As a self employed fashion graphic designer I’d started to notice a change in my workload over the past couple of years …. subtle at first but now becoming more prominent in my working day. There was a definite downturn and I couldn’t figure out why so I started to question myself… was I doing something wrong?… Was my work not good enough anymore?

I have been designing placement prints and repeat patterns for the high street since 1996 and design development for my clients and their customers has always been essential. Researching and creating trend mood boards was standard practise from which initial inspiration would be taken. Original designs would then be generated and the customer would select several for sampling – standard design process I hear you cry – well yes, up until now, as less mood boards and original designs are being requested.

I started to dig a little deeper to see why this has come about. After speaking to my clients it came to light that they, and their customers, were now starting to use downloadable online print ready images as well as creating original art. I wasn’t expecting to hear this as the use of stock images in the world of fashion and textiles has not been as prevalent. Thinking about this further I wanted to try and understand why these processes are changing…

The fast paced nature of both our personal and business lives means we have less time to develop ideas..

As consumers we are digesting more and more of our daily lives digitally, whether that be downloading a TV program or the latest edition of our favourite magazine. The fast paced nature of both our personal and business lives means we have less time to develop ideas and the need to produce quickly and efficiently has never been stronger. To have online resources at our fingertips has become the norm and, regardless of the industry we work in, if we can find a tool to successfully achieve an end goal efficiently it’s obvious we are going to take it.

Fashion moves faster than it ever has. Celebrities and urban culture can drive fashion as much as the trend prediction houses. That’s why ASOS was founded, to get designs ‘As Seen On Screen’ out there to the general public quickly while still relevant. Trends come and go and then come around again… how many times have we seen trends like Military, Animal Skin and Biker reappear over the past few years?! Predictions sometimes don’t emerge and new trends appear when least expected. Budgets are tight and the need to spend on promotion is as vital as the range itself to stand out in an ever-growing market. This means that as a brand or retailer you can feel nervous about buying into trends predicted 12 or 18 months ahead. Nobody wants surplus stock sitting in warehouses losing vital income. This is where I think there is a shift starting to happen. More companies are waiting to see whether specific trends really fly before investing in expensive design and print development and more to the point they are also creating their own trends.

There will always be ‘this seasons big story’ but along with that there are now so many sub trends and brands existing doing their own thing. With this in mind designing purely for predicted trends can be fraught with uncertainties. Print trends can be covered with a few a key pieces with more generic lines sitting along side to balance out sales just in case the trend doesn’t catch on.

Surely having access to other talented designers worldwide can only be a good thing right?

Using stock images has, until recently, been looked down on and almost viewed as ‘cheating’! I myself have struggled with the concept of using them in my designs but I can’t just pop over to New York and photograph the Empire State Building for a t-shirt design or quickly illustrate a beautiful floral pattern – we all have our limitations! Surely having access to other talented designers worldwide can only be a good thing right? Once I realised that I can’t be everything to everybody, and having digital images ‘on tap’ means I can actually enhance my work, I started to view them in a different light.

On several occasions I have had to turn down a project as some of the criteria were not within my design remit. In hindsight I have should have researched images that I could have used to answer those parts of the brief – effectively outsourcing but still keeping my client happy. Stock designs that have an ‘Exclusive’ license mean that they wont be available anywhere else once purchased. In effect this is giving the client original art and not having the concern that another designer may also use the same image in their work leading to a possible conflict of interest. I have also started to use stock images for my mood board generation. When a client now sees a design they like I know I don’t have to rework a ‘version of’ as they can have the actual design they selected from the start. This streamlines my design process and the client is able to get their required design almost instantly.

Using other designers’ images within our work not only creates another dimension to our own creativity but we are helping each other out both creatively and financially. We can create something that otherwise may not have been possible and the seller of the image receives income for their work – design Utopia! It’s also a good way to find out about new designers and even collaborate together on new projects – the possibilities could be endless!

So I think it’s time for us, as fashion print designers, to adapt like the musicians and photographers have done in the digital creative world. They have had to rethink over the past ten years how they sell their product. Previously an advance or commission would be paid to create a song or photograph but now it’s more about creating the original product first and then selling online. By developing your own new print ideas you are creating your own ‘back catalogue’ which could offer another revenue stream from your design work. I also think that as a new designer/freelancer coming into the industry it gives an opportunity to create a ‘saleable’ portfolio hopefully generating a much need needed income when starting out. Further down the line this could mean a possible ongoing income from your design work – living the dream!

We are passionate about helping and promoting designers to sell their work digitally.

It’s safe to say I have had a complete change of opinion on stock images and instead of viewing them as the enemy I feel its time to accept the endless possibilities they can help create. This new way of thinking about my creative world has led to the founding of We are passionate about helping and promoting designers to sell their work digitally and to put value back into creative talent. Our aim is to offer a complete solution for the sale and creation of fashion graphic prints and patterns with simple license plans. 

There will always be a need for designers and the creation of original artwork – there’d better be otherwise I’ll be out of a job(!) but there are limitations within design teams so why not embrace the world of stock images to enhance and elaborate on your new print stories? Many images are available in an editable format enabling you to add your own further styling to personalise and bring them in line with other designs in your range. I now think as designers we can offer more possibilities with the use of stock images rather then being limited by our own skills – I’m yet to meet some who can do everything!

The debate over ‘ready to use’ images will continue but the benefits for both the designer and the end user are becoming more appealing in my opinion. When used creatively and with consideration stock images can be an invaluable resource so maybe the time has come to embrace the creativity on tap?!