The risk of niche UI/UX design and how to avoid it
Choosing a niche is scary.
Why would you ever choose to serve fewer people?
This feels risky.
At the same time, the results for whoever dares to do this are undeniable.
You get discovered by new clients easier, you become trusted and respected as an expert, and you get paid more.
Unfortunately, most designers are not ready to take this risk.
They prefer to complain about the same things their entire career rather than do something:
- I don’t have enough clients.
- My client is driving me crazy with endless revisions.
- I get paid less than I should.
But there is a way out of this endless circle of self-pity. You just need to learn how to manage the risk of niching down, so you know what to do every step of the way, even when things are not working out.
There are 4 type of risks when niching down as a UI/UX designer.
Will the client be willing to pay for your niche service?
This is probably the most misunderstood risk, and is often overlooked by designers. A good example of this is what we offer on our portfolio website.
We offer human-centred design. We say things like, “I’m a problem-solver”, or we just say, “UI/UX designer”.
Don’t get me wrong. None of this is bad. But it’s not great either.
What it shows is that we don’t understand the clients who might be looking for our services, and what they value.
There is no software founder that is getting into this business because they care about human-centred design, or because they dream of working with a UI/UX designer who is a problem solver.
They get into business to make money, first and foremost. And they’ve decided that they will do that by creating software. And along the way to making money, they have challenges they need to solve.
As designers, we need to know what those challenges are, and help them solve them using our design skills.
How to avoid Value Risk
To make sure you are offering something of value to potential clients, you need to learn more about them.
You need to research them.
What media do they consume?
Books, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels. What are the challenges that get discussed there most often? Who do they look up to? How did the most successful people in their industry get there?
After you learn all that, help them to achieve it using design.
This way, you can make sure you are offering value that clients are willing to pay for.
Can you clearly communicate the value you can deliver using design?
There is a lot of design jargon that we often like to use that is unclear for clients. You can spot this when clients start using these words wrong.
Simple things like “mockup” and “wireframe” may mean different things to us, but not for clients.
As designers, we need to be mindful of that.
This type of seemingly harmless miscommunication can lead to us doing pointless work, or for clients not getting the results they are looking for.
How to avoid Communication Risk
Reduce the jargon to a minimum.
Use the client’s language about things.
If in-person jargon or unclear language is used, make sure you define it, so both sides are using it in the same context.
Use a metaphor or verbal illustration to explain things. For example, when I present wireframes to clients, I often say they should think of them as an architectural drawing before we move to the 3D visualisation, a.k.a. high-fidelity design.
You can make a list of the most misused or misunderstood jargon or design practices and come up with some sort of verbal illustration. This way, you will ensure that everyone understands and is talking about the same thing.
This approach should be used across all of your communication. In-person, email, calls, your website, your documents, such as proposals and contracts.
Can you deliver the value you are promising?
The easiest thing to do is to say on your website that you are going to double their revenue or their users, to encourage a new client to reach out.
Then, do what you used to do for your old clients and make a slick-looking app that you believe is easy to use, and hope the rest will take care of itself.
But you are just a designer. How can you positively impact the revenue of a software company?
How to avoid Delivery Risk
Always promise only what you can deliver.
If you can only deliver awesome visual design and great usability, make sure you choose a niche that has an obvious shortage of what you are offering.
If you want to deliver business results using design but you don’t know how — learn how. Learn product strategy, product discovery, product analytics, user research, market research, and so on.
Just make sure that when you pick a new skill to learn, you are excited about it and you actually want to learn it.
I remember in my early days, I didn’t want to know anything about business; I just didn’t care. I wanted to be left alone and do the visual design.
That changed for me over time.
Can this be a viable business in the long term?
We often romanticize a certain type of work we want to do, but then it turns out that it’s hard to make money with that.
Sometimes, we pick a dying niche just because we love it and we know how to do it well.
And sometimes, we are just greedy and pick a niche where there is money, but we don’t really care about it in the long term.
That’s why we need to consider viability.
How to avoid Viability Risk
You need to make sure the niche you choose can pay you well so you can create a sustainable design business.
You need to make sure that this niche is not going to disappear in the next few years. Think at least 10 years into the future.
You need to pick a niche where you like the people you going to work with so you enjoy interacting with them.
Choosing a niche is not a face tattoo you have to wear for life.
It’s more like choosing a vacation spot.
When you get sick of it, you change it next year. Keep trying new ones until you find a place you will be willing to go back to multiple years in a row.