How far should you go?

There’s been a shift over recent years. Perhaps it’s always been there, but somehow, it feels more prevalent now. I wonder if you’ve noticed it, too.

I’ve noticed that design jobs increasingly ask for samples of (often very specific) niches. What they’re asking for frequently goes beyond ‘Have you got experience in the such-and-such industry?’ and is more geared toward ‘Have you written for brand X?’

A few weeks ago, I read a post on LinkedIn talking about this subject. It seems that I’m not the only one who has come across this type of barrier. In the post, the guy was pitching for a project in the beauty industry. The company responded, ‘Can you show us projects you’ve worked on for L’Oréal or similar?’. Understandably, he was flummoxed because although he’d sent over loads of examples where he’d done projects in similar industries, they seemingly wanted something more high-brow.

Are companies right to ask for such specifics, or has it gone just a bit too far?

Has ‘niche’ become another buzzword for the creative industry?

A lot of designers choose to specialise or ‘niche’, usually opting to work for a particular industry or only specialise in specific types of projects. But while I agree that niching has a place, I wonder if we’ve become overly focused on it, to the point of blocking out opportunities that more generalist designers enjoy?

By doing so, have we inadvertently forced prospects to seek out designers who work only in their industry or in one specific niche? If that’s the case, should generalist designers pick a niche to appease these brands?

For those who are new to the game, I think it’s always a good idea to gain experience across several industries and fields. Otherwise, how do you know which direction you wish to go? Perhaps this mix of experience is gained whilst working through positions in different studios, and that's how you discover your niche.

What if you don’t have the ‘right’ samples?

What should you do if you have pitched a company and get this kind of email back? What if they ask for samples you simply don’t have?

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. You could go back to the company and ask for clarification on what, exactly, they are looking for. If you have a piece that showcases the kind of thing they need, then you could highlight that and offer to go more in-depth about your experience in completing the project and why you think it lends itself to their situation.

Or, if you get a particularly strong pushback and feel that the demand is too unreasonable, ask yourself if the project is worth it. Of course, if it’s a brand that you’ve always dreamed of working with, this can be a tough call – but remember, just because you are not a match right now, there’s nothing to say that in a year or two, you won’t have that demanded experience under your belt. It may just be a case of working up to it.

Being resilient

At some point, all designers have had dream projects thwarted due to competition or unreasonable demands, and it’s important to know when to pursue and when to step back. But whatever happens, try to think of each rejection as a learning experience and not a personal attack on your abilities, no matter how hard that might be.

If you get rejected for a project you’ve got your heart and soul set on, let yourself feel it, and then think about what you can do to move forward. Are there other similar brands that you could approach? Not only would that satisfy the itch, but it would also move you one step closer to getting that sought-after project next time.

It’s important to seek support, too. If you are a freelancer or a small agency, look around and talk to other designers like you. There are loads of us on platforms like LinkedIn—feel free to look me up there. Creating a community of like-minded people around you definitely helps.