Product Design

As the surge toward what I call “Popular Art Licensing” continues (magazine out soon) we have been seeing more and more submissions and web displays consisting of “cookie cutter” product pages attached to design after design. In some cases they are appropriate, in others most definitely not. A common trap for a new artist is to buy the product templates (there are several current suppliers) and start slapping on their designs using a decal-type approach without giving much thought to whether it makes sense. (Think bananas on a coffee cup, poodles on a dinner plate…)

The view seems to be that going into art licensing as a business is a natural extension or progression of an artist’s career path. I would suggest that is backwards – art licensing is more an extension of product design and marketing.

Product design is one of the most difficult, but also most important, skills to learn. It is always a moving target combining elements of trend, manufacturing costs and time to market, realities such as packaging and breakage, current competition, customer demographics and more. Of course you won’t know all of that starting out, it will come as you work with the manufacturers, however you can learn much by studying what is on the market now. Never pass by a potentially licensed product in a store without picking it up to see who made it and if someone is credited on the copyright. Learn the difference between acrylic, resin and ceramic, decal and hand painted, flat and embossed. What is a die cut? What are embellishments? Really what you are doing here is learning a second language – that of manufacturing and product marketing. What colors don’t reproduce well? What mediums can produce detailed sculpts? Which are more cost effective? Art directors may pass on your designs for any of these reasons, so the more you know the more likely you are to design saleable product.

I will say it again: to really succeed in this business you need to change your thinking and your focus, because art licensing is not about the art, it is about selling product. Collections that are page after (tiring) page of the same templates just don’t work, instead they should be unique and clever adaptations of the artwork into potential products. If you look up “product design” you will find terms such as innovation, idea generation, concept development, usability – those you can take to the bank.

3 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Good insights, Jim. It is apparent to those of us working on the manufacturer’s side of the aisle that there is a proliferation of cookie cutter templates that many artists are starting to use, presumably to help manufacturers visualize their art on our products. What gets me is when they send us their art on paper napkin templates for the sole reason that the paper napkin template came in the packet of templates they bought…never mind the fact we don’t even make paper napkins!

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi Jim. I LOVE this.

    I don’t know which I find less appealing – the “buy my templates” or “go to MY blog” schemes. The new Licensing crowd keep thinking there’s a “formula” or list that will magically make things fall into place. Sadder still is that there are so many other artists trying to use them to either make money or become “authorities” (sometimes because they can’t do it with their own art). It’s a little like the old snake oil salesman to me.

    And don’t even get me started on the “agents” that will take on every comer….for a nominal fee…


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