March 23, 2014

Finding Your Niche: When Graphic Design Really Pays Off

On finding a profitable graphic design nicheThe product Vodka definitely belongs to "Sagmeister's Sectors of Unbelievable Impact" for graphic design. The Absolut Company has been very successful in transforming a generic product to something amazing through art, design and advertising. This is ABSOLUT UNIQUE – a limited edition of nearly four million uniquely designed and individually numbered bottles. Read more about ABSOLUT Unique by clicking this image!

Lately I've been reading Debbie Millman's “How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer.” (audio,paperback,Kindle) In her interview with legendary graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister this got me thinking:

Stefan Sagmeister. Legendary graphic designer at Sagmeister & Walsh. His thought about when graphic design really pays off inspired me to write this blog post about finding your niche as a graphic designer. Click to visit Sagmeister's design agency!I think the consumer is pretty smart in making choices based on quality.

However, what designers do has an unbelievable impact on a couple of sectors where the consumer doesn’t know the difference. Water, vodka… There is no way for the consumer to tell one water from another, or one vodka from another.

Whatever we [designers] do — be it the advertising, be it the bottle, or be it the logo on the bottle—it really makes a difference, because it is the only thing for the consumer to evaluate while making the decision about what to buy.

If you could, wouldn't you pick one of  “Sagmeister's Sectors of Unbelievable Impact” as your graphic design niche? You would work with clients in an industry where graphic design is the very key to what sells or not!

Audiobook - How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
Try Audible Now and Get “How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer” as A FREE Audiobook!


In Which Industries Do Graphic Design Really Sell Stuff?

I'm thinking that in industries where advertising is the thing actually selling stuff advertising costs will naturally spiral upwards until a maximum where the market can't afford more (since, in the end, all advertising costs will be passed on to the consumer as higher prices.) This situation will result in comparatively high ad-to-sales ratios for the industry.

A high ad-to-sales ratio means that the company spends a large proportion of their net sales on advertising. I’m pretty sure you will find Stefan Sagmeister‘s ”Sectors of Unbelievable Impact” among these industries, a.k.a profitable graphic design niches.

Right or wrong, 2013 these were the 21 industries (out of 330) with the highest ad-to-sales ratios in UK and US. In the table below, click the industry to discover products belonging to it!

Hight Growth = Belongs to the 10% of industries that increases their advertising the most
Big Spender = Belongs to the 20% of industries that spends most on advertising

Look for this when finding your niche

While finding your niche, look for products whose relative quality is hard to evaluate for the consumer (sometimes even after use,) either because it's truly tricky or because there are no significant differences between the alternatives, e.g. movies, games, bottled water, dog and cat food, detergents or toothpaste. In such industries, like for Absolut Vodka, advertising becomes a live-or-die skill.

Also, when finding your niche consider the industry's growth in advertising costs. High growth means more room for new freelance graphic designers offering their services.


Try finding one of “Sagmeister's sectors of unbelievable impact” to specialize in:

  • You will really help your client to sell their products (the thing they want the most)
  • Your skills will be highly valued, and when your skills pays off it's payday for you too

Not sure if specializing is right for you? Read To Specialize or Not to Specialize!

Want to see examples of niches actually picked by freelance creatives? Check out these 170+ real-life examples of creative niches!

That’s it, designers! Please feel free to comment below and/or to sign up for my newsletter!