How Learning the Dark Arts can Make you More Money

June 16, 2015
4 min read
4 min read

Every industry has it’s Dark Arts. Skills so mysterious and incomprehensible that only a chosen few dare wield their powers. Yet these impenetrable abilities are so sought out by the masses, so utterly required that many will shower gold on any who can truly claim a mastery of these magnificent proficiencies.

So what are these Dark Arts then, and how can you learn them? Well that in itself is a tricky question as the Dark Arts themselves are constantly changing. In more general terms though a Dark Art is something that the majority of clients want, but have no idea how to create.

When I first started working in the creative industry, web design was a Dark Art. This was around the time it was becoming apparent that every business, no matter how small needed an online presence. There was a swell of clients with literally no knowledge of web design or social media that suddenly needed a website, but with no idea where to even begin, their only option was the humble web designer.

Web design however, is no longer a Dark Art.

Over the years, web design and online promotion have become vastly more accessible to unskilled users. From tools like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace that allow anyone to quickly build a simple website, to the development of Facebook and Twitter as business platforms. The online world has never been so accessible, even to those who would happily claim to be digital novices.

What I am saying however is that a website is no longer this strange, incomprehensible, unobtainable asset, whereby web designers are the sole gatekeepers.

Let me be clear – I’m not saying that web designers are no longer needed. Obviously that’s not the case. We all know the difference (and the value) between a stock Wix template website and one that has been custom made for a clients needs. What I am saying however is that a website is no longer this strange, incomprehensible, unobtainable asset, whereby web designers are the sole gatekeepers. When a client comes to a web designer now, they already have an idea (or rather a misconception) of how a website is built; “You just drag a drop stuff, right?”.

There is always a gap between what the client can do themselves and what we can do as designers. The wider that gap is, the more a client is willing to pay for our services. For services like web design, photography, video production etc… the increase of digital tools and technologies that are becoming readily available means that gap is closing every year.

So what are the Dark Arts right now?

App design is probably the most apparent Dark Art at the moment. Apps have been becoming that next step for both new and established businesses for quite some time, But actually creating an app is still something that’s nearly impossible for someone outside that industry to even attempt. If you want an app for your business, you need to go to an app designer. The same can said for animation or 3D modelling.

You could even play the long game and try and guess what the next Dark Art might be. Virtual Reality looks like it may be a solid bet given the flurry of activity in the VR headset market. Or maybe you could specialise in developing apps for the Apple Watch?

Don’t worry – I know that’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m not going to leave you hanging with your only hope in the world bring to ditch your current skill set and start all over learning a new one. I’m not a total dick.

So what should you do if you feel the gap closing in your business. If with each and every passing year that goes by, it seems like more and more tools are becoming available that will let your clients do what you do for free?

Widen the gap.

To go back to websites for example; if your business is based around making very simple, information based websites then you are going to struggle more are more, as these are just the kinds of websites that are become easy for clients to create themselves. Instead you need to shift your focus and specialise in a part of web design that users are still going to need help with. For instance templates and free tools for developing responsive websites, and custom eCommerce websites are still pretty far away from what many clients will want or need, so make it apparent that you are the person to come to if this is what a client needs. Take a look at what facilities are on offer from these ‘do it yourself’ website builders, and then make a really big deal about offering what they don’t. You need your clients to feel not just like they’re missing out on vital services by attempting to create a website themselves, but also that the level of quality between the two is utterly incomparable.

Take a look at what facilities are on offer from these ‘do it yourself’ website builders, and then make a really big deal about offering what they don’t.

The same goes for any industry. If you’re a photographer, don’t offer a portfolio full of images (no matter how beautiful they may be) that look like they’ve had an Instagram filter applied to them. Granted, a client may look at them and think they look gorgeous, but they’ll be also thinking “I could do that myself”.

Look at what free tools are available and popular in your industry, I guarantee you, there will be some. Look for what they do well, and look for what they do poorly. Once you know that, then really focus your marketing on offering what isn’t available. Make yourself exclusive, special and unobtainable. Create your own Dark Art.

Illustrations by Alexander Singleton

is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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