Yoko Ono once said "everyone's an artist," but in this day and age that quote could just as easily be expanded to "everyone's a designer." With backyard workshops, basement jewelry design studios, stylists making their own clothing lines, and artist- and design-based independent businesses popping up all over the world, one wonders: what can make or break an independent designer?
Pre-internet designers would traditionally either need a large company behind them or would have to settle for selling locally. These days the internet has leveled the playing field while also forcing designers to become multi-talented small business owners. What tools does an independent designer need in order to stand out? Obviously a good, interesting design is key, but these days so many other factors are involved that can aid in taking a little known independent artist and designer -- such as myself -- from relative obscurity to worldwide success. The modern independent designer must wear more than one hat, or be able to call in favours within their communities, in order to meet the demands of success. Here are a few tips that helped me on my way, and hopefully can do the same for you.
1) Take your time to make your product the best it can be.
Before you decide to market your items to the world, give whatever samples you have to friends and family so they can test out the kinks for you. For instance, I hang my works around my home and lend them to visitors for feedback. Remember: the best pieces of advice are often the ones that polarize people the most, so don't get upset when friends give you their honest opinions about your work. After all, you asked for it. Listen, then use what they say to improve your creation; that's where the real work begins.
2) If you build it, they will come.
Become a member of a blog, or a blog community, within the field of the product you wish to market. Use your design skills to get a blog up and running with vibrant images, behind the scenes info, and anything else to help showcase who you are and what you do. Tumblr is a great place to start for anything visual, design, or art related. Using outside content (work that isn't directly done by you or your team,) is a great way to pull followers to your feed.
3) Make it pop.
In our visually oversaturated world, image quality and interest are vital in order to simply stand out. Nothing turns people off a blog page or product page quicker than poor quality images. As a general rule, always take a minimum of two sets of photos for every product you bring out: one set of high resolution, magazine-ready shots on a white backdrop, and another set of more creative photos that will expand your product's reach online. Always try and do both sets right off the bat, because magazine editors are constantly working on deadlines; if they have to wait for photos, your opportunities can be lost in a blink of an eye.
4) Use Ecommerce sites to your advantage.
Any independent designer just starting out would find it advantageous to join an Ecommerce site like Etsy, even if they have the ability to sell and distribute product themselves. Etsy has put serious effort towards promoting its members, and can provide a huge amount of potential exposure through its partnerships with West Elm and other global magazines. I have often been amazed at the amount of work Etsy does to promote its members, with no additional expense to the artist. While having your own website and Facebook page are all great, Etsy's system won't cost you much (other than listing fees) but the community focus it has is a great boon to any independent designer.
5) Build the body.
Design and art aren't about individual products as they are about your collected body of work. With that in mind, divide your time proportionately between promotion, production, and development. As an independent designer or artist, quite often you may find yourself exceptionally busy with one side or the other. However, don't fall into the trap of simply concentrating on one aspect of things. Finding a bit of time for promotion, even when busy with production, will not only allow you to switch gears and refresh but will also mean that you are still paying attention to the future and the present at the same time. To paraphrase Hemingway, always leave something for the next day.
In the end, remember that being an independent designer and artist means having to balance many roles, which can simultaneously difficult and rewarding. Your multitasking and hard work will ultimately serve add value to your individual brand, and that's the name of the game in this industry. Good luck!
See more of Alex Jowett's work at www.atelier688.com