The business of print design: Five minutes with Lucy Merriman

print design

The business of print design can feel a little elusive – sometimes, it takes an industry expert to give key insight into the creative process, tech innovation and some advice to budding freelance designers.

Lucy Merriman provides creative consultancy for print, trend and colour direction for printed apparel.

Merriman has over 20 years experience in providing inspirational print design, trend and colour appealing to multi-channel retailers. Working with a diverse range of clients from high-end street fashion brands to high street retailers, she’s gained great knowledge of brand awareness.

WGSN caught up with her to find out more about her creative process, activewear colour trends and tips on getting on in the industry.

Can you give us some insight into how you first set up your business?

I moved to London after studying my Textile Degree in Nottingham and enrolled onto the Government Enterprise Scheme. Back in the early 1990’s, the unemployed were given an incentive of £40 per week to help set up their own business. I remember going to management workshops where we were taught how to layout spreadsheets for accounts, all done using pen and paper!

I was offered a space in a studio overlooking Hoxton Square. At that time, rent was cheap and it encouraged an underground culture – an artistic scene in the area. It was, creatively, a very exciting time and I shared the space with other textile based designers. It was a thriving workshop with a huge loom and industrial knitting machine. Initially a designer/maker, I built a print table and started silk screen printing designs by hand, making silk accessories to be sold in boutiques in London and Brighton.

The Government Enterprise Scheme provided invaluable workshops and a network of advice on setting up a business for the first time. I was encouraged by my business mentor to enter the Shell Livewire UK Awards to promote young entrepreneurs, going on to win the East London round and then presented a collection of silk textiles in the London Regional Finals. Following this, I worked for retail brand Next as childrenswear print designer. This role provided a good grounding in how the industry works and the development of the print design process.


You’ve been working in this industry for 20 years. How has the creative process evolved along with changes in technology?

Pre-computers, designs were meticulously painted by hand. With no Internet for instant research, the whole creative process moved much more slowly. Trend research was done through books, magazines and art galleries. Print repeats were worked out with black and white photocopies and tracing paper and designs were always hand-rendered.

Now the research process can be sourced globally via the internet, as well as undertaking first hand research from art and culture. Designing is now done using different mediums and the aid of design packages such as Photoshop and Illustrator has sped up the process – for example, creating repeat patterns is now far simpler.


Does the process vary depending on clients and different markets?

Every client and brief is different and dependent on market and sector, and can differ hugely. Is the brief  purely a print design one? What number of print options are needed? Often, it can involve providing a more bespoke service in creative direction, too.

Working for a performance sportswear brand such as Diadora, the process is longer than that of a faster fashion company, with longer lead times and working up to two years ahead of the seasons. Womenswear faster fashion, would be working much closer to the season with designs updated every month.


You’ve said that activewear is now a big area of focus for you – do you attribute this to the rise in athleisure? And are there any particular colour or print trends emerging in this space?

Yes, definitely. The growth in the activewear market has been huge and is an area I love working in. I think people simply want to live heathier lives. It’s the whole notion of wellness and mindfulness, connecting to nature and also a more stress free lifestyle. There are many more product categories now, with most retail brands adding athleisure or active products to their ranges. As activewear becomes a staple of daywear, combining both fashion & function, we are seeing a real crossover of womenswear and activewear print design and a change in how woman dress in general.

In fitness and training, we’re seeing energetic, bold colours, palettes of primary brights, complimented with subtle tones. Disrupted linear prints and colour blocking are key. The calmer, more natural palettes and mineral tones  appear for athleisure ranges and yoga, particularly in the form of Abstract prints inspired by the natural landscape.

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We’re noticing a rise in consumer demand for sustainable, ethically-sourced fashion. Do you think that clients are revisiting product design less frequently or attempting to slow the process down?

It is a really positive step that we are seeing larger retailers such as H&M launching a sustainable activewear range for women, earlier this year. Ethically-sourced fashion was a more specialist area but now brands are having to be more eco-conscious. There is a shift in attitudes in the younger generations, placing a value on where garments have come from and how they have been made. Sustainable fashion is a major trend in the industry at the moment, which is a good thing. There’s a trend towards choosing quality over quantity and having clothes that last. There are many sustainable brands now, with a slower process, more intentional design, considered manufacturing and recycling process. This is certainly a step in the right direction.


What advice would you give to freelance print designers or people who are looking for a way in to the industry?

I would say, be pro-active, passionate and never give up. Make connections, and take opportunities to learn through workshops and internships. Offer versatility, too. As a print designer you need to be able to design a variety of looks and appeals within your own style but still be unique.

Be inspired and absorb inspiration 24/7. Be artistic and paint by hand regularly. With the ease of computers and the digital image, it’s important to keeps these skills up to speed. Evolve and change with the times and keep ahead of the game.

Print design

Lucy’s prints on silk

At WGSN, we’re big on the future – what’s next for you?

The exciting thing is always finding new inspiration, to present new ideas to clients.
I am working on activewear ranges, some emerging brands that have yet to be launched. It’s a challenge to present myself as a designer/consultant in a fresh and dynamic way and there is always room to grow and improve the skills you have. Working and providing the content and direction for the promo video has been a new experience. Looking to the future, I see myself using more film to showcase my work and what I have to offer.

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