TIP SEVEN - Be different
As with all artistic ventures, products that are born out of their creators’ raw imagination and are unlike anything else on the marketplace will capture the imagination of buyers far more readily than those that resemble products that are already available.
Originality is key – and the fact that you’ve had an idea doesn’t mean that nobody else has got there first. Scour the marketplace before getting stuck in to prototyping, just to make sure your project really is an original.
“Check out the competition – and then never copy anything they do or did,” says Stereohype’s Tomi Vollauschek, adding that he has seen plenty of pieces that rip off existing products, whether knowingly or unwittingly. This is not the way to make friends in the close-knit design community, and can even land you in legal trouble.
Another reason for beating your own path is in the very nature of illustrator-led products: the people who hunt out these goods do so because they want something exclusive, unusual and away from the mainstream. They prize originality and creativity, and are prepared to pay a premium for products with design flair. You won’t win their cash with run-of-the-mill designs.
“We want our customers to be free to express their individuality, with products that they couldn’t easily find elsewhere,” says Alex Griffin, who runs online design network Bouf.
TIP EIGHT - Do your sums
Unless you’re lucky enough to partner with someone who will handle all the manufacturing and distribution, you’ll have to spend money to make money: this means keeping a close eye on the bottom line.
Consider cost from the very beginning, factoring in the materials, manufacture, storage and even postage to see if the figures stack up.
Pricing is crucial, as Bouf’s Alex Griffin underlines: “Customers are extremely price-sensitive: the items that sell best are those that have their manufacturing process perfected, so that pricing is realistic and accurately reflects what customers are willing to pay,” he says.
Stereohype’s Tomi Vollauschek recommends some straightforward road-testing to gauge your pricing: “Ask as many diverse people as possible whether they like your ideas, whether they would buy it, and how much they would be willing to pay,” he says.
The wait for your outlay to pay off can be painful. “Be aware that you will inevitably end up having lots of pounds worth of your products lying around in boxes and postal tubes waiting for customers to give you their hard-earned cash – it’s an investment,” Vollauschek says.
Clickforart works with creatives to produce teacups, cushions, screen-prints and more featuring their illustrations.
TIP NINE - Respect the limits
Creating real-world products isn’t as simple as plonking a Photoshop image onto a canvas, mug or other item: you need to be aware of the manufacturing process – and its limitations.
For example, with screen-printing, each colour is applied individually, so the cost and chance of errors rises with each extra colour you use. This will have a drastic impact on your designs for T-shirts, art posters or any other screen-printed product.
Talk to your manufacturer and hone your design to make the manufacturing process as simple as possible – this usually has the extra benefit of being more cost-effective.
“We found that the most successful approach was to keep things simple: we always try to over-complicate things and end up going back to basics,” says Stephen Gibbs of Boreal.
TIP TEN - Be nice
This bit’s really, really important. When you’re designing, making and selling your own products you will need the goodwill and enthusiasm of others at every link of the chain, so it’s worth keeping people on-side.
“We made a point of building a good working relationship with the printer, because as we were still in the experimenting stage we were going to need lots of test runs – which they were very helpful with,” says Boreal’s Chris Barter.
Invest time in establishing relationships with boutique owners, local independent businesses such as bookshops, art galleries, online stores, craftspeople, possible manufacturers, and anyone who might champion your work.
Listen to what they’re after and see if you can meet their needs; ask for their feedback on your designs and take what they say onboard. Shops and organisations are also much more likely to back your project if you’ve invested time in them.
And finally, don’t be shy. Get out there and shout about your work: show it off to your family, friends and colleagues – they’re the closest you’ll come to a focus group at first, and even if you don’t agree with what they say they’ll give a valuable outsiders’ view of something you might have been slaving away on for months.
Your family and friends are also the closest thing you’ll get to a cheerleading squad in those tough early months: a little charm with them – and some free samples – will go a long way.