Designers, this post is for you.
I’m not sure if you know this, but I am a designer first and foremost. I fell in love with pixels at a young age. And I learned to code because of how much I loved to design, not in spite of it.
And I’ve noticed something about you, my fellow visual peeps:
While developers often don’t know what to make — or rather, their thinking doesn’t extend beyond “app” — designers…
Designers often believe they can’t make anything “good”.
At least, not without a developer. Deep down, many designers believe that their ability to create is dependent on someone else. Despite being full-blown makers!
Lemme tell you: Nothing could be further from the truth!
You need the same pep talk I gave to our developer friends:
Millions of people spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, working in the software and tech industry and so many others, making a million things, doing a million different kinds of tasks. So much of that work is frustrating, slow, inefficient, crazy-making, or just plain bad. And ugly! And unusable! And ineffective! Also, embarrassing, and money-losing.
THAT MEANS ENDLESS OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOU TO HELP.
And the intersection between “ways you can help” and “people who have problems and spend money” is the happy place.
So it’s time to stop fretting over what you can’t do (or can’t do right now) and figure out how to apply those creative skills of yours to problems that people have today.
The first time a stranger happily shoves money at you for something you created with nothing more than the raw power of your mind is a day you will never forget.
Plus, you know, MONEY!
And I want you to experience that joy.
Plus, you know, MONEY!
Here are 8 ideal products for designers to make…
For serving other designers, or people who would become designers, or the types of folks who hire designers like you:
Most people who publish blogs, sell products online, and send emails rely on default design for the platforms they use (Wordpress, Shopify, Mailchimp, major plugins for the above, etc). And mostly it sucks goat nuggets.
A theme is design that works — and I mean in the action verb sense. A theme is design that the customer can buy and install. For example, a blog theme that is attractive, readable, usable, good for navigating, good for conversion.
Blogs, corporate sites, sales pages, product pages, shopping carts, marketing emails are just some of the potential targets for a value-packed theme.
Yes, this product requires a smattering of light dev skills and testing. But if you can tap into the customer base of these mega-platforms, and deliver them something they both want and need, the payoff will be worth it.
Like a theme, a template is the output of a design process… but it’s a static set of designs or files, rather than a plugin-type thing the customer can “install.”
Templates are easier to produce, and are more flexible too (e.g. you can design a template for an admin interface… and then customers could apply that to an app they develop, regardless of language or platform).
Potential template targets include: app interfaces (front end and back end), cart designs, static web sites, landing pages, presentations or slide decks, book layouts, covers or logos, buttons or graphical elements, processes such as onboarding or surveying, for corporate communications… Templates can be the whole enchilada, or a set of building blocks.
The list is endless and a template doesn’t require development skills beyond HTML/CSS/Keynote/whatever format you choose.
A resource is an element used in a design, but not the whole design itself. A typeface, icon, graphic, illustration or stock photo, a widget or box, a bit of HTML/CSS/JS, or even a little tool to customize or output something (like a spreadsheet that generates pretty graphs).
If it can be added to an existing design to increase its effectiveness or beauty, it’s a resource.
(And remember, not all designs are “customer-facing” — a resource could be something the designer uses internally in one of the tools they use to produce wireframes, diagrams, or other mid-process deliverables.)
You can’t build a business on a single resource but you can definitely build a business on a bunch of them. You can either go what I think of as “the library route” and sell a bunch of individual resources, or you can bundle them.
A pack is a collection of resources that solve a specific problem for your customer. You can package any design element, be it wireframes, buttons, widget or box designs, icons, fonts, illustrations or stock art, etc.
Why does “a bunch of #7s in a folder” merit its own spot in this list?
Because when it comes to helping people — and making money — there’s a huge difference:
Library approach: “You like icons? I have 100 icons for sale” Pack approach: “You’re doing ecommerce? I have an icon pack for that. Oh, it’s analytics? I have an icon pack for that too.”
I’ve seen packs that offered 10 different templates to mock up digital products for sale, fonts for specific purposes, sets of illustrations that can be combined to create many different types of infographic, screen designs for everything to do with logging in and resetting passwords, and more.
Put simply, a tool is a standalone thing that helps you start or complete a task.
When you hear the word “tool,” you probably think software. But remember my little pep talk about millions of different types of tasks. Software isn’t necessary (or even appropriate) for many of them.
What types of tasks do people do with design? Pick colors and fonts. Generate graphics and styles. Create flows, wireframes, layouts. Decide how to tackle a design problem. Decide how to define a design problem. These are just a few examples.
If you can give somebody a handy go-to to complete these (oftentimes scary or repetitive) tasks, you can create a product. Think decision-making, choice-defining, combining, rules, rubrics, guidelines, repeatable processes, checklists… a tool can take the form of a set of pre-made selections (like color palettes or font combos), a workbook, a slide deck, a spreadsheet, a calculator, and more.
3 Screencast, audio, presentation, webinar
You know what a screencast is… but you’ve probably pigeonholed it as a multi-session, instructional, scripted, edited-to-the-max, step-by-step here’s-how kind of thing.
Screencasts don’t have to be multi-hour-long educational extravaganzas. Screencasts can demonstrate a live process. They can target experts rather than newbs. You can record and then later sell a presentation. Tear downs, reviews, installation guides, troubleshooting, running meetings… any task you perform that delivers value could potentially be the subject of a screencast.
And of course, you can use screencasts to teach.
(NB: I once sold an hour-long screencast of me designing a new web site for $60 a pop. Unedited, warts and all. I narrated it after the fact to explain why I made certain choices.)
Same goes for audio content and live, paid webinars or online events.
A course can be a set of email lessons, or exercises, or videos, or a monthly subscription thing where you get new lessons every month. Of course it could also be a live workshop.
A course is typically a more structured and more guided (and more expensive) experience than a book.
Books are great: They share knowledge, they help people, they make money… and they build your reputation.
And a book doesn’t have to be A Book™. You don’t have to write “How to Learn X” or “Everything About Y.” It doesn’t have to be a big, huge, scary, formal thing.
There’s more to life than “how to.”
This is not a complete list… obv!
Because there are a thousand different types of design and a million use cases, from information architecture to logo design to interior design to interface design to process design and everything in between.
That’s all the product types for today, my fellow right-brained friends!
I hope this list is just specific-yet-vague enough to spark inspiration for you can apply it to your skills, experience, and audience!
- Take control.
- Make things.
- Make products.
- Start small…
- and take off the “but I’m just a designer” blinders so you can choose from the entire universe of opportunity!
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