The changing face of design: are subscription services the future?

On thinking of design as an equation, and building a design subscription service that meets the needs of real designers.

Pop 3D Geo Patterns by hughadams

By Eric Karkovack

The way we access everything from entertainment to personal care items has been turned upside down.

Want to watch a movie or original series? Just fire up your tablet. Need some help keeping that beard just so? There’s a plethora of razor delivery services to help you there. One by one, the traditional channels of access are being replaced (or rivaled) by subscription-based services.

Inevitably, we’re now starting to see this trend show up in web design. After all, if an industry of people who spend their time working on the web aren’t prime targets for these types of services, who is?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the subscription model and discover the strengths, weaknesses and how it all relates to those of us in world of web design.


Convenience, choice and access

The biggest selling point of any subscription service is the convenience factor. Simply put: more than ever, people want to spend their time on the important stuff. Going out to the drugstore to buy shaving supplies or diapers might be easy enough. But it’s even easier to have those items delivered to your door at a regular interval. It’s one less thing you have to think about. Plus, it saves you a bit of time that can be better spent elsewhere. As the thinking goes, the more of these handy services you sign up for, the more time you’ll save.

Choice and access are also key drivers of society’s tilt towards subscriptions. In the case of Netflix, you’re given access to a huge library of programming that you can watch from just about anywhere. And, while they may not have every single title you’re looking for, they have provided a healthy mix of old, new and original content that will keep you happily entertained.

Final design: Under Construction by idea2b. Laptop Screen Mockup by itscroma, Excavator by PixelSquid. From the Made With Envato June 2017 contest.

Too much of a good thing?

Choice can be a wonderful thing. But to some degree, it’s possible to become frustrated with a service like Netflix because there are too many choices. You might wonder how in the world you’d choose from thousands of available titles. Not everyone is apt to scroll through an endless listing of options.

But that’s really where great UI/UX come into play. If it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, frustration becomes less likely. So, a service that offers a lot of choices can balance that with simple navigation and smart categorization — both things that Netflix has mastered over time.

Beyond utilizing a fantastic initial setup, Netflix also uses algorithms to find related content you might enjoy. That makes discovery of new movies or shows an easier, more natural experience. Overall, they have taken positive steps to remove as many pain-points as possible.

Whether you’re buying access to gourmet coffee or the latest music, you’re most likely doing so because it makes your life easier and more enjoyable. That’s the beauty of a well-done subscription service.


Why an unlimited subscription works for designers

New subscription-based services focused on web design are starting to take hold. This is especially so when it comes to things that everyone needs — like design assets. Frankly, shopping around on various sites for a particular design element is tedious. Prices can vary greatly from site to site, and it takes up too much precious time. An unlimited, one-stop shop provides a level of convenience that is sorely needed.

The cost savings over the traditional pay-as-you-go model is tremendous. And, the more you use an unlimited service, the more you put the old way to shame. Downloading just a handful of design assets can easily run into triple-digit costs. With an unlimited service, you’ll pay the same monthly fee regardless of how much you download.

Video: Tokyo Spring Break by AndrVlad. Created using Summer Upbeat Energetic Pop by Top-Flow, Sakura by RickyValadez, Tokyo by Top-Flow, and Motivational by Sam-Stone.

Changes in design and marketing require more resources.

Modern web design is all about short bits of text combined with graphic elements that guide the user along a desired path. With that, various content sections within the same page can each require multiple elements. Things like icons and illustrations are vital to getting your message across.

Top: Splashes Creative Agency Template by CreativeWS. Bottom row: Abstract Paint, Vol. 8 by Jim_LePage, apple by Alex_star, Picture Art Mockup [Vol 6] by sherlockholmes. All from Envato Elements.

Websites within a variety of industries such as news organizations, charities or financial firms also require resources for editorial purposes. Design assets like charts and infographics help to present complex information like statistics in a more user-friendly manner.

But this need is not just limited to traditional websites. Keeping customers and fans engaged beyond a website has become just as important. Therefore, the same type of elements are also needed for your social media, online advertising and email marketing materials.

The same can also be said for your efforts offline. Whether you’re promoting your own company or working for someone else, print and other physical items are still important. Logo creation, brochures, business cards and the like aren’t going away anytime soon. Having a healthy supply of fonts and templates are a must.

These days, the cycle of content creation doesn’t stop. That means designers need access to a steady stream of resources to meet the demand.

Project: Typoster: The Best of Times by hellocorey. Poster Mockup by Zeisla, lyrics by Sage Francis. From the Made With Envato June 2017 contest.

Subscription services are natural fit for web design.

When you think about it, web-based subscription services have been a part of a web designer’s toolbox for quite some time. Web hosting, email list services and even domain names have long been necessities. In recent years, some of the software we use to design and develop sites have gone to this model as well. In that way, perhaps we were ahead of the curve.

Top: SunTour Creative Travel Agency HTML Template by CreativeWS. Bottom row: Mother and daughter playing on the beach at the sunset time. by altanaka; Social Media Icons by brandifystudio; Burtons by amtypes.

Now, subscriptions for just about anything and everything are becoming mainstream. So it makes perfect sense that a new breed of designer-centric services are popping up.

These services bring convenience and cost-saving potential. They’re also agile and can adapt to the changing needs of designers.

And, importantly, they’re the future of the industry. The on-demand world we live in requires us to evolve along with it. With the help of the right services, we’ll be able to keep up.


A version of this article was originally published at Envato on July 18, 2017.

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