How to Get Started in Digital Design – Part 3September 18th, 2010 | Posted by in Articles
Okay! Well, if I haven’t been controversial enough so far, this is the day for it! Today I will be talking about Originality in digital design. And here’s the big, mean message: If you don’t have anything original to add to the mix, don’t waste your time opening up a shop.
I’m sorry if that hurt! But it’s the plain, un-sugarcoated truth. If you don’t have a friend in your life with the guts to tell you that maybe you need to think long and hard about what you’re creating, I’m happy to be that gutsy friend for you—or better yet, help you to be your own best friend! We all need to look in the mirror and try to critique our work objectively. It’s good for the creative soul!
Birds of Many Feathers
Now! Here’s the good news: There are MANY ways in which to stand out.
Maybe it’s your unique modern style. Maybe it’s your eye for perfect color combos. Maybe it’s the elements you make out of your own vector shapes. Maybe it’s your fancy-pants papers. We talked about Abilities yesterday. What are yours? Strengthen whatever it is you already do well—and don’t stress over the styles that aren’t really your thing!
No one is saying that you have to learn how to draw your own images. Or paint your own elements. Or cut out and extract your own felt. If that’s not something you’re personally passionate about, then just be happy admiring the work of others who are good at it! Don’t feel that you are less of a designer for not doing the same thing. In fact, many times people frown on those who just do the same thing after those innovative pioneers have started a new trend—so be aware of that, too! You don’t want to make a name for yourself as a copycat. Yikes! It goes back again to staying true to what you really love.
CU: To Use or Not to Use?
As much as it depends on you, you are always better off making your own items—as long as you can professionally do it yourself.
Why? First of all, if you photograph and extract your own stuff, no one else in the world is going to have that particular ribbon image in their kit. That is a big incentive for me to buy your unique collection over another designer’s new kit.
Second, you will save yourself the cost of paying another designer for her time. You could argue though that there are girls out there having $1.00 sales—it really isn’t costing you much. But let’s think about that for a minute… that probably means that at least 50 other designers ALSO have that same element pack you just bought. And they are going to use it in their own kit. And none of you are going to have much luck selling that collection because the same exact stuff is everywhere! So what do you do? Put it on sale for $1.00 and hope that someone likes it and will buy it. And then that puts pressure on the rest of the industry to follow suit with Dollar Day sales. But the girls who are crafting their own original items deserve to make more than $1.00 off the sale of their items.
Hey, we all like seeing our kits sell! But price is not the only reason a customer won’t spend their money on you. You have to give them something enticing AND something they can use. Think about it—a customer could potentially end up with five copies of the exact same bow in similar shades of pink in her stash from five different kits made by five different designers. What use does she have for that?!
So, make a name for yourself: Make your own stuff.
And also, just as important—know what that means today. Making absolutely everything from scratch might make you feel accomplished, but if it is not photo-realistic, it’s not what shoppers are in the mood for today. Bevel and embossed elements were all the rage in 2005. Today in 2010, that’s not what most scrappers want. And tomorrow, they might want something totally different. So, take a look around and get to know what’s hot right now.
But What If I Can’t?
Now if you were to look at my own kits, you can plainly see that I use Commercial Use items. I have a few reasons for this. One is that I don’t have good equipment to photograph or scan my own items. I’m also terrible at extraction and I worry that I’m doing it wrong. So, I buy from trusted sources. And I try to make each CU item my own.
And that’s really the key! Always remember that commercial use items are just another tool for your Designer Toolbox. They are best used in your work to create something new and unique! You can use CU items, as long as you have a good mix of other truly exceptional items.
Now, it’s okay to use some items straight up! If you have a kit that’s composed of a few strings you recolored but a ton of unique paper shapes you made yourself, no one is going to care so much about the strings being CU. They will like the convenience of having a blue string that matches the blue papers in your kit (and they always seem to love string for some reason! LOL!). But the main attraction is going to be those special little flowers, stars and animal elements you made. And that’s what’s going to be most prominent on their layouts as well.
Don’t ever forget that you are making your beautiful designs to be used by scrapbookers. Be sure to critique of all your elements in terms of how people might put them to use before you decide if an item belongs in your kit or not. Don’t add some piece of CU fluff just because it came in a CU grab bag you bought. Does it have a purpose? Will someone find a use for it?
Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot
Very few people can be both successful and use large amounts of CU items in their kits. But know that these successful people already dominate the market. They have attracted loyal fans who love what they do and will purchase whatever they make that is new because they do it well. So, if you decide that you want to use lots of CU items in your designs, this makes your job that much harder because you are a new name and an unknown risk. Will they be disappointed? They don’t know. Maybe they should just stick to the designer they already love… what about your new kit is going to tempt and entice them? You have to have something unique about what you do.
And trust me, if you’re looking to get into a big shop, the owner knows her stuff. We’ve seen the same things over and over (and over!) again—especially with those popular vector shapes you got on sale last week. We are not going to be impressed if you’re using CU items straight out of the box with no personal touches… even if you have other strengths, like an eye for color or a knack for great themes. If you’ve been trying to get into a big store and haven’t had success, it’s time to ask yourself some tough, tough questions and be willing to make some good changes in your design diet.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
So, how exactly does one go about being original? Well, here’s the main ingredient you may be missing: it happens off-line and it happens with pen and paper.
First, you go hunting for inspiration. Or inspiration will find you, if you’re lucky. When it does write it down in a special sketchbook (something that makes you happy just to look at it!). This is your place to doodle and draw without fear of criticism. This book is just for you! Don’t be afraid to write whatever you want to in it. We’re not going to see it! Well… unless you show us, that is. Would you like to see my sketchbook? I adore my sketchbook. I highly recommend that you fall in love with one, too.
Okay, so you have one idea—let’s say a it’s a Vintage-y European style travel themed kit. Sounds nice! Now what? Well, now you hunt for inspiration! Get out a bunch of mail-order catalogs and magazines. Go out to a local antique store (maybe one that’s near a coffee house, where you can go and sit with your sketchbook and jot down notes?). Get on-line and browse for lots of pretty images. But remember: there’s a big difference between being inspired by something you see and blatantly copying it. Don’t cross the line!
Now—with all these things in mind, make yourself lots and lots of notes, doodles and sketches! Then when it’s time to go to Photoshop, you’ll be overflowing with new ideas (and less likely to add another pink ribbon to your kit “just because”).
You have to have a plan! It’s so helpful to have a road map. So, make time in your day every day to be creative. If you’re going to handcraft your own elements and papers, then get off the computer and have some fun! Or spend 30 minutes messing around with vector shapes and the Path Selection tool. It will be totally worth it once you’ve created something to use for yourself—something that no one else has in their kits.
And that’s how you stand out as an original.