One of the perks of being a seasoned graphic designer is having a say in which jobs you take—a luxury not available to those without much work to showcase. For this reason, many designers seek to establish themselves in a niche—that is, to hone their portfolio into a specific area of design, which can be based on industry, style, design category or some combination.
But wait—you might ask—won’t working in one specialization limit my clientele? Not necessarily. Specializing often results in a higher skill level and will make it easier to establish yourself as the go-to expert in that type of design—resulting in more work in the long run than the jack-of-all-trades approach.
Deciding on a niche is not to be taken lightly. There’s many to choose from, and there’s demand, your own interests and much more to consider. That’s why we’ve put together some tips to help you settle into a graphic design niche that will keep you engaged and hopefully employed for years to come.
What design work are you naturally drawn towards?
A great place to start is with your own personal taste—after all, your niche will be a big part of your brand for clients. Your Pinterest boards or saved inspirational images will be a big help here—identify any patterns in style, industry or design category.
Certain industries often come with a common stylistic trend. For instance, designs for games tend to involve realism and detailed painting whereas flat color transitions are useful for designing mobile apps.
You can get this process started early on in school by seeking training in a formal style, such as vintage, which will be applicable to a number of different industries and prepare you for your future preferred niche.
Is there a design niche that fits in with your personal lifestyle?
Along these same lines, your own lifestyle can be a big source of inspiration for your potential niche. After all, your hobbies are a reflection of your personality (important for your branding), and if you are already interested in an industry, you will have a big head start as its design expert.
If you are interested in fashion, for example, you probably already have a bank of inspiration to access, from magazines to runway shows. Think about choosing a specialization that will benefit from your knowledge—designer clothing logos, fabric pattern design or posters for fashion events.
Similarly, your background can inform your specialization. If your lifestyle is more rural, channel your familiarity with the countryside into a niche like farm logos or nature branding.
What type of work will keep you engaged in the long run?
One of the risks of working in a graphic design niche is that you could get burned out or plain bored of working in one area. For this reason, it’s good to think about what niches allow for enough variety and creative exploration to keep you interested for a long time.
Start with what aspects of graphic design excite you the most (geometry, color relationships, etc.). Even something as traditional as typography or negative space can be reinterpreted a million different ways for different clients.
It can also be helpful to look over your past projects and consider which ones made you experience the most growth as a young designer. What projects were the most difficult or taught you some new tricks? This can indicate that there was more creative problem solving required, which is necessary in finding an longterm niche.
What types of clients approach you?
If you are a designer who is regularly approached by clients, try to recognize a recurring demographic. This might be an indication that your style is naturally suited towards these clients and an opportunity to tailor your portfolio more towards them.
For example, if you are often approached by children’s brands like the following designer, consider filling your portfolio with the kind of designs that work for children’s book illustrations, apparel patterns, branding etc. This will allow you to keep your portfolio diverse while making the most out of a particular client base.
On the other hand, if you find yourself often working in a broader niche like web design, you might try narrowing the designs in your portfolio to approach those clients from a more specialized angle. Most websites need icon designs after all, and showcasing your expertise in this area might allow you to snag some clients from the designers who resort to clip art.
How can you cast a wide net?
A niche may refer to a selected focus, but that does not necessarily mean it’s a small one—a piece of the pie can still leave you with a lot on your plate.
In other words, a niche doesn’t always target a single type of business or design format. It’s up to you how broad your niche is, and it’s important to cast a wide net to ensure steady work.
A category specialization like label design can give you access to all sorts of different projects. Just make sure you’re aware that the broader the niche, the more work you may have to choose from but the more competition you’ll face.
Staking out a specific look can be a great way to differentiate yourself even while working in a niche as broad and competitive as logo design. The following designer, for instance, uses a minimalist approach to all of her branding. This allows her to cast a wide net while giving her own designs a clear stylistic trademark—clients know exactly what kind of design they will get with one look at her profile.
A niche is nice
Now that you’ve got some questions to ask yourself, it’s time to get started staking out your very own design niche. Doing so effectively will set you up as an expert in your field while allowing you to do work that truly interests you. Like anything worthwhile, you might not succeed at the first go and have to start again. Remember that it often takes time to find your true calling, and ultimately sometimes the right niche finds you!