Having your illustration work recognizable in the design world can seem like this unattainable goal, especially when you do not know what makes you different than other graphic designers and illustrators. You wonder, “How can I have a distinctive creative look to my work when there are so many freelance designers out there doing the exact same thing in this industry?”
Here is the thing. You have to know what makes you different.
The only way to make your work recognizable is to know what sets your designs apart. I am going to give you some actionable ways to hone in on your aesthetic so you can stand out as a designer, whether you are an illustrator, web designer, brand designer, or have another graphic design specialty.
ACTION 1 | DECIDE ON YOUR DREAM CLIENT
This may seem silly, and unattainable at the moment, but if you could land your dream client right now, who would they be? What sets this client apart from all the rest, and why do you want to design for them? Think about ways your dream client is special to you, and how you can help them.
Years ago, when my husband was about to turn 30, my mother-in-law called me one day and asked me a question I never expected someone to ask me, and thought it was irrelevant at the time. She asked, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?” I thought it was a silly question at the time since there was no way I could go anywhere in the world. I had no idea why she asked, but, I thought about all the places my husband and I dreamed of going in our lifetime. There was one place that was super high on our bucket list. “Hawaii,” I told her.
Then, she said to me, “What if I told you that is where you can go for your husband’s 30th birthday for 1 week, but it must be a surprise. And, his Dad and I will take care of the trip, plus I will watch the kids?” I was floored. I didn’t know what to say at first. In one conversation, it went from just a casual thought, to a reality. I never saw it coming. I think I actually screamed in her ear. It was the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given to us. And, it wasn't even my birthday!
My mother-in-law wanted to do something special for us, and memorable. Something that would stand out in our lives, and give us the most special gift she could within her abilities. She thought about us deeply, what our needs were as a couple, and how she could solve something for us in a very special way. Yes, she could have done something much simpler, and it would have been just as special to get away for a weekend. But, she wanted to give us a once in a lifetime gift. This quality about my mother-in-law makes her who she is, a very giving person who thinks about others in the most beautiful way. She will find just the right card to say what is in her heart, or just the right trip to show you how much love and joy she wants to bring into your life.
The same goes for your career as a designer and showing your dream client they are special. When you design something for your ideal client, you think about them deeply. What are their goals, mission, and how could you solve a problem for them. The way to stand out, is to be memorable. But, you need to be memorable to your ideal client. Your ideal design client will have a specific tone or style to their brand, and your style must appeal to their aesthetic, plus fill a need for them to garner their attention. When you figure out who your ideal client is, the one you really want to see yourself working with on projects, you can start to figure out your specialty. But, you cannot design for your ideal client if you do not know who they are. This is why you cannot design for everyone. When you don't design for a particular niche or client type, you design for everyone, and you are not memorable because there is no clear distinction to separate you from everyone else. Not everyone is your ideal client. Your dream client may be a clothing company that only makes children’s clothes, or it could be a group of people, like female creative business owners. The more specific you are with who your dream client is, the more specialized your work will become, and your work will begin to stand out from the crowd.
Take Bonnie Christine for example. She is one of my favorite surface pattern designers, and she has a very distinct style to her work. Words I would use to describe her style would be earthy, natural, organic, and woodland. The clients she is going to attract are going to value those design qualities, and most likely, want that look and feel to their products.
ACTION 2 | CHOOSE HOW YOUR GRAPHIC DESIGN STYLE WILL BE UNIQUE
You can differentiate yourself by, not only knowing who you want to design for, but how you will design for them.
Depending on what you design, you could use only a specific color palette in your work, art medium, or process to further differentiate your work. These are branding principles, and your work is an extension of your brand. It makes sense to extend your brand to your designs to set your artwork apart. This does not mean you have to stick to a few brand colors. As you create new works, you will see a pattern emerge in your color choices and see colors you begin to favor. These colors may become your secondary brand colors.
If you are a brand designer, you may stick to a specific brand design theme like modern, feminine, or masculine. Or, pair it with a service.
If you are an illustrator, you can further set your work apart in the structure of your artwork. My pattern collections tend to have one or two patterns that are very detailed and full of different motifs that coordinate with other patterns in the collection. I also generally use certain colors, which further distinguishes my work.
ACTION 3 | CREATE A LARGE BODY OF DESIGN WORK
The only way to get to know your design style as an illustrator or graphic designer, is to create. It is absolutely normal to not know what your design style is initially, and this is actually good when getting established. This large body of work is not your design portfolio, though you can pull your best work from it to create your portfolio. Your large body of artwork and illustrations will help you explore your creative process to discover your style. When creating design work, you will want to have your dream client in mind, and try different ways to make your style unique.
I just recently honed in on my style as an illustrator and am continuing to grow my design portfolio. You should always be learning and growing as a designer. I was recently asked if I believe in inspiration. I most definitely believe in inspiration and find inspiration in everyday experiences with my family.
Who is your dream client and why? What words would describe your style? How do you find inspiration? Let me know in the comments!