A Foolproof System to Generate Ideas for your Print-on-Demand Business

A Review of Michael Essek’s Ideas Workshop to systematically use conceptual and visual frameworks to produce good ideas quickly

Arthur Gladwell
5 min readOct 16, 2020

This article is a preview of Manchester-based designer Michael Essek’s new course, The Ideas Workshop, which just launched today (October 15, 2020).

Disclaimer: I have not been paid to write this review nor is the link at the bottom an affiliate link. Also, I have NOT taken the course yet and my opinion is based solely on the course prospectus, Essek’s Youtube presentation of the course and my thoughts on Essek’s newsletter and book.

I’ve been selling tshirts and other Print-on-Demand (POD) products on Amazon, Etsy and other POD platforms for several years and have created a sustainable and relatively passive income of about $1500 per month — And that’s dedicating a few hours a week to this side hustle after my 9-to-5 job and after putting my rowdy now 5-year old twins to bed. I owe a lot of my success to Essek’s method of using conceptual frameworks to come up with original ideas which he laid out in his Little Book of T-Shirt Ideas. As Essek puts it, the “Little Book” was an appetizer, the “Ideas Workshop” is more like a five-course meal. He describes his new course as “ the definitive class for designers who want to learn how to generate creative, original ideas for any subject, trend or market — on demand.”

Lightbulb happy guy by Michael Essek

Ideas Matter

Essek’s novel concept is that it’s possible to come up with a system for generating original ideas that don’t solely on inspiration but that are the result of applying patterns or formulas that can be easily replicated across different niches. Many sellers struggling in the POD space don’t spend enough time coming up with strong ideas. They will pick a niche and immediately jump into the design process. That’s why an extremely talented illustrators may have a hard time selling her designs. A great illustration paired with a weak concept or joke will fail. This is borne out on POD sites like Merch by Amazon where text-only tshirt with solid ideas can do very well (case in point: the Funcle tshirt).

“Once you know the types and patterns, applying them becomes second nature”

Essek stresses that ideas and designs are not the same, and that the first step in the creative process is to come up with a strong idea which is then translated into a design with a specific style, color palette, effect, with or without typography.

What is both appealing and encouraging is that mediocre designers like myself can be successful in this space by systematically applying proven idea framework and hiring designers to translate those ideas into a finished illustration.

Essek explains that the Idea Workshop will help you develop good ideas fast and learn to stop wasting time on bad ones. The same way a designers relies on a toolkit templates, font packs, graphic elements, color palettes and treatments to quickly develop designs, the process of generating ideas works best when specific methods and templates are used.

The Ideas Workshop includes:

  • 11 core idea generation methods. Each method includes a video, a step-by-step process, a worksheet and an outline of the notes
  • 5 custom built tools
  • 500+ unique proven frameworks
  • a 4-week LIVE Deep Dive Class
Design from Look Human

As a teaser for one of the methods, Essek goes over the Rhyme N’ Replace method where one word related to a topic is swapped with a rhyming word from a well known phrase, such “Berry Christmas”, or “Sweet Dreams are Made of Cheese”.

Image from Michael Essek Youtube video promoting his course

The steps in the the Rhyme N’ Replace method include:

  1. Choosing a topic (Halloween in the example above), and find an input word related to that topic: scare.
  2. Finding a word that rhymes with the input word: bear.
  3. Finding a phrase that uses the rhyming word: Grin and Bear it.
  4. Replacing the rhyming word with the input word: Grin and Scare it.

For each step, Essek provides some online resources to help you along the way, such as the Idiom Dictionary.

In addition to the 11 methods, the sneak-peak course page includes:

  • A plug-in phrase directory of 250+ sayings,
  • A visual inspiration board with a Graphic Styles Board, an Iconic Images Board and a Layout Framework Board
  • A Slogan Slot Machine
  • A Low Hanging Fruit Cheat Sheet
  • A Mutant Words Masher

So a lot of clever, funny descriptions for these methods even if it’s not always exactly what each of these resources entails. Then again I wouldn’t expect Essek to reveal his whole game. Essek warns that this is not a course for people searching for “ready-made” ideas, a list of “good niches”, or techniques to improve their design skills.

Based on his weekly Youtube livestream where Essek critiques designs submitted by his viewers, his newsletter and the Little Book of Tshirt Ideas, I’m confident I’ll get a lot of mileage out this course, even if I just use a few of the methods. I’ll post an update after completing the class.

Essek is currently offering the workshop for $299 as a one-year subscription. The offer expires on 10/17/2020 at midnight. Here’s the link (not an affiliate link by the way).



Arthur Gladwell

Arthur Gladwell writes about art, entrepreneurship and food.