Launched in 2005, WhatDesigners has taken several detours since it started. I originally started What Designers for two reasons (1) to share and promote the work of amazing designers, artists, artisans, and craftspeople and (2) to build a community around the maker movement and facilitate online sales.
As a product designer, web designer, and entrepreneur, I realized that there were both challenges and opportunities for new designers trying to launch their business. But designers rarely had an ecommerce store, online payment processing was expensive, Etsy was little known, and social media was in its infancy. I had previously co-founded a design collective (featured in Dwell and SF Gate) and had developed ecommerce stores for myself and my clients (one of which was featured in Wallpaper magazine). So I knew that collaboration and ecommerce could enable designers to build an audience, sell their work, while gaining visibility with new audiences and the media.
Initially, WhatDesigners was part store, part digital “pop up,” and part blog. One of the most important goals was to facilitate sales, so I featured designers who were selling already or ready to sell. Designers were able to submit their work to the blog and sign up for digital pop-ups, which were themed, co-marketed events. In addition, a select few designers were invited to join the WhatDesigners.com store. This allowed designers to have an online store, if they did not have one, or add another revenue stream if they did.
The “independent design guides” became the focus of the site. For a small fee, designers could be included in curated online shopping guides. By providing email templates and postcards, designers were able to easily and cost effectively promote their work in the guide to their customers and followers. Collaborations with other independent design blogs and stores, such as modcloth, allowed us to reach even more designers and customers, and further support the design community.
As a result, I helped designers reach an expanded and targeted audience, reduce the high cost of solo marketing, while contributing to a high end modern curated collection. Whatdesigners.com and our events were featured in highly respected design blogs of the time, including Design*sponge and Design Milk. In addition, I became a featured contributor at StyleHive and Polyvore, the first social shopping sites. This allowed me to further expand the reach of the independent designer and maker movements.
However, while the store was a great idea, dropshipping from multiple designers was complicated and expensive. Plus, the rise of Etsy, developed by engineers and funded by VCs, made the maker movement a huge, investible market. Amazon’s entrance into the handmade marketplace further squeezed out those passionate about independent design and the maker movement. Over time, this would include the makers themselves.
After several years, my fellow independent design bloggers and stores started to close. And after an unfortunate and costly website hack, I decided to rethink the future of Whatdesigners.
Whatdesigners.com remains a site that promotes the work of independent designers and makers, but it is a labor of love rather than a business. For right now, at least. I will always be passionate about independent design and find inspiration in the stories of makers all over the world. And I still believe that there is incredible power in creative collaboration and community. In genuine passion for the makers, not just the money. And maybe, one day, we will find a way to take the power back from the platforms, take the profits back from their pockets, and give it back to the makers themselves. Maybe. Hopefully.
- feel free to submit your work if you think it would be a good fit for the site
- follow us on the socials and @whatdesigners us to share your work
- And if you are a designer, artist, artisan, or craftsperson looking for mentorship contact me