Designing Stronger Surface Pattern Design Collections

Maybe it’s my previous experience as a scrapbook product designer, but I’ve always had a soft spot for designing coordinate patterns. They play an important role in the world of scrapbooking because customers need simple patterns to complement more complicated ones.

That’s why most scrapbook collections out there feature double-sided papers. The A-side is reserved for the unique hero patterns while the B-side is for secondary and blender prints. Read our post explaining common surface pattern design terms if you’re not sure what I mean.

You see something similar in bolt fabric; a few hero patterns sitting next to simpler secondary designs to help round out the collection.

Both the scrapbooking and bolt fabric markets focus on patterns more than other parts of the surface design industry. However, even as I’ve shifted towards more illustration, I still find a lot of value in including coordinates in my portfolio.

Actually, it’s such an important part of a well-rounded art licensing portfolio, I want to share 3 reasons why you should consider including them.

#1: Adds Value to Your Work

You probably already know how competitive the surface design industry is, so you should always try and package your designs to be as attractive to buyers as possible, especially because art directors want to get the most out of their budget as possible.

When an art director is looking for new art and asking you to send them designs, think about which scenario provides a better outcome:

  • Scenario A: You have a single floral pattern.
  • Scenario B: You have that same pattern sitting with 2 additional patterns that complement it.

If you were the art director, which would you choose? All things being equal, you’d probably choose the option that gave you the most to work with.

TRY THIS: Put your hand over the 2 coordinates on the piece below and view the hero pattern on its own. Now remove your hand. Doesn’t it look more enticing seeing it all packaged up like this?


Shine Bright Floral Pattern Collection by Shannon McNab

#2: Shows You Understand Pattern Mixing

There are many instances in surface design where a product features multiple images or patterns, so it’s important to show buyers that you’ve thought about how different patterns can work together harmoniously.

Now, not every designer will have to understand pattern mixing (like an artist who focuses on editorial illustration, for example). However, if you’re looking to get into a market where larger pattern collections are common OR interested in freelance surface design projects, confident pattern mixing is an important skill to develop and will make you all the more attractive to work with.


Related Article: Building a Surface Design Collection from Start to Finish


#3: Attracts Buyers Looking for Simpler Designs

This may be a less obvious reason, but it’s one I was ecstatic to discover. When I reviewed my notes from my first year at Surtex I realized how much impact a single coordinate pattern could have.

Sometimes art directors want something different or understated, which is the perfect opportunity for coordinates!

In fact, I had half a dozen people at Surtex giving my coordinates more attention than their hero pattern. Crazy, right?!? I had no idea that would happen, but I’m happy so many designs had coordinates.

This is just another reason it’s important to give your client options. If I hadn’t included coordinates alongside hero patterns on my booth banners and in my portfolio, some clients might have just passed by my booth. Think about those potential missed opportunities!!


I hope I’ve convinced you how helpful it is to have coordinate patterns in your portfolio. And I hope as you create new work you’ll consider adding some to your designs.

However, I know some designers struggle to create quick, yet interesting coordinates. It’s why I created How to Create Strong Coordinate Patterns, a 15-minute class on Skillshare. It gives you valuable insights quickly that you can immediately apply to your portfolio.

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