shed light on the "why" behind each. What was it about that trip to the Lake District that inspired you? Why has that conversation all those years ago stuck around in your mind for so long?
Perhaps this process has revealed that you really love nature, or camping, or architecture, or animals, or playing board games, or seafood, or cars or... you get the picture. The point is that your personal history is peppered with clues to the things that light you up. Uncover these clues and again, write them down.
You now have some ideas that can form the basis of your creative business. You now know yourself so well, that you can go out and find other people who share interests similar to your own. These people won't be able to do graphic design, but they will care about ___________________ (fill in the gap). By linking up with others on the basis of a shared personal interest, you'll be putting your design skills to use and satisfying your desire to do work that you deeply care about as well. Niching is win-win.
If you're serious about doing work that truly matters to you, I've prepared a workshop to help uncover your niche and create a readymade go-to marketing plan just for you. Click here to enrol on the workshop.