The Inner Circle: Jessica Colaluca of Design Seeds

{ FRESH HUES } | IMAGE VIA: @DERKLEINEKLECKS

How more creatives don’t know Jessica Colaluca is a mystery to me. We’ve known each other for almost a decade(!!!) and her influence as the designer of the most well-known color palette platform on the web is nothing short of extraordinary. Design Seeds has been poorly imitated by knock-off artists and major brands alike, yet Jessica maintains that human edge that has helped her grow a truly remarkable independent business. Jessica’s palettes have inspired crafters, web and graphic designers and artists all over the world.

At one point, a whooping 40K per day of Pinterest pins/repins came from Jessica’s website. As an independent artist, I believe Jessica is one of the most important voices in the creative community and I’m thrilled to have her as part of the Inner Circle, my collective of artists, makers and creatives who have insights and experience worth sharing. Let’s get to know her better.

{ HEAVENLY HUES } | IMAGE VIA: @LASHESANDLENSES

What lead you to start the Design Seeds platform?

One of the motivators for me to leave my in-house design position back in 2009, was my frustration with corporate firewalls. These nuisances were often blocking the freshest and most inspiring design content, important information, and emerging sites. So when I got a wild hair and quit to start my own consultancy, I wanted to be part of the excitement I saw emerging online. And since color is what I do, live, and breathe, I decided to build a blog around what I know best. Having kept color journals for nearly two decades, I translated those into the Design Seeds blog. My original readers were former colleagues, industry folks, and clients (who were all I candidly expected as colorwork and forecasting are a large part of my consulting), but Facebook and Pinterest changed all that. In 2010, the Design Seeds reader grew to a very diverse crew.

What challenges have you faced as an independent creative?

Do you want that alphabetical, or chronological? [ Inserts nervous laugh ] In all seriousness, I left the corporate world because being a Design Director is not what floats my boat. Moving up the corporate ladder was never my goal. Creating really cool stuff, connecting people through design, and storytelling was my fuel. I also felt that I was too young to stagnate at that level (as far as my abilities as a designer, growing, and evolving with technology). What I think many designers can mistake in their career is that they will stay in the same lane throughout it. Companies collapse, industries go extinct, consumer trends shift, and technology continually redefines far too much to approach a creative career without an agile mind or footing. Being independant has helped me grow in ways I had never dreamt, while evolving my career path with changing times.

Now that I have been on my own for 9 years, I have been extremely grateful for the balance of client work, while keeping Design Seeds such an intimate project. With Seeds, I personally work directly with collaborators, create all the content & Seeds Studio products, while running the site and social. This is the part that can lead to madness in that you have to throw on ten different hats in a day ranging from repairing a printer, to sussing out the best shipping partner because rates just got jacked, to cleaning up code that got broken with the latest WordPress update.

You and I have also endlessly discussed our ethics and what it means to us to be indie. I have found this has meant I have turned down some notably lucrative opportunities because they broke from my indie lane, or felt as though they degraded what I was building. My vision for Design Seeds has always been to give … to inspire … and with a view for the long game versus faster, bigger cash. My whole intent for the site was to create what my dream space as a designer is. This is ultimately to offer a spot for folks to explore, find serendipitous inspiration, and discover some really cool creatives who collaborate through inspiration images. As a result of all this indie-ness, I have joked that I am often starving on my morals. Effectively monetizing your work so you can feed your family, while being able to stay in the indie lane, is a bit of a tightrope to walk.

{ COLOR FLORA } | IMAGE VIA: @FAIRYNUFFFLOWER

Back in the April of 2009, I got a wild hair and leapt from my career in corporate design studios to chance it on my own. From art school, through my time working at companies including Ford, Reebok, and Timberland, I catalogued my colorwork in endless sketchbooks. Fascinated by the emerging online creative community and voice social media offered independent designers, I was inspired to reinterpret my journals into a color blog. In May 2009, Design Seeds was launched for all who love color.

{ COLOR NATURE } | IMAGE VIA: @CORNFLOWERTINT

As Seeds has grown over the years, it has evolved into an international community who share a passion for nature’s beauty, wanderlust, & discovering inspiration in unexpected captures. By creating color palettes inspired by images submitted via Instagram, I am grateful to collaborate with diverse global talent including artists, makers, designers, and photographers.

{ COLOR SEA } | IMAGE VIA: @ASHLEIGHTMC

“My vision for Design Seeds has always been to give … to inspire … and with a view for the long game versus faster, bigger cash. My whole intent for the site was to create what my dream space as a designer is. This is ultimately to offer a spot for folks to explore, find serendipitous inspiration, and discover some really cool creatives who collaborate through inspiration images.”

{ COLOR VIEW } | IMAGE VIA: @DAANFOTOGRAFEERT

While many bloggers went the sponsored post/affiliate link/route, how have you managed to stay independent?

I took on a lot of client work in the beginning to fund the site, and continue to freelance and consult. How much work I take on changes. There were a few years I was solely focused on Design Seeds, but ad blockers happened and I needed to react quickly because that lost income was critical in keeping the site alive.

Something important to note is that it took two years before Design Seeds even made a penny. I took a huge leap of faith as I invested a considerable amount of my own money (over six figures) to fund the site those first few years without trying to make a dime on it. I focused on building the brand, content, and site as a resource. Although Seeds is indie, it gratefully has a large reader base, and a site with it’s reach is costly to run. I ultimately monetized the site with traditional banner ads. As I mentioned, simple right column ads were wonderfully profitable before the advent of ad blockers.

In diversifying monetization, I have also sold publications all these years. Downloads have evolved to being a significant revenue source for operational costs. As far as deciding to stay indie with books and downloads, I had worked with an agent for awhile before moving on, and have had Publishers approach me directly. I ultimately found that self publishing would be my most profitable route, while being able to maintain control of the Design Seeds brand and vision. It’s startling how little money the traditional route makes comparatively.

I launched the Seeds Studio product line this past year, and am quite grateful with how that is going. And also important to note, I’ve been fortunate to have a great relationship with a sponsor that is peanut butter to Design Seeds’ jelly. I declined sponsored relationships for over seven years. However, 18 months ago, I met these amazing folks, with an incredible product, and it is wildly useful to my reader. Their color system is also the premium standard in the fashion industry. Have received feedback from industry folks on how valuable the seasonal feature on the site has become in their process, it’s been a cool way to grow what Design Seeds offers.

Why should makers also see themselves as brand-builders?

Oh goodness this is so critical for several reasons. From the importance of storytelling in your products and goods, to creating levers to pull when it’s time to grow, adjust, or react. In the flooded world of the interwebs, amazing work or goods do not guarantee success. Branding is not even optional these days. Also, and one of the most challenging parts I find being online, is the amount of copycats and knockoffs. Registered Trademarks are critical in defending your rights, and together with brand building, they are the fibers that weave your case in defending your intellectual property.

Sum up your personal style in 5 words.

Eclectic. Colorful. Not so serious.


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