Alright, let's do this!

The first thing you need to do to spice up your design business is pour some hot sauce on it. Then, grab some Habanero peppers and chop them up. Finally, add some creamy Wasabi pesto sauce and you're done! Nice and spicy.

No, I'm just kidding. We're going to take a look at some of the different design ideas you could use with your buttons and merch items to drum up more business for your business (yes, I know I used the word business twice; I'm trying to see how many times I can use the word 'business' while doing my business).

Physical items not only help with exposing your brand to the world, they also help with credibility. People will look at you and go, "Dude, look at that freelancing digital designer. If there was such a thing as pro, he would be it. He's got his designs on everything!"

So let's take a look at a few things you can do to flesh out your portfolio and make some amazing looking merch!

Simple Design

I don't know if you've noticed, but there are some definite trends towards simple, minimalist designs these days. That means that lots of negative space and un-styled design elements is totally okay.

However, the difference between a pro and an armature is that a pro will find a way to incorporate various techniques into their style and make it work for them. An amateur will just use design techniques and not care too much about how it looks. It's the small things that make you a pro. Don't tell that to your girlfriend though. Awkward.

Flat Design

Flat design has become a bit of a trend (due in part to Windows 8 and the Xbox interface), and we expect to see this movement continue to grow on the web and in print. That is, until something better comes along of course.

Maybe it's just me, but graphic design sure seems hard, because one minute everyone's trying to make realistic looking digital objects with Photoshop, and the next thing you know, we're going back to minimalist, un-styled, primitive shapes. My personal homepage is still stuck in 1999 with nested frames and animated GIFs. I still keep it updated with new content, but let's just say it didn't get me this job.

On the upside, you can still get pretty creative with this flat design thing. Guess what? It works great with buttons and business cards too! Simple has always been the name of the game with smaller merch items.

Simplified Shapes

If it's any wonder why simplified shapes are catching on, it's because they tend to compliment flat designs very well.

Basically, this is about creating graphical representations of common objects. Too simple, and nobody will be able to tell what you're trying to do (is that a blob)? Too complicated, and you're breaking the trend. The trend is your friend, man. Convincing because it rhymes.

The weekend designer could just go and grab a few free vectors and incorporate them into their flat designs. If you're hardcore, though, you'll make your own.

Like a lot of other stuff on this list, simplified shapes aren't necessarily easy to do, but done right, they look sweet.

Mixed Typography

People have been creating interesting graphics with the use of mixed-and-matched fonts at different sizes and weights. Serif, sans-serif... pretty much everything goes. It seems like this movement may have grown out of people putting inspirational quotes on sites like Pinterest, but who knows.

Keep in mind that mixed typography probably won't work as well for smaller merch items. It could get confusing fast. Posters and t-shirts would probably serve the medium better. You have to use the right designs in the right context bro.

Mixed typography may be easy to do, but it's not easy to do well. Are you a reader of minds? That would help, because you have to think about eye movement and flow and where the reader is likely going to look next, and then next, and then next. Best of luck, my friend.

Large Photographic Backgrounds

So this may not apply so much to physical items (get creative), but large photographic backgrounds are definitely a trend in web design. Photos use to be blended, cut up, blurred, nudged... whatever. Now you can just take an awesome photo and slap it onto your website. Time to take advantage of your photographer friends!

This might be something to remember for your website clients. Who knows? Maybe it would work on a poster too. Experiment!

Original Design

It's one thing to jump on the trends and demonstrate your breadth of experience and ability as a designer. That said, if all of your designs look like they've been crafted using one of the many Photoshop tutorials that can be easily found with a quick Google search, you're not a real designer, bro. Let's get real.

You need to be able to show what you can do. You have to experiment and tweak, and maybe even come up with your own variations on common ideas. You have to show that you aren't just a rip-off artist (though you should know where to steal your ideas from).

Only you can figure this out. If you want to use penguin textures with goat photos and flat vectors pickles, that's your business.

So, if you've vowed to create an awesome design using the elements I just listed (penguin textures, goat photos and flat vector pickles), we're definitely interested in seeing what you come up with. Leave a link in the comments!

Cover image by L.e.e

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