Creating a niche portfolio


I’m happily working in a full time job at a startup tech company and have no intention to leave anytime soon. Outside of work I have a huge interested in architecture, photography, illustration and general design.

I’d like to update my online portfolio/website but make it specific to architecture - to include logos and photography I’ve done for architects as well as conceptual web designs and illustrations. In the future (5+ years or so…) I’d like to setup my own business specifically for architects and those in construction etc. And figured it might be a good time to get my ideas out there and just in general share my passion. I’d also like to setup a new social media and blog account talking about architecture, interiors and graphic design.

Does anyone think this is a good idea? Again I have no intention to leave my job anytime soon, but would like to spread the word!



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There are many things to consider, but don’t forget to build your own client base.

I see way too much beginners freelancers (in my experience) starting with a fancy portfolio site, social media but zero marketing ideas

Building a website or having social media is one thing, but how will you reach people besides social media? In this case, architects & people in construction you mentioned…? What kind of services are you going to offer?

It’s nice to have broad skills, but what makes you stand out so people will hire you?

You ask or this is a good idea, well I think you should decide that for yourself :slight_smile:

Maybe this link could be useful for you: Branding Brief Template

Thanks Loulou!

Sorry I should edit my question, I already have an instagram which shows my photography. To be honest I’d just like a place to house all of my photography, conceptual work and ideas. At the moment I’d just like to create a general name and buzz for myself, I’ve signed up to do charity work for one architectural firm.

I’ll stay in my current role for as long as I can. But outside of work I have such a big interest in architecture I feel it’s also a nice side hobby to work on. At this stage it’s less about marketing and more about having fun etc

I think much depends on where you live. To make that kind of niche business successful, you might need to live in an area where there are a good many thriving architectural firms and a good deal of commercial construction.

Would your niche business exist mainly as a subcontractor for designing architectural and environmental graphics, like signage, displays and large-format kinds of work? Would it also include catering to the marketing, design and branding needs of the architectural and construction firms themselves?

Have you checked whether other design firms of this kind exist in your area or elsewhere in similar areas. Have you researched how, for example, architectural/environmental graphics come into being now? Are they mostly designed by sign companies or design firms? Are they subcontracted through the architectural firms themselves or are they handled separately by the clients through, say, firms specializing in interior design, environmental graphics or all kinds of varied design projects? Do the architects make recommendations to the clients for these design firms? How many of these kind of design needs are handled in-house by either the architecture or construction firms themselves or, for that matter, the end client? How much money in typical kinds of construction projects is budgeted for this kind of thing? How does that compare with ten or twenty years ago? What do the trend lines say about the future? Would the business tend to be cyclical or steady? Would there be related kinds of design or fabrications projects that could be easily transitioned into during slower economic periods?

I’m not suggesting you answer these kinds of questions here, what I’m really asking is how deeply you’ve dived into researching whether or not there is a viable niche market for what you’re proposing and whether or not a working business model already exists that is either similar or very different from what you’re proposing.

At this stage, if you’re serious about achieving your goal of setting up your business in 5-plus years, you should probably do more than have fun; you should be doing research, developing skills, getting experience, making contracts, thinking through problems, and laying the groundwork for what you want to do (in addition to having fun).

It looks like you have two goals. The first goal is a simple portfolio website. The second is “general name and buzz” which is marketing.

I think the first thing you should do is just develop a complete understanding of your market. Once you have that, it will drive most future decisions and they’ll be much easier. So learn their ages, cultures, incomes, everything you can learn about them.

Because right now you’re thinking of what you want to do. But when you start doing it for money, you’ll need to reach them. They won’t come to you unless you solve problems for them.

You might also look at real estate listing photography and portfolio work for interior designers. Both of those overlap with architecture, skill-wise.

B points out some very interesting questions for you to research. A very thorough list I might add.

There’s a current trend of scaling back within the outside design firms that used to support architects, major museums, and large entities like the National Park Service. About a decade ago, a lot of staff designers were laid off, but then hired back on as contractors if a large project came in. This may have had a lot to do with the major economic downturn then, but it’s now become an ingrained business model. It is very hard to break into that inner circle of designers that have had years and years of networking within the industry.

The way it usually works for us as fabricators, on very large projects there will be an architectural firm at the top. They hire building contractors to build or rehab a building or space. Whether or not they hire the experiential designer depends on who is going into a building. Even if it is a new space, there is already likely a branding system in place and the end client may already have a build-out designer on hire. The exceptions are motif and museum spaces. Depending on the depth of the architectural firm, they may have their own experiential designers on staff or on contract. Or they may hire in one of the studios who then, in turn, staffs the project with their own staff or contractors.
Everything is done by bid. Design firm, building contractor all have to enter into a competitive bid.

On a smaller scale, it may just be an experiential design studio with the chops to do all the detail drawings needed.

Or it may just be a single freelance designer. The thing though, as a freelancer, you are going to need CAD capabilities, whether AutoCAD or VectorWorks (lesser known but more affordable and same file formats.) You are going to have to understand the engineering of sign parts and cabinetry and the materials involved, as well as other materials that can be “repurposed.” You’ll have to be able to project manage a builder who is fabricating your stuff. And you have to understand the limits of the real world. Paper does wonders to hold a design in mid-air. Reality requires visible fasteners. :wink:

It isn’t just fun. There’s a lot to learn.
I highly suggest you check out the site. Lots of material there.

Now for a bit of a reality check.
What is your current employer’s views on moonlighting? How much of what you do on the side could be viewed as competition with them. The minute they perceive you as striking out on your own they may say, “see ya lata.”

I also have a feeling we may be misconstruing your question.
Are you a schooled and experienced designer now? You only say you work in a startup. It’s a very long way up the ladder to getting “logo” work at an architectural level. Sure just about any designer can have a logo made into a sign, but the complexity and quality of the sign will depend on the skill of the designer.

Just after I graduated from college many years ago, I landed a freelance project to design the entrance sign to a state park. I came up with a great-looking sign, showed it to the state park people. They liked it and told me to move forward and check into some fabricators.

I naively hadn’t thought of that part, so I did some looking around and found a few places that built this kind of thing. I was in for a rude awakening.

I showed my plans to one company, and the guy I was talking to said something along the lines of, “That’s a fantastic looking sign, but concrete just doesn’t like to do what you have in mind. And even if we do manage to engineer it, how do you propose we get that six-ton object to hover over the ground like that? The engineering we can do for a price, but the magic is probably out of your price range.”

Thanks Just-B … that really gave me a chuckle :smiley:

B, that’s an awesome story. Was the design ever realized in some form?

In a sense, I guess.

Pouring a more substantial base would have solved one of the problems, but the cost ended up being way too high. It was one of my first introductions to the reality of this business being a lot more rooted in practicality than the pie-in-the-sky, artsy philosophy of school.

I ended up redesigning the whole thing to use natural stone found in the area and finding a local stone mason to build something a little more realistic.

I hadn’t thought of this in years. The park still exists, so I just Googled it and the sign is, amazingly, still there. The stone part and the general shape of the wooden part look to be the same as I remember it. The typography is dated and way ugly, but hey, it was a first (well, second) effort. That was going on 40 years ago, and it’s still being maintained. I’m surprised. :smiley:

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Thanks for your comments.

I’ve been working as a Designer for 4 years now and before that worked as a Visual Merchandiser. To be honest at this stage in my life I’m really pursing a hobby on the side, I’m not sure in what capacity I want to work in the architecture industry and just want to put together a portfolio of different areas of my skills.

Again… I’m not looking to move from my job any time soon. I do charity graphic design work on the side and whilst I respect everyone saying to think for the future I just want to pursue a hobby.

I already have a portfolio which I add to containing work from my job and past freelance projects etc - this is just something more specific for now.

Anyway thanks

Architects don’t hire “hobbyists.”


Again I’m not looking to be hired…

In 5 years or so?

Even then I don’t know for sure. I guess at the minute I just want to collate all my architecture work - I should have been clearer

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