A subject that comes up a lot among designers is that of niching. There is a train of thought that says by being too general in what you design, and who you design for, you can end up appealing to the wrong audience and miss out on working on the stuff you’re most passionate about.
Running my own studio, I’m quite lucky in that I can choose to pick up projects that I know I’ll enjoy working on, and turn down that which doesn’t suit. Perhaps, in some small way, I’m choosing certain niches in doing that – but discussions with other designers brings up a lot of questions. Like with everything creative, there are strong opinions both for and against niching – so I thought it might be useful to share some of them for those of you who are wondering whether or not it’s a good business model.
What is a niche?
When I talk about niching here, I’m focussing on the design aspect – although some designers I’ve come across choose to design within specific industries, too. I guess how you choose to niche depends on your location and style, to an extent, but for me living in a small market town, that doesn’t really make sense for me to consider. It might be very different for you.
Your niche might be as specific as you only want to work on designing logos. Perhaps you want to focus on web design work, or just print design. These are all perfectly valid – but while you might have a flair for a certain type or style of design, there are things to consider.
What’s the market?
If you’re going to be that specific in your niche, then you’ll want to make sure that there’s a strong market for it. It’s no good advertising yourself as a logo designer if the people you’re targeting are not looking for logo designers. Here’s the secret, though – you don’t have to commit to just one niche. And I don’t think that you should, because there’s a danger that you could narrow down your audience too much.
For example, let’s go back to our logo design niche. Those people are likely to be start-ups, or businesses looking to re-brand. So it might make sense for you to choose a second niche, like web design – which that particular audience will also be in the market for.
You can see from that example that it makes sense to marry these two niches – and it broadens your audience.
Money is also a consideration. There will be some projects that are naturally more lucrative than others, and it would be remiss to ignore that. Don’t narrow your niche down so much that you miss out on better paid opportunities.
Your niche doesn’t have to be small. In my work, one of the project types I enjoy most is branding (also a valid niche), and of course within that, there are several design aspects – logo, website, print, and also the actual branding style, colours, fonts…you get the idea.
I could, should I wish, advertise my services in this way. And so could you – the benefits being:
- You’d have a much tighter target audience to focus on.
- Your online content and SEO would attract those searching for branding designers specifically.
- You’d be certain that the majority of projects you attract would be stuff you actually want to work on.
- You’d stand out as an expert in that specific field and become known for it.
- As a specialist, you could potentially increase your rates.
What if you don’t want to niche?
All of the above might make you think that I’m advocating niches, but in actual fact, they’re not the be-all and end-all. Having a niche might appeal to you, but it might just feel wrong. In truth, it’s not essential that you niche your design business, and there’s nothing wrong with being a generalist – many designers are, and really successful in doing that.
Many designers thrive on having the variety of being a jack-of-all-trades – and it doesn’t mean that you can’t still focus on who you choose to market your business to. If you simply don’t want to be defined as a specialist, that’s fine, and you should never feel pressured to do so.
I’d love to hear your views on this. Do you already have a niche, do you want one, or are you against the whole idea?