I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mehmet Reha Tugcu, a prolific and multi-talented designer working out of Istanbul under the moniker Tugcu Design Co. I’ve been aware of Mehmet’s work for a while now as a fellow Creative Market shop owner and found him to be refreshing example of a designer who has rightfully earned his success. His shop boasts a remarkably diverse archive of excellent products that have clearly been created by someone who’s both passionate about his work and driven enough to bring it into the world. We discuss how Tugcu Design Co. came to be, his philosophy on designer / audience relationships, and how he settles on a concept. I want to thank Mehmet for taking the time to speak with me and for sharing his insights.
Did you always want to be a designer? How to did you find your way to selling through online marketplaces?
I always dabbled in Photoshop but I never considered it as a career. I wanted to be an author, studied to be an economist and ended up becoming a designer!
I was exploring my options for making a living from my computer and found out about crowdsourcing sites and since I was pretty proficient at using Photoshop I thought “Why not participate” and ended up winning a few contests and got my first taste at earning money via the internet. So I kept exploring my options and improving myself and I eventually discovered GraphicRiver. After uploading my first few products and earning a bit I thought “This is the way I want to make money” and I just kept going since.
Visiting your shop on Creative Market, it’s clear that offer a wide variety of product types. Do you find that you work in phases (i.e. fonts one year, textures the next, etc) or are you always juggling various product types at one time?
I’m always juggling, if I work on the same product type for too long I’ll get burned out. I love exploring new product types and trying myself in disciplines I have no experience in. That’s how I got into making fonts and fell in love with it.
Are you someone who needs to continually out-do yourself or are you content with much of your work?
I wouldn’t say I try to out-do myself but I do have my own quality standards and quite a few of my products don’t see the light of day because I’m not happy with them. I do have the designer’s curse in the sense that I look back at some of my earlier works and say “What was I thinking?”.
While some designers’ work immediately seems to a target masculine or feminine audience, your work strikes me as more ambiguous in this regard. You’re as comfortable creating an elegant feminine typeface as much as a hard-edged masculine one. Is having your work speak to everyone important to you or have you tried to focus on different niches?
I like making work that is beautiful to me, it really doesn’t matter if it’s feminine or masculine. It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. I don’t get as loyal a following as other designers who consistently produce “girlboss” kinda products but I get to appeal to a wider audience. I also find it a bit tacky when a product is defined by the genre it attracts.
I don’t think design should be constricted by parameters or genres like “feminine” or “futuristic” etc. It just limits the potential of the work. I’ll make a font with a sci-fi theme in mind and market it as such but I know it’ll work just as well if used properly on a vintage design, or a fashion magazine. It’s all about the context it’s used it.
In your CM profile you mention you’re based in Istanbul. In our increasingly globalized design community, have you observed design traits that you feel are unique to Turkish designers? Would you say that you bring any of that into your work?
I don’t think being Turkish has impacted my identity as a designer in any way. Traditional Turkish designs and Islamic motifs are not really my cup of tea, I find them way too intricate, bloated and turgid. I will say though that Turkey as a country is very tech-savvy and there are some really great UI/App designers around.
What do you find to be the greatest struggle(s) for designers selling online?
Gaining visibility and standing out amidst other designers. There are so many great designers that have crafted their art and their audience over the years and it’s tough competing against them.
For newcomer designers their biggest struggle seems to be coming to terms with the reality against their expectations. A lot of people launch a few products and expect to make bank, you really have to struggle, keep working and push as many good and unique products as you can to see any results. Being a great designer isn’t enough, you need to be a good at marketing and researching as well.
When settling on a concept, which is more important to you: immediately recognizable or outside the box?
Because a lot of my work is very niche I try to make them immediately recognizable. One look at my preview images and you’ll know if it’s sci-fi or vintage or art deco etc. I think it’s important to give the customer an idea or a vision of what the product is and the context it can be used in. We’ve reached an age where a lot of non-designers will purchase fonts, social media templates, illustrations and play around in Photoshop so I prefer not to dwell too much on the fringes so I don’t scare people away.
Do you love, hate or feel indifferent toward promoting your own work? How do you reach your audience?
I usually post my work to Behance which is pretty much all I do in terms of promoting. I should put more effort into marketing but I’d rather create more products instead. Because a lot of my work is very niche I don’t really have trouble finding an audience. I don’t dislike promoting but I don’t enjoy it either. I guess it’s a necessary evil.
Is “Tugcu Design Co.” your full-time job or a side project? If side project, what’s your day-time gig?
It’s been my full time job for quite a while now. I’ve almost completely stopped taking freelance work other than the interesting job here and there and I’d never consider any other full time job offer. I love creating digital products and can’t think of any other way I’d rather make a living.
Do you listen to music when you work and if so, what are you listening to?
I listen to so much stuff. I love retro music and disco. Stuff like Earth, Wind & Fire, Men at Work, Modern Talking, Bronski Beat etc.
I also listen to a lot of electronic music, mostly synthwave. People like Kavinsky, Daniel Deluxe, Dynatron. I find this genre to be great for working as it keeps me pumped up while not being distracting.
I also have playlists for classic rock, opera, Mongolian throat singing, ballads and heavy metal. I like a lot of genres.