What is Surface Design? Here’s the Quick Answer. Pt. I

What is Surface Design?

“What is surface design? Never heard of it.” Often, this is the response I hear when I mention the term. I could easily insert a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek comment about how it’s self-explanatory…but I won’t. One, because that’s rude, and I have manners. And two, because I asked the SAME questions. In this judgment-free zone, I’ll quickly tell you a little about surface design and provide examples of where you can spot the work.


So, hit me with the definition.


The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines provides the simplest of many definitions I have found on the topic. The book states, surface design is the creation of “repetitive and non-repetitive or engineered decorative graphics or patterns used to adorn products for the apparel, home fashions, paper product, giftware, and craft industries.” It is also referred to as textile design and surface pattern design.


Here are a few examples of surface design work.




Home fashions.




Paper products.




Incredible work, right?! Once you look for it, you’ll be surprised how much surface design work is around you. As I type in my bedroom (don’t judge, I live in a little home in Austin…and I do mean fit in your pocket small…it’s okay, I love it), I have a floral comforter, patterned burp cloth, patterned suitcase and striped shirt all in plain view. Don’t focus on the fact I have a suitcase in my room. I just returned from a glorious family vacation. Focus on the fact that talented surface designers made all these everyday products irresistible. The next time you buy colorful and beautifully patterned clothing, kitchenware or greeting cards (i.e. your next trip to Target) smile knowing a surface designer helped bring it to life.


There’s more info to come in this surface design series. If you learned something new from this post or have a favorite surface designer, please share in the comments. Until next time, be well!


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  1. 1

    Ashley, first, let me just say thank you a simple like on my Instagram! With that gesture I was able to discover such a beautiful spirit with a beautiful family and beautifully unique business! I am intrigued mainly because I totally relate to women in business and entrepreneurs in general!

    I learned a great deal about what a surface designer is that I did not know before! It makes perfect since after reading your blog post. Thank you for you passion in design, style and being unique! Since I have a background in modeling fashion design and I love bold prints and colors I have a feeling you have a new fan!

    Thank you for being authentic! I look forward to discovering more from you! Since I am in Little Rock I hope to one day meet you someday! You never know.



    • 2

      Hi Khaliah, Your comment hands down made my day! Thank you for such kind words and I am thrilled that you found this space. Welcome, welcome welcome :). It’s always nice meeting other people in the industry and Little Rock is not too far away. If your modeling ever sends you to Austin, shoot me an email and we can try to have coffee. Best to you — Ashley

  2. 3

    Hey Ashley!

    Loving your new business launch girly! Definitely will be following along for the journey! I actually am in the process to launching soon too (graphic design/lettering)! Yeyyy!! #kindreds…so we should DEFINITELY connect 😉 More on that later but anyway back to this post – surface design is awesome and everywhere!! YOU are awesome and can’t wait to see and read more! Xo love!!

    Tania W.

    • 4

      Hey Tania!

      Thank you and I’ve been following you with Inkfully. I can’t wait for your launch. You are doing a beautiful job and I know there is going to be so much fruit that comes from it. And yes, yaaay for kindred spirits. Let’s connect soon, I’d love to hear more about your hand-lettering. Perhaps you can guest post about it over here {wink wink}. Xoxo!

      – Ashley

  3. 5

    Ashley, you never know how a like on Instagram can lead a person into a whole new world.
    “Surface designer”
    What in the world is that?
    That was my question when I came here and now you have beautifuly answered it.
    There is a very small, fabric printing company here in North Carolina and I have considered sending in some of my drawings to have printed on fabric.
    If I do indeed do that, I’ll know a little bit more lingo.😉
    Blessings to you and yours!

  4. 6

    Hi Ashley , am a new student in Art & Design and we have been asked to choose our career path. I was thinking about Surface Designer and i came across your blog while doing some researches. My question to you is could you please give some tips and advices about surface designing ? Am really fascinated by this field and i would really want to know some more before engaging myself completely in this path.😘

    Pavaani from Mauritius.

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