Is Surface Pattern Design for you?

Lately whilst figuring out how my career as a designer is going so far I’ve come to consider what the pros and cons of choosing the freelance path in design. By the way, is it just me? But it really annoys me when I listen to podcasts for example and people label anyone remotely involved in design a designer and you have to listen 10 minutes before you realise what type of designer they are..web/graphic/interior/computer games etc…

One of the interesting things in my case is that I’ve come to this practice from a non-specialised field...I wasn’t a fine artist, a graphic designer or a fashion designer before I got started...I think that makes a huge difference as to what people find challenging about surface pattern design.  Leaving your paints and brushes aside for a while to transition to learning a computer program trips a lot of people and many don’t persevere the initial hurdles and give up...I can relate to this giving up guitar lessons! :)

As I wasn’t too rooted into any of these, I think I found it easier to take on surface pattern design as a career...all the rules were new to me so it wasn’t a question of re-learning things.  The key here is differentiating the practice of art with that of design and I’ve observed how some artists making the switch to design struggle with “restrictions” that come with working not just for yourself but as part of an industry which as the name suggests is a means of production for an end product.  Art can meet and serve commerce well but ultimately it is not a slave to it...design on the other hand, is intrinsically linked to production so disregarding this can be a costly mistake. In other words, you have to have a different state of mind to make it as a designer if you’re coming from purely an art for art’s sake background.

It’s also important to develop an understanding of the industry as a whole as this helps you identify your niche which will ultimately be what makes you stand out.  You just can’t be a designer of all things to be really successful. This takes time and effort! However, one of the first things you can determine quite early on is whether your style suits a more illustrative or painterly handwriting….meaning, will you spend endless hours mastering Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop?  Ideally, you’ll get good at both but trust me, specialising in one over the other complementing your natural style is beneficial.

Making a commitment to the making it work for the right reasons is important too.  It’s no use being a struggling artist and thinking that going down this path purely to make money from your art will lead to success.  What I mean is that surface pattern design is an art of itself and your artistic talent alone won’t take you far. You can’t disregard all the other parts of becoming a designer in the post millennium era such as learning the tools of the trade, developing your design handwriting (how your natural style translates to design in your particular niche e.g. women’s swimwear).  Plus keeping an eye on what is likely to sell, knowing the studios you can work with if you want to freelance, knowing the jargon, being super adaptable, adopting new technology trends e.g. apps, trending colours, themes/motifs etc. Ultimately, who doesn’t want to make a buck from their artistic talents? Becoming a successful surface pattern designer however is not for everyone.  If you hesitate for a moment for more than a moment, you should really question whether you’re in it for the long run or are just wasting your time. Like the owner of a successful studio recently told me: “yes it’s a very competitive field but we can’t find really good designers”.