What is Surface Design?

After announcing my retirement from digital scrapbook design so I could focus my energies on surface design, the number one thing I’ve gotten asked is . . . what is surface design?

It’s a good question because the term “surface design” is fairly new and it’s not nearly as common as other artistic fields like graphic design or photography. And while I don’t personally claim to be an expert in surface design (I am just a newbie in the field afterall), I thought it could be helpful to share my perspective on what surface design is.

I love the design of this colorful notebook I found at Target (artist unknown).

I love the design of this colorful notebook I found at Target (artist unknown).

Surface Design Defined

Surface design is any type of artwork (pattern, illustration, hand lettering, etc.) made by a designer that is intended to be applied to a surface to enhance its visual appearance and/or functionality.

Here’s another way to think about it: a furniture designer’s job is to design interesting and functional furniture, just like it’s a children’s apparel designer’s job to develop new collections of fashionable clothing for kids. Well, that new sofa the furniture designer created needs an interesting patterned fabric and the pirate t-shirt concept the apparel designer just came up with needs an illustration to match her vision. And that’s where a surface designer comes in; they can design a pattern for the new sofa or a cute peg-legged pirate for a kid’s t-shirt.

What is Surface Design? | An Artistic Representation of the Industry (ie. completely made-up, inaccurate depiction) at shannonmcnab.com

Where can you find surface design?

EVERYWHERE! Just walk around your house and look at all the printed (or woven) surfaces around you. I bet you can find 10 items in less than 2 minutes. Pillows, throw rugs, bed linens, birthday cards, coffee mugs, wall art, kitchen utensils, your favorite printed dress, notebooks, books, magazine articles . . . well you get the idea.

The funny thing about this is that scrapbooking (including digital scrapbooking) is actually a type of surface design, it’s just a very small piece of a much larger pie. So when I decided to retire from PU digital designing to shift into surface design, I was actually opening myself and my designs up to a much larger market.