Specialization in Graphic Design

Not getting noticed? Try narrowing your focus.

Specialization in Graphic Design

As entrepreneurs, we often have lofty goals. We want to be all, do all, achieve all. However, when we concentrate on fulfilling everyone’s needs, instead of becoming experts at our craft, we need to take a step back. Though we all may have a variety of skill sets, we should ask ourselves: What is it that I do best? Where do I shine? What can I bring to the table to truly impact my client’s business?

Narrowing your client focus can give you an edge over your competition in our increasingly competitive market. This is also a unique way to brand yourself and a way to begin to develop a unique personal style that clients will come to recognize and seek out.

We sat down with Gary Irwin, founder and creative director of the boutique design agency, Variant, who has found that specializing has been the key to growing his firm organically. Irwin’s particular client focus is the independent film industry and finds him spending the majority of his day partnering with distributors and filmmakers to create one-of-a-kind posters, packaging, and digital art. Concentrating on this market also fulfills both of his passions: filmmaking and graphic design. Win, win.

Ready to narrow your focus? Here are some tips to set you up for success, paired with Gary’s wisdom.

Decide where your efforts will be concentrated

If you’re ready to narrow your scope, take time to focus on where you’ve had past success and where your passions lead you. Do the majority of your clients come to you for packaging design versus hand lettering? What creative endeavors do you find yourself engaging in outside of work?

With over 15 years of design experience and leadership under his belt, Irwin found it a no-brainer to put all of his energy into the independent film world and specialize in what he did best. “I just knew,” he said, “this was my path, and I was ready to take the leap.” Variant was born.

Once you’ve made the decision to specialize, set up camp and get to work, but proceed knowing there will be hurdles to jump from the start. The unique challenge of choosing to narrow your focus is building a solid client base from a smaller playing field and selecting projects from a tiny portion of your portfolio.

As Irwin notes of his decision to specialize, “Knowing you want to do it and actually doing it are two different things. I think one of the most intimidating aspects of specializing in a particular offering is getting started. But while it’s challenging to get into the rotation and get your name out there (I went through a lot of stress early on, I still do), the rewards of becoming a go-to creative in a particular vertical market are ten-fold.”

Autism In Love Theatrical one-sheet & digital poster for Matt Fuller and Carolina Grooper by Variant Creative
Autism In Love Theatrical one-sheet & digital poster for Matt Fuller and Carolina Grooper by Variant Creative

Create your mission statement and follow through

Once you’ve established your focus, it’s always a good idea to take the time to sit down and ask yourself some foundational questions to plot out what’s to be a successful journey. For example, why did you get into design and why are you in this business? Who are your favorite clients and why do you love working for them? What is your mission? Your vision? Your purpose?

Irwin carved out a mission statement to keep himself on track. “What I didn’t want to do was constantly hustle without moving towards something, so I spent a lot of time early on crafting my philosophy and launched Variant with a very specific mission statement.” In this statement, Irwin addressed his passion to work on key art for independent film, his drive to constantly improve his craft and his desire to narrow in on his vertical market.

The Blackout Experiments Sundance Poster for Ferocious Entertainment by Variant Creative
The Blackout Experiments Sundance Poster for Ferocious Entertainment by Variant Creative

Create great work and the clients will come

Though your initial road to landing clients once you’ve narrowed your focus may be bumpy, hard work, hustle and great work are always best. Have patience while you build your portfolio with examples of the work you want to do. Concentrate on making sure it’s the best it can be.

“Creating compelling work is my mantra. The work helps get the bigger fish to come. It will start to snowball into the attention you’re looking for. Use all of your typical marketing methods, of course. Blast as many people as possible. But the constant is making sure your work is solid,” Irwin suggests.

Ballin' At The Graveyard Theatrical, festival Posters & Box Art for Dugway Pictures | Virgil Films by Variant Creative
Ballin’ At The Graveyard Theatrical, festival Posters & Box Art for Dugway Pictures | Virgil Films by Variant Creative

Constantly hone your craft

As you work on narrowing your focus, the clients will come and in turn, you’ll find an easier time identifying them. With more work will come more opportunity to become better at what you love to do.

“Because of a narrow focus, I know the market. I know who my customers are and I know how to find them, Irwin reports. “This has helped me tremendously in getting my name out there.”

“On a personal side, this is what I enjoy doing the most. I get to become an expert at what I love to do and it helps me stay sharp. Everything comes back to Variant moving forward in becoming the best at what we do.”

Thanks to Gary of Variant Creative for all of the great information he provided us in this post! Learn more about the work he does by visiting his official site, or get social with him over at Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter.

Monday Morning Motivation: Talks that inspire us the most

Every so often, we all need to pull up TED.com or YouTube and find a motivational talk to give us the strength we need to get through a challenging day or simply for a breath of fresh air. Today, we’re sharing some of our favorites with you. Please leave a comment below and let us know which speeches light that spark for you. We’d love to check them out.

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Graphic Designers Favorite TED Talks

The surprising truth about what motivates us
adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA

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Graphic Designers Favorite TED Talks

Stefan Sagmeister’s
The power of time off

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bryan

Joe Smith’s
How to use a paper towel

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wilson

Andrew Solomon’s
How the worst moments in our lives
make us who we are

Malcolm Gladwell’s
The unheard story of David and Goliath

Simon Sinek’s
How great leaders inspire action

Robert Waldinger’s
What makes a good life?
Lessons from the longest study on happiness

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heather

Amy Cuddy’s
Your body language shapes who you are

Monica Lewinsky’s
The price of shame

Margaret Heffernan’s
The dangers of willful blindness

These Are Things’s
How we learned to stop worrying and enjoy the ride

Ira Glass
…On Storytelling

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aaron

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Michael Pollan’s
Edible Education 101

Dan Gilbert’s
The psychology of your future self

Dan Gilbert’s
The surprising science of happiness

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michael

From TED’s Radio Hour:
Brand Over Brain

graphic designers favorite ted talks

From TED’s Radio Hour:
The Power of Design

graphic designers favorite ted talks