How designing is like writing

Alternative title: How manufacturing is like publishing

Ostensibly I’m a writer so I read a lot about writing and publishing. Meandering, I find so many analogies from writing and publishing that are equally appropriate to designing and manufacturing. I realize that some of what I have to say doesn’t resonate so maybe an alternative context will make some things clearer.

First is a bit of humor. Janet Reid, Literary Agent, says this video is the best example she’s ever seen of how to pitch an agent. Or rather, you first get to see how not to pitch an agent. I can’t count how many designers have pitched me exactly like the bad examples. You can’t pitch a service provider, sales rep or buyer the way you would a consumer. Here are better suggestions.

Switching gears, many new writers (designers) have the idea that all they have to do is come up with a great story line (sketches) and a big publisher (manufacturer) will swoop in with their cape to give them an advance (royalties) and make the book (line) a bestseller (Vogue cover). In real life, the publisher (contractor) is only responsible for printing and distributing the book (cut and sew sale ready products). The author (designer) is responsible for writing a book (designing and producing a line) that resonates with consumers and to market it effectively.

In the same vein, some writers are able to secure book contracts for future work based on how effectively they do this. Apparel is similar in that designers become acquired by larger firms. The way that big companies grow is by buying smaller ones -and contrary to what you might think, it could be the best thing to ever happen to you. They’re not buying your designs or company per se (and they’re usually happy to allow you to continue to run it), they’re buying access to customers in your market niche. If you haven’t created consumer demand for your products, you have nothing to interest anyone who you hope will give you money.

Still, writing and designing aren’t perfect analogies; royalties being one example. Few authors earn a royalty, only the big names. That’s because authors must “earn through” the advance before they’re due royalties. Earning through means to have sold enough books to cover the advance because “advance” is short for “advance on royalties”. In this light, you might understand how a newbie who thinks they can get royalties for a sketch is a laughingstock -if only because the effort and labor disparity between a book and an article of clothing is in no way comparable.  The market also speaks and sees the relative value -namely, the market knows a sketch isn’t worth the same as a book that took years and a great deal of skill to write.

In other ways  you’re luckier than writers because the means of production is within your hands; you can sew stuff yourself but you can’t print your own book unless you buy a printing press and learn the printing trade.

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