Many designer makers just create products that they like, launching them on their website or Etsy shop when they are finished.
They often keep adding more and more products as they go, creating an ever growing collection of products. Even, or sometimes especially (!), if they don’t sell much they keep adding more and more … creating an enormous monster of a collection.
To be honest … that’s a very ineffective way of working.
Creating a small, but well-thought-out collection of 5 – 8 products that work well together is one of the most important actions you can do if you want to be successful as a designer maker.
Why is creating a collection so important?
It will help you and your business in many different aspects of your creative business:
1. Think before you start
Of course … it is very tempting to create something immediately when an idea pops up in your head!
But if you research what your dream clients really want and need, when they are most likely to buy and how much they want to pay then you can save yourself a lot of time, money and stress creating unwanted products.
If you plan ahead you will quickly see when the best times are in the year to do your research and development, when to create new products, and when to launch them. Instead of being overwhelmed and juggle making, marketing and calling suppliers at any one time, you can group your activities together more efficiently and effectively in specific periods of the year.
If you take the time to research your dream clients, their needs and wants, then you can develop creative solutions with more interesting product ideas that your clients will be interested in. Instead of producing just another printed cushion with a fox or owl (ouch!), you start creating products or services that fit your clients’ life and lifestyle …
Lighting that is beautiful and luxurious, creating a lovely atmosphere.
Functional but soft leather hand-stitched bags specifically designed for architects or lawyers with loads of handy pockets.
Wonderfully soft and generous scarves in colourful silks.
Instead of having to think about ‘what comes next’, you will know what your clients are looking for. And once they have bought from you, your clients often will come back again and again. That’s what you need to build a successful creative business.
If you need to outsource production then it works much better if you get a larger order together in one go, then ordering many times a year. Most manufacturers won’t accept small orders anyway.
You can work with the flow of the market and sell more and much easier. Launching new collections during key buying periods (such as September for Christmas) will add more buzz and excitement (not least for yourself!) and can attract much more (buyer’s and press) attention than adding new items throughout the year.
2. Create a clear story & confident brand
A small but focused collection revolving around a singular concept or theme will express your style and story in a much more confident and attractive way.
Pruning all your ideas into a focused group of products will express your talents better and attract buyers. Having loads of products out there will often confuse potential buyers, and will cost you a lot of time, money and energy.
A collection of items will create often a more attractive display – in a shop, but also online or at a selling event. It’s easier to brand a collection, and to tell your story and express your values through related colours, materials and visual themes.
It’s also easier to ‘upsell’ within a collection and to get customers interested in the more expensive pieces or to sell two products at once (think about a necklace and earrings that are bought together, or two different size bowls).
Also if your clients like one product in your collection, they might come back for more later on, or they might put your products on their wish list for their next birthday or Christmas.
Creating collections create collectors and fans of your work!
Not surprising then that most shops and galleries love collections!
Retailers are far more inclined to purchase products or an entire collection than one offs because they can display them together more effectively in their crowded retail space. One off items very often ‘disappear’ in a crowded retail environment.
It is indeed rare for a larger retailer to purchase one offs, as they don’t want too many very small suppliers for administrative reasons.
So, what makes a good sellable collection?
- Ideally your collection include up to 10 items that are aimed at the same target market, and are linked through a visual theme (e.g. colour, material, function). Think about it as ‘belonging to the same family’. For example ceramic mugs, cups & saucers, cake stand and small plates.
- All the pieces in the collection are aimed at the same client group who like your particular style and products. For example: colourful gardening products for children; functional but beautifully designed notebooks and stationery for paper lovers.
- A good collection often mix different product types e.g. a hat with scarf and gloves, or a necklace with earrings and three different rings.
- They have different price levels from lower to middle and possibly higher price range. Think for example about the same ring in silver, gold and platinum. This will help you to sell more as there are products in your range that are affordable for different clients, and if people love your work they will often come back for more of the same!
- More than one product can be bought, either at the same time or they can purchase them later e.g. earrings with a necklace, or baby hat and mittens.
How do you create a sellable collection? A step-by-step creative exercise
Time to sketch out your new collection!
You might want to start from scratch here, or already have a 2 – 3 items that sell well that you want to add other products too. That’s up to you.
Step 1: Create your own design brief
Having a design brief is always a good idea, even (or especially!) if you are working for yourself. To create your own design brief write down:
- What do you want to design? What’s the product category? E.g. a series of colourful display and bakeware products for a young family
- Who do you want to design this collection for? E.g. it’s for families with children, but these will be mostly bought by parents and grandparents.
- What types of products will you offer? E.g. plain contemporary ceramic cake stand, decorative ceramic tiered cake stand, small and medium square-sized bakeware for brownies, colourful ceramic ramekins for fairy cakes, colourful plates, ceramic jug, printed tea towels, printed apron for children and adults, printed oven gloves.
- What materials will you be using? E.g. ceramics and cotton
- What’s the price level of the cheapest and most expensive item in your collection? E.g. £25 for set of 4 ramekins, £35 for the jug, £95 for the tiered cake stand.
Step 2: Sketch your product ideas
Take a large piece of paper and sketch out all your product ideas for your new collection.
It’s really good fun to do some research! Check other websites, magazines, and trade shows etc to see what other products there are in the market. What other relevant products would your clients be interested in?
Sketch out at least 15 new product ideas.
Take your time! This is one of the most fun aspects of being creative! It’s not just the way a product will look what matters, but also start to think about more unusual products. Think about the same product in different sizes and how they can fit together.
It might help you to create a collage of your ideal client and where and how they would be using your products.
When I worked for product design company Studio Levien we got a fantastic job to create a new set of knives. We spend time with 10 different cooks in their kitchen, really observing how they used their knife set, how they held them, how they named them, what they liked the most, what they were worried about (knives being sharp!), who would use them and when (the men would use the carving knife for Sunday roast!) etc.
We learnt so much from really observing real people, and developed a completely new line of knives not based on convention.
Don’t worry too much at this stage about what’s possible or not (financially or technically!), just brainstorm different product ideas that relate to each other.
Step 3: Select
From your sketches select your 5 – 8 strongest ideas. Be selective! As a creative you very often have loads of ideas, but you need to be professional enough to select the best ideas now.
Get feedback from others. Try to review your ideas from your customer’s or retailer’s perspective.
Put each individual product sketch on a separate piece of paper and write down:
- the product type e.g. ramekin, bracelet, …
- the estimated retail price
- the size
- the materials
- short description how you will produce this product
Make sure that all the products belong to the same family: they have got loads in common, but vary in other aspects. For example they have similar styles, colours and materials, but differ in product type and price level.
Now decide which items, ideally between 5 – 8 products, that will go into your new collection.
And how can I launch my new product collection?
If you want to learn how to launch your new product collection successfully, then go to this epic follow up blog post that will help you step-by-step.