Most people draw inspiration from their surroundings and what they love whether it’s food or music… I’m not that way. I’m inspired by real people. How they do things and how I know them to be.
Over the years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the minted design community. I’ve see it grow and change tremendously. I’ve seen designers step up to help a peer with critiques or share business resources. It’s really beginning to become more of an extended family. I have so much respect for these designers.
This community continues to amaze and surprise me all the time. Recently a fellow mintie (minted designer) had a family medical emergency and the community came around to support them through this difficult time. A fund was started to help them cover some of their medical expenses. I was really overwhelmed by the sincerity and generosity of this group.
Some might think of me as a bit of a minted poster child. A title, I honestly would proudly claim. I get more and more intrigued as I get to know each of them more on an individual level. Each spring, there is a National Stationery Show in NYC. I’ve attended the last three years in a row. In reality, it’s suppose to a business trip, but what I look forward to the most every year, is getting to meet my fellow minties in person. There’s something about meeting the actual person you’ve grown to know through design work and community participation. That little profile picture is nothing like the real deal.
Minties celebrate your wins with you, share in your losses and they encourage you to keep moving forward. Hats off to the minted community!
Let’s talk a little business! Today I want to address the topic of exclusivity agreements pertaining to stationery designers and artists. I am no business expert. So take all that I say say with a grain of salt. I can only speak of my own experiences and from learning from my peers’ successes and mistakes.
Let’s talk about what kinds of exclusivity agreements (EAs) there are first. Not all are EAs are evil or equal. There are total exclusivity agreements that encompass your brand. It basically means you may solely design for a single company. EAs can also be for a specific category- like wedding, holiday, etc. Or it can be product specific – cards, photobooks, calendars, etc. There are other EAs that are design specific, which means the specific designs that you give that company are exclusive to their site/store. I’m okay with these design EAs personally, because I don’t want the same designs available everywhere. Do I prefer no exclusivity? ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY!! No exclusivity = freedom. Who doesn’t want that?
Let’s go over why I think EAs can be bad for you as an designer/artist. They mostly benefit the company- the big guy. Total exclusivity means you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and we all know what can happen there. If a company has exclusive rights to your brand – they basically own you. You are their “employee” but without a salary or benefits. Sure they can say you’re building your brand by letting you put your logo or name on their site. Consider how much visibility you are really getting from this. On the flipside, it may add to your credentials in the future, depending on the company and its reputation.
Let me break it down for you. Lets say you sign a total EA with Company X. Most likely, there is still some kind of design approval process. Some approval processes are very simple, but some can be quite tenuous. The problem here is – what if they don’t like any of your designs? It’s a possibility you need to consider. Now you’re stuck and have no other avenues to sell your work. How does this affect Company X? It doesn’t. There are hundreds of designers waiting for an opportunity just like you were, at their fingertips.
So here’s my two cents. Exclusivity is usually always bad for the designer/artist. It limits you and your brand. There are some companies out there that will sweet talk you, but once you sign that agreement they break out the chains and whips. Not all companies are bad of course – there are some wonderful companies out there too that care about the individual artists. How can you tell them apart? For me – it’s seen in the time and communication they give you. Do they answer your emails and questions in a timely manner? Do they take the time to meet with you if you are in the area or at a convention? Do they value your opinion by asking about how they can improve their company or processes from your perspective. These have all been indicators of a good company to work for.
I’m going to talk briefly about Minted design challenges because it’s how I got my start in stationery design. It was through these competitions that I have been able to build my brand and gain many wonderful opportunities. Consider if Company X discovers you through the Minted design challenges, but as a condition, will not let you compete anymore after you sign with them. For me, that is a big red flag. The entire stationery world is watching these challenges to discover new talent. If you no longer compete, you’re no longer on their radar. You are also missing out on the opportunity to be challenged and grow through competition and peer review. Minted challenges are a one of a kind platform on which to grow your brand because it levels the playing field for unknown designers. It doesn’t matter what educational background, years of experience or who you know, or in my case, don’t know. It’s purely based on your work and talent. It gets your work in front of a lot of key people in the industry.
My hope is that you educate yourselves before you go signing on that dotted line… I know it’s so tempting at times because you need the opportunity, not to mention the $$. But remember it’s not guaranteed that your designs will sell or even be accepted. You will never know what you’re missing out on if you just chomp at the first bit you’re given.
To be fair, some people aren’t looking to make a whole career of it. Maybe you like designing on the side as a part-time thing or do it just for fun. I guess in these cases, an EA wouldn’t be that bad of an idea. Make sure you think about your time commitment as well. If you do decide to go ahead with a tough EA. I would advise keeping it to a year or less to test it out. Then you can make a more informed decision after that.
I don’t want anyone to pass up a good opportunity, even if it comes with a EA. Every option should be considered with care. My hope is that you see past the excitement of the initial opportunity to consider how this would affect you in the long run. A lot of being a freelance designer has been trial and error for me. I often felt isolated with no one to talk to about these kinds of contractual agreements. Unfortunately, it seems some big companies take advantage of those of us who are inexperienced or naive. I hate to think new designers are getting taken advantage of. If a company asks you to sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) before they even show you what they have to offer you, it’s not a good thing. It basically isolates you and prevents you from getting good counsel from peers or otherwise. NDAs after you sign with a company are normal. They serve to protect a company’s business strategies, processes and products from its competitors.
In my opinion, a good business strategy should not be to keep designers in the dark. I hope that I shed some light where there was little. I know I still have much to learn regarding this topic and I’d love to hear what you think (even if you think I’m off my rocker). I would be very interested to hear if exclusivity has worked for anyone. Hearing another perspective is always a good thing. Sorry for the long post, but I feel it is an important topic that is not discussed. I wish you every opportunity out there. Happy designing!
Time for me to get my blog off the ground again… I’m taking a How -To-Blog class called Blogging Your Way- Bootcamp by Holly Becker of decor8.com. I took the e-course last year, but I just didn’t have the time to get it my full attention. What I did learn last time, told me this new course would be well worth my time and effort. I don’t know if I’m truly cut out to be a blogger yet, but I definitely am interested in exploring my options.
I’ve been inspired by so many blogs over the years. I’ve learned how to do so many things through DIY posts. Best of all it helped me overcome my fears about doing something new for the first time. These people are people just like me, not someone on TV with crews, director and handymen. I love the idea of being able to help and inspire people you don’t even know.
We moved in to our “forever” home this past January. I’m hoping to share our journey from house to home on a new blog. I’ve already started on some projects including my office. We are roughing in our basement this winter. We plan on selecting and installing all the finishings on our own – from flooring to custom wardrobes. I think I may need to put together a pinterest board of all the DIY projects I want to attempt. There as so many!
I’ve already learning so much from BYWB and it’s only week one! Keeping up with the homework is a bit tough, but as Holly put it so eloquently, “This is BOOT CAMP not a day spa. “
Some of you make be wondering why I am so darn vocal on the minted challenges and why I bother to help other design improve their craft. It’s actually something I learned from my husband and his geek culture. He’s a hardcore programmer and loves this ‘open source’ world out there. The general idea is you put some code or an idea out there to a community of people who love the same thing you love. You say here take it, use it, make it better and give it back to the community. You’d be amazed at what can happen when people start thinking this way. I’m not into the whole programming thing, but I really like the concept of their community. As a 10 year novice to the design world. There are so many hurdles and hoops I had to figure out to get to where I am. I just figure why let all that information I gathered go to waste when someone else can use it and not have to waste their time like me. So that’s where I found the goal of my blog. It is to help designers find answers and resources to common problems so that they can freely go and design something. I’m no expert, nor will i ever claim be one. So take what you can from this and well if it helps you, great! My job is done.
Something you should probably know about me is that I’m highly competitive. Yes, the thought of ‘Do I really want to help someone else win?’ has crossed my mind every time I see a fantastic design pop-up on my monitor. Because of my competitive nature, I strive for the best and if I don’t compete against the best I will never achieve my goal. The best boss I had, I hated, because he was real critical of my work and I wasn’t use to people giving me an honest critique. But looking back, I now realize I grew so much as a designer during that time. So don’t be afraid of negative comments. Learn from them.
Enough of this. I have to check for more designs. Hurry! Go design something!