How to find your niche as a UI/UX designer

Vasil Nedelchev
5
min read
How to find your niche as a UI/UX designer

I’m a disaster marketing myself. And it seems there’s no way around it anymore especially if you are a full-time freelancer. And the first thing is to pick who you serve. What’s your niche?

It seems like we all copy one another and we suffer for it.

I design user-centred apps that people love to use.

And this does not help. It seems that people who hire designers don’t care about you and what you do. Or at least this is what I’ve found.

As usual, I dug around to look for solutions. Here is what I found.

How to craft a positioning statement

Here is a template to help you think through this.

I’m a [discipline] who helps [target market] with [expensive problem] unlike my competitors [unique difference]

This is more of a thing template not so much something you should use verbatim, especially the part “unlike my competitors”.

Try to be as specific as possible. Make sure that when you state the problem, it’s a real problem and not a solution. For example “designing user-centred apps” is not a problem, it’s the solution. The actual problem could be“designing apps people love to use”. This is still a very generic statement, but you get the idea.

The real challenge here comes with the “unique difference”.
And the fact that you are passionate or you like to solve complex problems. Those are not real differentiators. We need something that the people hiring you care about.

That’s why we need to pick a niche and stick to it. And before you get stuck in a never-ending identity crisis spiral, here are five ways you can think about this.

Five ways to position yourself

1. Horizontal Positioning

You solve one type of problem for every industry.
Example: You do UI/UX design for whoever asks for it.
This is what most of us do. And we do it poorly.

PROS

  • You can use your favourite skill all-day
  • There is a lot of work

CONS

  • People can’t tell the difference between you and all the others
  • It’s difficult to charge a higher price
  • Price is your main differentiator

To succeed with this type of positioning you need to show that you can deliver clear measurable results to stand out from the rest. A good example is someone who offers CRO (conversion rate optimisation). Results are measured with analysis and your client can see the before and after difference. In this case, it’s easy to say in your positioning statement “I will increase trail signups by 5%”. When a potential client reads this, his eyes widen and turn to dollar signs.

2. Platform Positioning

You design for only one type of platform.
Example: You design Shopify stores

PROS

  • You are seen as an expert
  • Potential clients self-select because they use the platform
  • You stand out in a sea of web and e-commerce designers
  • All the marketing is done by the platform
  • Your brand is as strong as the brand of the platform

CONS

  • The platform dies — you die with it (Do you know any Windows app designers?)
  • The platform reaches mass adoption–the market gets flooded with people like you (Hello iPhone apps designers)

To succeed with this type of positioning, be early. And have a backup plan if all doesn’t go well.
This can be extremely lucrative if you time it right. If this idea sounds exciting to you, pay attention to what is coming. You can become the go-to person for UI/UX for AR or VR.

3. Vertical Positioning

You design for one industry.
Example: You design finance apps

PROS

  • You are seen as an expert
  • You can command high prices
  • Marketing is easy because you know to whom you are talking
  • You get referrals. People in one industry talk to each other
  • Industry expertise is more important than your design skills
  • You are not compared with a sea of designers.

CONS

  • You have to know this industry and its challenges
  • Gaining deep expertise in an industry takes a lot of time and effort
  • Just changing your LinkedIn bio is not going to cut it
  • It might get bored doing the same thing

To succeed with this type of positioning you need deep expertise in the industry, and knowing how to reach them with your marketing. This could be a great positioning for people who worked in another industry for 5 years and decided to switch career paths and become a designer.
Or you audit all projects from the past 5 years and try to spot a pattern. I did that and realised that I’ve done enterprise and B2B apps. So I went with it. But I don’t see this as a good long term strategy. And I’m looking for a change.

4. Demographic positioning

You design for people based on demographic criteria: Age, gender, race, religion, location…You get the idea.
Example: You design apps for kids

PROS

  • It’s so simple, every person outside of your industry will get it
  • There’s tons of demographic research you can use to service your market
  • It’s not just a job. It’s a calling

CONS

  • It’s an assumption that people in the same demographic group have the same needs. This might not be the case
  • Demographic needs constantly change
  • The available demographic research is a bit old since it’s a big effort to accumulate it

To succeed with this type of positioning, it’s best if you are part of the demographic or have extensive experience with it.

5. Psychographic Positioning

You design for people with similar values. Could be a sub-culture of some sort.
Example: You do UI/UX design for environmental organisations.

PROS

  • You love it, they love it
  • Money is not a problem for either side
  • It’s not just a job. It’s a calling
  • You are part of a community

CONS

  • People’s values are not clear when you meet them online or in-person
  • Standard marketing tactics don’t work, you need to build authentic human conditions
  • If you lose the trust of the community, it’s difficult to go back

To succeed with this type of positioning, you need to be invested in that culture and values. You will not be able to sustain it if you are in it for the money. I’m looking at you, fake vegan gurus on YouTube.

As an idealist, this last one is super appealing to me. I already thought about a bunch of “make money on the internet” type of courses. I got all the tactics. And it turns out I don’t see myself doing it.

When the business is you, finding your niche is much harder. It’s tied to your identity. And I’m not sure standard business tactics work. They do, but you don’t feel great about it. Maybe to find your niche you need a shrink, not a business coach.

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