Easy Shortcuts into Making Digital Design Resources

Early in my design career, I hoarded design tools and assets by the truckload. Before I was competent enough to make beautiful bézier curves in Illustrator, I would tap this personal archive of resources for what I needed. I’d edit these paid and free assets for the project at hand, and if I didn’t already have what I needed, I would source images from Google search and trace over them. In a sense, that’s how I got started in the field of digital resource design. It was a rough start.

Since then, I’ve found that there are easy shortcuts into the world of creating custom digital design assets. If you’ve got the time, you can make tons of assets for sale over the course of just a few weeks or months. If your products are good and you’re able to find customers, you’ll enjoy watching the sales roll in like cash growing on a tree in your backyard.

No matter what your design skill level is, there’s a path forward into digital resource design if you’re interested. First, I’ll share five speedy methods for production and three important dynamics to consider. Then, we’ll look at what it means to jump into creating products by category type to sell them on Creative Market.

——————————

Five Methods of Speed

If speed is the name of your game, then these quick entry points will help you start making simple resource products today.

1. Resurrect Killed Designs
We’ve all been there. You poured your heart and soul into a design comp, and the client went in a completely different direction. If the comp isn’t too specific to the brand, then it might be time to raise it from your project graveyard and rework it into a resource product.

2. Expand Custom Elements into a Set
If you’ve ever made unique vector or raster elements for a client project, then you might be sitting on a pot of gold. You can quickly transform and expand these custom elements into a small pack of assets to sell.

3. Leaping Off Visual Inspiration
Looking at beautiful designs and images might give you the fuel you need to quickly build assets, but coming up with the original concept is up to you. To ensure that you aren’t directly copying someone else’s work, it’s helpful to try to combine pieces from three or more sources of inspiration.

4. The Natural Path
For many types of assets, starting the creation process with images, objects and surfaces found in nature is a good idea. Whether you’re taking photos or scanning them in, you can quickly craft assets — compliments of Mother Nature. It’s easy to build raster files directly off these visuals, or illustrate vectors based off them, too.

5. Starting from Scratch
Traditionally, beginning with a blank page isn’t a speedy method of production. However, taking an online course (such as one from Skillshare) can empower you to learn a new skill and build a product at the same time.

——————————

Three Dynamics To Consider

Fast methods of production are great, but there are three dynamics that you need to take into account before starting.

1. Product Value vs. Time to Build
Using shortcuts to build resources will likely limit the complexity of your products, which may put a cap on how high you can price your goods. However, the more variations, file formats, sizes, features and flexibility that you include in your resource product, the more value that you offer potential customers. When you increase your product’s value, you can also increase the price point.

There’s a direct correlation there. Deepening your product’s flexibility means spending more time producing it instead of moving quickly. You’ll also have a bigger job communicating the features in the marketing screenshots and write-up, too. So, if you’re going for speed, it’s up to you to decide how far you want to take each resource. The trade off for moving really quickly is lessening the potential value to your customers and selling at a lower price point.

2. Pick A Central Subject & Style
The best resource products use a central idea or subject matter to create a cohesive theme. They limit the visual styling, but expound within it so that customers benefit from a deep palette of elements in a single system. If you’re using existing work, then make sure it isn’t brand or project specific. Once you figure out your theme and style, then it’s up to you to decide how much to expand your concept inside your framework. The greater you expand on your subject matter, the better potential that customers will find what they need in your product. The sacrifice? Building quickly.

3. Example Usage
When building resources, it’s important to think about how customers will edit and apply these assets to their own projects. It might help to write down a short list of potential uses. Then, you’ll have fodder to create your marketing screenshots quickly. It’s always a good idea to display use cases so that customers have an idea of what they can do with the resource. If you’ve got an archive of past design work, you can retrofit that work to build your marketing screenshots quickly.

——————————

Choose Your Resource Adventure

Many types of resources are easy to build, while others inherently are more complex (such as Themes and Fonts). Graphics is the most diverse category, which makes it the ideal starting point for anyone looking to jump into building lean digital resources without much experience. Let’s explore a few of my favorite product types that a ripe for fast building.

Icons
If you love drawing in vector or have experience making custom icons in the past, then this resource type is for you. Get ready to glyph out.

Illustrations
Illustrations are a digital resource type that spans fine art and design. Designers use both fine art mediums and digital techniques to produce asset packs of various subject matter and styles. What you choose to make (and how you make it) is totally up to you. It’s wide open!

Patterns
By using a pattern, designers can instantly paint a surface or shape with a beautiful visual. And, they’re fairly easy to create, too!

Mockups
Mockups are all about visualizing your design on physical objects, tactile surfaces and environments. The Product Mockups category on Creative Market is home to many creative visualizations of this resource type.

  • The easiest entry into mockups would be taking photographs of objects, devices, swag, and print collateral.
  • The next step is to clip out the object onto a transparent background, so that customers can place it on a white or other background surface. If you take photos of objects on white, you can clip out the natural shadow separately with a bit of a feather effect, so that you can paste it as a separate layer and set it to the multiply layer effect.
  • Go for the highest resolution of photography that you can. If you’re starting point is HDR images taken with your iPhone 6S, then reflect that in the product description and price.
  • Adding more objects and perspectives to your mockup pack increases value and price, but takes longer to build.
  • Spend more time learning how to use lighting in your photography and performing good touch-up work in Photoshop.
  • If you enjoy (and are fast with) masks and smart objects in Photoshop, then this resource type is for you.
  • Think about using your own mockups to present design work to a client to get an idea about the needs of your potential customers. Build mockups for your own client projects and then expound them into a resource pack to sell with little conflict of interest.
  • Explore these tutorials & tips: How to Make a Realistic Macbook Mockup, 4 Professional Mockup Alternatives, How to Create Photo Realistic Branded Product Mockups, Creating Packaging Mockups using Photoshop, 7 Best Practices for Creating Mockups, 10 Awesome Photoshop Mock-Up Design Tutorials.

Textures

  • Textures are the quickest resource type to build in the Graphics category. Whether you go for raster, vector, or both, textures typically start with natural surfaces that are digitized via photography or scanning.
  • Look for tactile surfaces that are similar, and start shaping a theme for your texture pack. Set a total target number of textures you plan on build, and make a checklist.
  • Making a seamless texture is time-consuming, but might be more flexible for customers. If you’re going for speed, don’t tackle seamless for now.
  • Take photos or scans at the highest resolution possible.
  • Think about how customers might apply these textures to various creative projects. Lead by example using your marketing screenshots.
  • If you’re thinking of creating vector textures, then increase the contrast of your images in Photoshop first before vectorizing in Illustrator. That will ensure the best outcome in terms of quality.
  • If your texture pack turns out well, you can transform them into Photoshop Brushes to sell as a different resource product. You can also bundle Texture Graphics and PS Brushes together, too.
  • Explore these tutorials & tips: Working & Applying Textures in Photoshop, Creating And Applying Textures to A Pennant, Custom Vector Textures in Illustrator, Create Vector textures in PS and AI, Techniques for Creating Custom Textures in PS, Create Seamless Textures in PS.

Print Templates
Print templates make up most of the Templates category on Creative Market. They’re pretty easy to design, and can be produced as Illustrator, Photoshop or In-Design files.

  • Whether making business cards, stationery, brochures or invitations, designing print templates is all about creating structure with the content. Make great typography and content hierarchy choices.
  • Select realistic copy for the dummy content that you present in your print template in order to make it more accurate for your customers.
  • It’s safer to use free fonts (e.g. Google web fonts) and free stock photos (e.g. UnSplash) so that customers can download the same assets that you used in your design. Link to where you got those free assets. If you use paid photography and typefaces as placeholder content, make sure to direct customers to the sites where they can purchase those assets.
  • Make the design visually stimulating but professional. Folks often describe this approach as modern and clean, and it’s highly desired because it’s difficult to achieve quickly in print design.
  • Save file formats that are compatible with past versions of publication software so that more customers will be able to use the resource.
  • If print templates aren’t your thing, you can recycle past web design work to create website templates for sale.
  • Explore these tutorials & tips: A Simple Guide to Edit a Brochure Template, Let’s Have Some Fun: Creating Hand Lettered Business Cards, Typesetting for Classy Invitations: The Easy Way to Design Your Own Invites!, InDesign in 30 Minutes, Editorial Illustration: Communicating an Idea Visually, How to Customize A Flyer Template.

Photos
If you’re familiar with professional photography, then grabbing extra shots during a client shoot or a vacation is an easy way to create photos for sale! If you’re an amateur photographer or iPhone enthusiast, then grabbing nice shots in HDR on your iPhone 6S could be a fun way to dip your toes into resource design.

Brushes
Last but not least, Photoshop brushes are a fairly quick resource to make. You can also make Illustrator brushes, but those take a little bit more time and thought in order to create valuable assets for customers.

——————————

By now, I’m sure that you can see how making one set of artwork can help you build multiple types of resource products. The opportunity that you have with making and selling digital design resources is quick, long-lasting, and exponential.

I hope that you’ve found this article insightful, and that you’re encouraged to try your hand at creating digital design resources. Get to it!

Cheers,
Gerren

Posted in Articles & Notes | Comments Off

Which Has Better ROI: Freelance Design Services or Resource Design?

What is Resource Design?

Resource design is a genre of design that started when photos and fonts first became available for sale online. The demand for these types of assets stemmed largely out of the traditional fields of print and graphic design. These days, modern resource design is the practice of producing various pre-made digital designs in the form of powerful, scaleable assets, tools and templates. If they’re flexible, easy-to-use, and beautiful, they can empower folks to transform and take their projects to the next level.

Designers create digital design resources through an initial investment of time and energy (although a minimal amount of updating and customer support is always required for anything sold on the internet). Resources can be sold for profit or given away for free as promotion. From what I’ve seen at Creative Market, the income potential is tremendous and exponential. Sure, you’ve got to be smart about how you go about it, play your cards right, and have a stroke of luck, but the potential is definitely there.

Whether you’re looking to start a passive income trickle, make some serious spending cash, or create a full-time salary, resource design work may be a better option for you than design services. Or, at the very least, it might be time to start thinking about working some amount of self-initiated resource design projects into your freelance schedule!

Let’s take a look at the models for earning income by resource and service design respectively. Then, we’ll compare and contrast the potential return of investment between the two.

————————

Freelance Design Services

Freelance design services can be summed up as single projects in which a designer creates and delivers completed files to a client based on a previously agreed upon scope of work. In short, you build something, send it on its way, and receive payment for it.

There are two traditional models for getting paid for design services. Project-based billings are an estimated amount that the designer and client agree upon that it will cost to finish the project. Hourly-based billings is a rate for billable time that the designer and client agree on, or that is left open ended for the project. Hours are logged and then submitted as an invoice at the end of the project. There are also newer models like value-based pricing, but we’ll skip those for the sake of simplicity. If negotiated, you might also get paid a good fee so that the client can have exclusive ownership of the work.

Here’s a quick look at the benefits and challenges of design services:

Challenges

  • Tough to get paid on time (or sometimes at all).
  • Only get paid for the work you do.
  • Don’t get to iterate projects often once they’re completed.
  • Don’t always get to work with the same client.
  • Not much control over the work, unless you’ve got a great client.
  • Might have to sign an NDA.
  • Get stuck being known for a style of work.
  • Difficult to win projects when charging higher fees.
  • Trouble working a 9-to-5 day or normal business hours.
  • Client-set deadlines can be aggressive. Sleep much?
  • Have to push back on client feedback.
  • Not much time to learn new skills, or apply them to paid projects.
  • The stream of new projects will dry up. Prepare to market thyself.

Opportunities

  • Work on a variety of projects.
  • Control your own schedule of projects, for better or worse.
  • Collaborate with different clients in a wide range of industries for various consumer audiences.
  • You aren’t responsible for the work after you hand it off.
  • Work on high-profile brands without going full-time at those companies.
  • If you’ve got the gumption, you can fire bad clients.
  • Choose what you want to work on when the inquiries are flowing.
  • You can use an agency or rep to streamline new projects and billings.
  • You usually get paid in a one-time large stack of cash.

————————

Digital Resource Design

Digital resource design can summed up as the creation of design-centric building blocks that others can edit and apply to their projects. A resource designer comes up with an idea, produces a pre-made digital design asset or tool, and then builds out marketing collateral (screenshots, pricing, tutorials, description, etc.). Once they find customers interested in their products, the exchange of payment and download of the product zip package happens almost instantly during each purchase transaction.

The primary model for getting paid for digital design resources is a one-time payment for each digital product (or license of that product) sold. A secondary model is a recurring subscription where customers receive assets on a regular basis. There are other opportunities to bring in revenue from digital assets, such as adding advanced licenses (extended, multi-seat, etc.), bundling products together, or creating unique, one-off, on-demand custom assets based on customer requests. Heck, you can put your resources on multiple marketplaces, too!

Here’s a look at the challenges and opportunities of resource design:

Challenges

  • It takes time to make valuable, easy-to-use products.
  • It’s difficult to know where to market your products or who your customers are.
  • It’s hard to get good exposure and close sales.
  • The market is becoming more competitive and saturated with products. It’s challenging to be unique and innovative.
  • The blank page syndrome is real. It’s hard to come up with a good idea.
  • You have to support customers who purchase your digital products.
  • You have to be patient as income trickles in over a long period of time.
  • You may have to deal with fraud. Some users will obtain your products and host them on their site for others to download for free. Some users will buy your goods with fraudulent credit cards.
  • You may have to deal with theft. Some users will copy your work in order to make something extremely similar to sell.

Opportunities

  • Get paid over and over again for work that was done once.
  • You can increase income simply by turning on other licenses, participating in bundles, and more.
  • Creative freedom. Choose what to work on and how to execute it.
  • Learn new skills or expand your existing abilities.
  • You can sell the resource on one or many channels.
  • If you go full time, you get to be your own boss.
  • Share your design resource expertise to increase visibility and reputation.

————————

Return on Investment
So, how much better does resource design pay when compared to freelance design services? Let’s talk about ROI (return on investment). Simply put, ROI is calculated by evaluating the costs and gains to arrive at a percentage.

Here’s the equation: ROI = (Gains — Cost) / Cost

For our purposes, the gains represent the income from the design work, and the costs represent the amount of time put into the project calculated as billable hours (time x hourly rate).

Case Studies

Now, let’s compare the profitability of some of my personal resource design products and freelance project billings using this ROI equation. In full disclosure, my resource products aren’t created strategically to fill a need or marketed heavily, because they are personal experiments.

The potential return can be much greater than what’s shown here, as evident by the many shops make thousands and tens of thousands in sales every month on Creative Market. Your mileage will vary from mine, and will hopefully be much better if you’re smart about your investment. Also, for the sake of simplicity, keep in mind that these numbers only reflect my sales from Creative Market and represent the gross income (e.g. they don’t take into account the 70% shop owner).

————————

Resource #1: Vector Textures
Category: Graphics / Textures

In October 2012, I collected various textures that I created for my personal design projects over the years, and made them available for sale on Creative Market as a $3 pack of vector textures. It took me 6 hours to make the product files, screenshots and description. Over three years, it was viewed 16,000 times and purchased 532 times.

Gains: 532 sales x $3 = $1,596
Costs: 6 hours to create x $50 / hr = $300
ROI: $1,596 — $300 / $300 = 432%

Resource #2: HandBlock Bold & Regular
Category: Fonts / Sans Serif

I learned to design and kern fonts a few years ago. I created a hand-drawn two-font system called HandBlock and posted it for sale for $12 on Creative Market in July 2012. Over 3 years, it was viewed 6,500 times and purchased 93 times on Creative Market. It took about 14 hours to draw, digitize and kern this product.

Gains: 93 sales x $12 = $1,116
Costs: 14 hours x $50 / hr= $700
ROI: $1,116 — $700 / $700 = 59%

Resource #3: 10 Hi-Res B&W Paper Brushes
Category: Add-Ons / Brushes

In 2013, I taught myself how to make Illustrator and Photoshop brushes, and posted a Skillshare class about it. During that time, I created this pack of PS brushes as a proof of concept, and posted it for sale on Creative Market for $4. In 2 years, it was viewed 25,475 times and purchased 102 times. It took about 2 hours to create this product.

Gains: 102 sales x $4 = $408
Costs: 3 hours x $50 / hr= $150
ROI: $408 — $150 / $150 = 172%

——————————

Now, here are a few of my past freelance design service projects to help us compare against my resource products to gauge ROI.

Logo Design Project
I produced an identity project for a client that offered two rounds of feedback that resulted in three final logos that they got to choose from.

Gains: $1,500
Costs: 20 hours x $50 / hr= $1,000
ROI: $1,500 — $1,000 / $1,000 = 50%

Web Design Project
I created a 3-template system for a marketing web design project that was then handed off to another vendor for development.

Gains: $2,500
Costs: 35 hours x $50 / hr= $1,750
ROI: $2,500 — $1,750 / $1,750 = 43%

Illustration Project
I made a small batch of hand-drawn spot illustrations for an iPhone app.

Gains: $650
Costs: 10 hours x $50 / hr= $500
ROI: $650 — $500 / $500 = 30%

——————————

The Final Verdict
So, what does it all mean? Here are the main takeaways:

  1. ROI: Resource design may have the edge in ROI over freelance design services based on my examples. However, the actual income of resource design is likely to be lower unless you get some real traction with sales. Which type of design work you invest in all depends on this — can you wait for money to trickle in over time more slowly (resource design), or do you need larger sums of cash sooner for the work produced (freelance design)? I’ve seen a hybrid approach work for many folks at first. That looks something like 80% (freelance) and 20% (resources). Over time, if your resource products increase in sales, you can change your percentages to 50/50 or greater in favor of resource design.
  2. Time: The ROI of design resources will continually increase over time if you don’t pull them off the internet and keep getting traffic that results in purchases on your product pages. Compared to the one-time payment of design services, the growth potential of this ongoing “passive” income can be huge. It might be hard to find the time to make a great product, but a single experiment could change your mind about doubling down on design resources. Get inspired by the success of these Creative Market shop owners: Sam Jones, Rachael Towne, and Jenna Hagan.
  3. Complexity: Different design resource types require varying amounts of design skill, technical knowledge (especially by app that consumers will be using your products in), and time to create. There is education out there to help such as Skillshare courses, but expect a fairly steep learning curve unless you have experience in using or editing the type of design resource that you’re thinking of creating. The level of investment you make in terms of product flexibility, marketing visuals, description, and example use cases in your products will give them a better chance of selling. Sales are never guaranteed just by putting a resource product out there, but the upfront investment can get pretty deep, very fast. That’s not as cut-and-dry as getting a definitive freelance project from a client for a known payment amount.
  4. Billable Rate: If your freelance design services have a high hourly or billable rate, or if you negotiate large sums for exclusive use of your work by the client, then it might be to your advantage to stick to that type of work. It wouldn’t hurt to dabble in design resources, but you’d have to experiment intentionally and be willing to take the financial hit. Or, you can just go eat pizza on your time off. That’s always a good idea.
  5. Guaranteed Sales: Freelance design services guarantees that a single customer is locked into purchasing the work that you’re creating. The same thing can’t be said of design resources. However, you might be lucky enough to get a horde of customers instead of just one.
  6. En Masse: The more quality design resources that you make available for sale, the better the chances are that your potential return of income could hit a strong exponential stride. Imagine that you had 30 products that all brought in a modest $1k a year across many marketplaces. Not bad, right? That’s achievable by setting small goals, and releasing great products over time.

Thanks for reading, and happy resource designing.
Sincerely,
Gerren

——————————

Bonus Articles
If you’re interested in getting started in resource design or looking to take your products to the next level, have a look at these great insights written by folks in the Creative Market community.

Posted in Articles & Notes | Comments Off

Ate Bit Font

I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, so, without further ado…

Say hello to Ate Bit — an 8-bit display font that makes it easy to write in title case with that nostalgic 80s feel. It’s good for any design project that you want to throwback three decades! The uppercase and lowercase letters are set in title case.

Now available in my Creative Market shop.

Posted in New Work/Play, Type | Comments Off