Who is your client?

Who matches your drive and what you make?

Step 3:

  • helps you identify your clients;
  • extends your knowledge of relevant developments in the market;
  • gives you ideas about how to develop your products.


In your portfolio, you defined the ‘what’. This is based on your passion and your story. Now it is time to explore the market.

  • Which public is suited to your work? Who matches your design language? Who shares your fascination and passion? Who has the same motives?
  • What trends can you discern? What possibilities does that open up for your work? Might it be possible to apply your work in a different way? For example, Art Below has responded cleverly to the market:


Art Below is a creative startup that uses billboard space in underground stations to display artwork in London and other cities.

In this step, trends are described at three levels; the Netherlands, the creative industry and separate segments. It is about being constantly alert to and responding to developments taking place at each of these levels. The international market is very important, but is not used here as an example due to its size and the differences between countries.

How can you keep up with developments and trends? How do you identify opportunities?

By reading newspapers, following relevant blogs, keeping in contact with people inside and outside your field and asking people you do have contact with what they are working on. An episode of the VPRO future affairs programme Tegenlicht ‘Mensen van nu’ (in Dutch), gives a good idea of the undercurrents in Dutch society.

Motivaction has researched trends in the Netherlands. Some trends relevant to the creative sector in the Netherlands are described below. Please click here for the full report (in Dutch).

Summary of trends in the Netherlands (research by Motivaction)

Voluntary austerity

People are choosing more often to consume less.


A trend seen in the business community for some years. Entrepreneurs are increasingly searching for potential opportunities, also together with parties who may previously have been considered competitors. The result is interesting new partnerships. This provides creative professionals with an opportunity to come up with interesting propositions. Entrepreneurs are now more receptive to such ideas, although you always need to keep in mind what the benefit is for the other party.


The increase in the number of freelancers is one example of this. In fact, this trend began before the start of the crisis. People want to have more control and no longer be told when and where they have to work. Anyone thinking of starting their own agency and attracting the best talent needs to be aware of this trend.

Making magic

Creates opportunities for the creative sector. This is to do with the fact that if you want people to spend their money, it needs to be on something special. ‘Middle of the road’ events, for example, are having a hard time at the moment. However, events with programmes that offer something special and that match the experiences of the target group are surviving. Artists and designers can play a large role in creating this magic.


More and more people want to share life’s joys and sorrows with as many other people as possible. This is of course encouraged by social media, but is also an intrinsic part of who we are (or social media would never have been so successful).

Techno development

People are coming into contact with technology at an increasingly young age. An increasing number of CEOs of large companies also have a technical background. In many cases, these are the people driving innovation. More and more people are also calling for children to learn programming at a very young age. It is therefore highly likely that future generations will be much further ahead in this than they are now. Young creative professionals can really make a difference within companies as far as this is concerned. So, make sure that you stay abreast of technological developments; do more than that, and learn more about them. Developments are taking place incredibly quickly, and you are expected to be aware of the very latest. In fact, you will often be given work based on this expectation. Make sure that you gather enough resources around you to help you stay up-to-date. You can also look into becoming part of a collective, so that you can exchange experiences and knowledge with other people in the collective, pass on work to them and help one another out. Working with trainees can also help you stay in touch with what drives and occupies the next generation, and how they consume media, for example.

Watch the presentation ‘What most schools don’t teach’ here.

The importance of techno development to creative professionals has been confirmed by various researchers, including van den Born (in Dutch):

Anyone who plans to be successful in the creative sector also needs to have a feeling for technology and business.

According to Professor van den Born, there are several possible scenarios. One is that you create a niche with your own circle of clients, in which case you need to be highly specialised and extremely good at what you do. However, the most opportunities are found online. ‘Everything digital is really taking off. You need to focus on interaction design, virtual reality, Google Glass.’

This requires new skills. Van den Born: ‘You need to understand coding, programming, large databases and large data flows. Statisticians and econometrists are required who can also be creative. In short, more scientists; the pure artists are going to have a hard time.’ He sees a more hybrid generation of boys and girls emerging – well-versed in the digital world and capable of combining many different areas: websites and art, but also commercial campaigns.

Gaps in the market

An interesting television programme in which some of the developments described are discussed can be found here (in Dutch).

A number of developments are taking place within the creative industry that affect the way in which you run a business in this sector. Here too, these developments mean that you need to make sure that you keep up-to-date with any changes. Some of these trends are described below.

Trends in the creative industry


The creative industry is made up of lots of small companies. If you want to work for or with advertising and design agencies, for example, you need to find your way through the enormous number of companies that do this. One way is to follow the relevant magazines and blogs in the segment (the most popular in advertising for example is Adformatie) and to look for agencies that match you and your ideas.

LinkedIn is also useful for following where people are.

The Cross Media Monitor (in Dutch) provides more information about fragmentation and other subjects.


Many markets are increasingly composed of niches and subcultures. As a young creative professional, you may often recognise these niches, or even be part of one. As marketeers find it difficult to communicate with these niches, they may be interested in you, particularly if you can show on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn that you have a large network within the relevant niche area.

There are also more opportunities for designers to find an international niche that is not being reached by larger companies. For example, Babytronic (House of Alternative Babywear) was set up by a London designer who created a completely new line of baby clothes.

Art director Rob van Bracht (in Dutch) put it as follows in an interview with Fotografenfederatie (September 2012):

‘As I see it, the benefit of young photographers – young in terms of age but also spirit, which is maybe more important – is that you get the character of the times thrown in for free. For example, a photographer right in the middle of 2012. There’s no need to give a briefing or describe the feeling that it needs to contain – you get that anyway. It is very important to look at this – whether someone feels it.’


Authenticity is increasingly important to consumers, who buy what they believe in. Upcoming brands are usually brands with a close link between the drive and the product itself. This also provides opportunities for creative professionals, as their work is usually the result of their drive.

In-house creativity

Whereas creativity used to be outsourced, it is now increasingly seen as a core activity. The importance of creativity in operational processes is also increasingly recognised (see for example the rise of service design). If you speak the language of these companies and can make it clear what you can do for them, there are opportunities to be had.


Through content marketing, brands find it easier to attract and hold the attention of clients. Content marketing in consumer segments is often about entertainment, information and inspiration. It appeals to the emotions and the specific issues in the consumer’s world. This also offers opportunities for creative professionals, who are able to create content and inspire. Content marketing was recognised as an important trend in 2013 (source: NIMA).


  • Vice, with its documentary-style content that appeals to a specific target group, is interesting for brands who want to attract this group;
  • Philips has launched the website Engage Yourself;
  • Unilever has the platform Yunomi (‘by women, for women’).

 Project-based partnerships

Companies are increasingly looking for the best (or cheapest) partner on a project-by-project basis. This means that you need to remain competitive on price and service and that you need to work hard to be given assignments.

Long-term contracts are seen less and less, which means you have less time to get to know a client well. You also need to be able to switch rapidly between different clients, and therefore different segments too. This is one reason why it may help to focus on a particular segment.

This also provides opportunities; after all, if clients switch more easily between contractors, you have a chance to get a foot in the door.

Customer journey and customer touchpoints

A customer journey describes the experiences of a client during the ‘journey’ that he makes to find out about, purchase and use a product or service. Customer touchpoints are the points at which a brand is in contact with a user. The number of touchpoints has increased as clients come into contact with brands on websites, blogs, review pages, Twitter and Facebook. It is therefore increasingly essential for companies to apply the same tone of voice and look in every touchpoint. Mapping these customer touchpoints and ensuring consistency provides an opportunity for designers.

Service design

This is a method to improve the service provided by companies. It is an upcoming area and one in which designers can play a leading role.

Share to grow

The pyramid structure, in which the money in a company flows to one or a limited number of people at the top, is being seen less and less. It is also increasingly the case that the people who work in startups are also shareholders in the company. This increases the level of involvement and means that you work together with a group of people towards a common goal.

There are also many more collectives. In a collective, the participants all have their own company (a one-man business or a private limited company) and invoice one another. Some collectives may eventually grow into a partnership (a general partnership or closed partnership).

Crowdfunding (see revenue models) is also a way of including lots of external shareholders in your company.

Art director Rob van Bracht put it as follows in an interview with Fotografenfederatie (September 2012):

‘Share your work, let it be seen, let yourself be seen and share your ideas. That keeping your cards close to your chest – give me a break – tell the world, make them part of it.
Take an example from Kadir van Lohuizen, who takes you on his journey in an iPad app. Brilliant – that’s how to share, and it’s going to achieve much more than you realise.

Share to grow – simple. Up to about seven years ago I also kept my ideas to myself, and they often went nowhere – because I can’t do everything and because I seriously underestimated the intellectual input of other people. That really is huge. The way that people respond to your idea – in almost every case, you learn something from it.’

The best way to keep up-to-date with developments in your own sector is through professional blogs, magazines and sector organisations such as the Association of Dutch Designers (BNO). It is a good idea to subscribe (or share a subscription) to the main magazines. It is also worth making a list of the most important blogs and following them daily (for example through RSS feeds). You will see that you often get new ideas as a result.

Some trends and opportunities in visual communication are given below as an example. Following the trends in your particular field can help you recognise opportunities for your business.

Example: trends in visual communication

  1. Rise in tactile, handwork, traditional techniques: partly driven by marketing developments in which brands increasingly want to present themselves as authentic.
  2. Crossovers: both in technology (manual and digital) and applications: illustrations for interior design, fashion, spatial design, and so on.

An example is designer Job Wouters, a.k.a. Letman. Together with Gijs Frieling, Letman worked on a collection for the Flemish fashion designer Dries van Noten, designing not just the prints on the clothes but also the entire catwalk for the show in Paris.

Daniera ter Haar and Christoph Brach work on self-initiated and commissioned projects in their Eindhoven-based studio Raw Color. Their style comes from mixing the fields of graphic design and photography (source: Pakhuis de Zwijger).

  1. Infographics and instruction videos: there is an increasing need for visual information to explain new business models, services and products. This is also driven by the online information overkill.
  2. Styles: whereas there used to be more of a ‘typical’ Dutch style, the rise of the internet means that anyone can take their inspiration from all over the world. The result is an increase in global styles, so that it is no longer possible to immediately recognise where something comes from.
  3. International market: many visual assignments do not need to be carried out on-site, which makes it possible to look for clients overseas. This is a huge opportunity, although it also means that the competition has become more intense. After all, your work on Behance is presented alongside that of British and American designers.

The Belgian illustrator Sebastiaan Van Doninck (in Dutch) tells the story of his experience below.

He looked beyond the country’s borders and now works together with an American agent. “She costs 30%, but is more than worth it: in two years’ time she has tripled my income.” For five years, van Doninck worked in a clothes shop and art bookstore for three days a week to make ends meet. Now he teaches part-time at Sint-Lucas in Antwerp and works for publishers such as Random House, Blue Apple Books and Penguin Books. His books have been translated into Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese.

  1. Rise of tablets and smartphones: the design of these is still dominated by interaction designers, who are usually less specialised in icons and illustrative forms. This is an opportunity for illustrators, who are able to give apps and interfaces a more unique look. So, specialise in icons and apply illustrations to interfaces together with interaction designers.

The use of e-readers and e-books is also increasing, and here too there are opportunities (in Dutch) for designers:

As publisher Tanja Hendriks at Artemis & co explains, in literary publishing houses “people still secretly hope that everything will be okay, because they can’t really believe that we will move completely away from paper”. Two years ago, Amazon sold more e-books than paperbacks and hardbacks combined. According to the CPNB, the turnover on book sales decreased by 6.3% in 2012 compared with 2011, and by 9% for fiction. Other than in the United States, however, not enough use is yet made of the e-reader in the Netherlands to be able to replace paper with digital content. Also, a relatively high number of free titles are downloaded in the Netherlands.

  1. Games: major changes are also taking place in this sector. Whereas the market used to be mainly dominated by publishers (who usually employed illustrators and designers), this is now – also partly due to the rise in games for tablets/smartphones – shifting to indie developers. These are usually small companies who develop their own games which they attempt to introduce to the market. Several of these game developers are housed in the Dutch Game Garden in Utrecht. This too is a growing market for illustrators and designers.
  2. Promotion: until recently, most promotion took place in magazines. However, this is now shifting to blogs, online applications, and so on. It is important to be seen on blogs if you are going to take part in the global design market.
  3. Online sales: there is an explosion taking place in online opportunities for illustrations, graphical prints, and so on. The combined rise in online sales and print/production-on-demand makes it increasingly possible to offer variety in illustrative and graphical prints for gadgets, bedclothes, mugs, prints, T-shirts, etcetera.

Usually, the designer receives a percentage of the sale price per item sold (a common figure is 10% of the sale price excluding VAT). These are useful channels if you are going through a quiet patch. It is also becoming easier to introduce your own prints, T-shirts, and so on to the market.

This is more information about this in the sections on sales and revenue models.

  1. The large number of blogs means that people increasingly skim images: tools such as Flipboard also encourage people to scroll quickly through a lot of information and images.

Images increasingly need to ‘grab’ attention. People rarely look at a complete portfolio online, but they will look at a short series of five to ten images. Of these, one arresting image should be used as a teaser to click from the blog to the rest. The selection of this first image and the corresponding copy has therefore become essential.

Brands also recognise this trend and you, as a visual designer, are a specialist in this. Here too, therefore, lies an opportunity.

Identifying clients through segmentation

Segmentation can help you identify clients or groups of clients and determine which segment of the market you want to focus on. Certainly when starting up your company, it is impossible to attempt to reach all market segments, and you therefore need to make choices and focus on a limited number of segments. This may even be just one to start with. Say, for example, that you want to focus on advertising agencies – in this case you need to determine which agencies best suit what you do. Try to find out which art directors work in the agency. What do they do, what do they like? Make sure that you know who the main players are, the language they speak, the magazines they read, the parties and bars they go to.

Focusing ensures that you build up a name within a certain segment. A segment can also be very small, in which case we speak of a niche.

Rogier Arents, for example, has found a clear niche by focusing as a designer on life sciences. He provides support for scientists in communicating their knowledge to reach the widest public possible, and is now well-known within this niche.

Cavemen is the result of a strong preference for a certain lifestyle. They made lifestyle documentaries that were noticed by brands that also match that lifestyle. Cavemen now make mood films for these brands.

Online Department’s market segmentation strategy was very different. They selected clients that in turn focus on their client’s needs. Because this is the case in lots of different sectors, they defined three segments on which to focus (software, e-commerce and marketing).

You can also make segmentation very explicit, so that people within a certain segment are aware that you know their market. Badseedfilms are for example very clear about this.


In Step 1 you put your drive into words. In Step 2 you then defined your product. In this step you have learned something about the segments and the clients on which you want to focus. In the next step, you will learn how to contact these clients.

Finding the right market is also very often an intuitive process. Other people can help you in this as they may see more clearly where your work fits into the market. These could be friends, family or colleagues. You may also share with us; if you have any ideas or tips, please not hesitate to place them as a comment.

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