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T-Shirts for Sale! My Foray into the Threadless Artist Shop

Once upon a time, I did a lot of illustrations for lots of ideas with my friends Ben and Ryan. We worked on tons of things, mostly sports apps, and part of these endeavours resulted in fantastic random graphics and images of baked beans, donkeys, an old shoe, and even Matt Damon. There was a narrative to it, I swear.

It didn’t become the billion-dollar app that we were planning for, but that was okay. We all moved on and lived our lives.

While I was cleaning out some of my files (as you do when you are actually procrastinating and probably should have been doing something else), I came across the old Illustrator files and started to laugh at them. In particular, this image of a mule I had made.

 

Pushing through a bit more, I found that a lot of these elements would work really well on t-shirts. They were all set up as little icons and visuals, and I thought kind of perfect on their own.

Ben, Ryan, and I have previously tried to endeavour a merchandise-based experiment, but it only ended up with us (me) having to store hundreds of t-shirts with Roberto Luongo’s face and the text, “What’chu talkin’ about, Gillis?” emblazoned on the front. It was difficult to find a market of where Canucks fans would meet Diff’rent Strokes fans in a Venn Diagram.

Learning from that, as well as a few lessons from Cycling ’74, it was clear that I did not want to have any type of inventory in the house. An on-demand service seemed like a great way to go because it was less waste, less risk, and less commitment. According to my pro-con list, one of the bigger cons may be the cost.

But as a way to justify this, I decided to think about it as another leap towards something new to try.

The main goal is to have fun, not make money.

It’s so easy to say that, of course, and we’ve all heard it, but it’s so difficult to keep that in mind and at heart whenever we do something.

I just kept thinking about how I laughed when I opened up the above donkey file, and I wanted to see if I could extend that delight a little bit.

It’s okay if I don’t make any money from this because it’s given me something more to think about and spend my energy on. I’ve found myself looking at older illustrations, tweaking them, improving them, and even making new ones. Just the idea of creating them was so much fun for me, and being able to publish them somehow was a great motivation.

I think it’s a bit related to building your own portfolio or self-initiated projects. I get lazy when I know it’s just for me. It’s terrible to admit that, but I think we all know that feeling.

When there is less pressure in the form of a client or accountability, the less stellar the work is. Unless you are some kind of crazy genius, or an obsessive alcoholic. But then again, who likes hanging out with those guys anyway? History is filled with brilliant people that everybody regarded as spectacular assholes.

The great effect its had on me is that I dream a little bit more, and I complain a lot less. I think about what else I can draw, and what other things I can try.

Another fun part is when my friends throw in some ideas. I really enjoyed making this monkey and this cute pig.

I would never have thought about them if my friends Megan and Anita did not suggest it on the Facebook post I meekly shared.

And now, the printed samples I ordered are starting to arrive in the mail, and I think I definitely achieved my goal of extending my personal delight over these illustrations. I get super excited to go downstairs to check the mail because of the possibility that it might be a t-shirt, a bag, or a mug.

To round things off, the very first sample I got was the Donkey Bag. It came in the mail on the same day that I was to meet up with Ben again, after more than 2 years of being apart, and it was going to be the first time that I was going to meet his little son. Funny how things align like that, and I had no hesitation in bringing it with me and giving it as a gift.

Haha! Guys, my Donkey Bag arrived in the mail today!

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Can ads exist peacefully within websites?

Some more general website things, but I’ve started experimenting with Google Adsense. I’ve been curious about this for a while now. I’ve added a couple of them on the sidebar and the footer.

Experimenting with Adsense

It might be counter-intuitive as well, but I admit that I do have ad blockers installed on Safari. I tend to do more blog reading and surfing on Safari, while I use Chrome more for work on debugging and dev tools.

I notice that there are dramatic reactions from some designers against ads, as if they are little bugs that infiltrate your pantry. The purists all condemn it, which is understandable. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from hanging out with non-designers, it’s that people really don’t give a shit about what young, tough, and gritty designers think.

For here, I’ve put them in designated places. I have a feeling that they might not be super effective, but I will let time tell. Let’s make no assumptions… yet.

Although, I absolutely hate ads within content, like when they disrupt reading. It’s like someone cutting in line at the hot dog stand. Very rude. So I was very cognizant of keeping those bad boys out of the way.

The top example of a website I find rather frustrating is Forbes. I think they have good content, for the most part, but there are just a few too many obstacles in my way to get to it. I’ve since felt more and more disengaged with their website, and usually never get past their obnoxious splash page after I click their links on Facebook.

 

 

Ugh, Jesus Christ, Forbes. Tone it down a little.

Another love-hate relationship I’ve fostered is with The New York Times. Particularly on mobile, the way that the content loads first, and then jumps around as the ads generate. This is taking the notion of “content first” a little too literally, guys. Grrr!

 

 

However, I will note that I like the content and do still engage with the website, even though it loads with the same way a drunk fun uncle stumbles into the bar for your birthday.

The interesting thing for me I guess is comparing blog and news sites to how Facebook places their ads. The sidebar is a nice common ground for me, actually, as it is less obtrusive but not completely hidden.

 

 

The way I’m approaching it is that I don’t have too much chaos in my life (deliberately planned and executed with extreme discipline) and I don’t want my layout to reflect that. I imagine people I want to talk to are those who aren’t in a hurry or juggling ten different things at once.

Facebook also inserts them into their feed, but thankfully, they aren’t inside the posts or anything like that. I don’t want the calls coming from inside the house. 

With the way that the News Feed is set up, this makes a lot of sense because users are free to ignore them as they flow through. This is different from when a user is actually inside a piece of content, such as reading a full article. They have already chosen to engage with the content. I don’t think an ad should burst into the room every five minutes to see if things are okay, or if you want to partake in Amazon’s Deal of the Day.

 

 

I myself have clicked on these Facebook ads (for magic mops and Tubshrooms) because of this thoughtfulness. The News Feed is more like a shopping experience, where the user can take the time to pick and choose what links or posts to open. An ad behaving this way is appropriate, in my opinion.

The key moment for me is between this display of options (the News Feed), before any commitment is made, and the actual choice to engage (clicking the link itself because clickbait–FFS…).

It’s a delicate balance, and I’m keen on digging into this some more.

I like to think that I might have some control over these things (and my life), so I’ve decided on several “musts” within this whole thing:

  • The ads must not be rude. I think they are okay to be a little lively or do whatever ads are set out to do, but above all, it shouldn’t come between the audience and the content.
  • Advertising should not take over the whole site. One of the things that bother me is when I visit a website and there’s 90% ads and 10% content. Most of the time, the content isn’t even very good.
  • I must reflect: When visiting a website, what are the things that I don’t want my friends to suffer through?

All in all, I don’t think advertising is a bad thing, nor is it the root of all evil. But it’s definitely one of those torture tools that may end up killing me if I’m not careful.

Curious to know your thoughts and impressions.

 

#AEASea: “Faster Decisions With Style Tiles” by Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren. What a cutie-pie. Anybody who starts a talk with a story about bananas and monkeys is a gold star in my books.

Design tiles are her way of building a pattern library for clients.

In her talk, “Faster Design Decisions with Style Tiles,” Samantha brought up a really big shift in how we handle websites today. I don’t know exactly when this thing exploded, but D-I-Y has stretched itself from handymen and Martha Stewart floral arrangements to how we all manage ourselves online. Whether it’s a personal blog, portfolio, or a giant conglomerate’s website, we all want control over our content.

It’s not enough to have a static HTML page that you set and forget like a Ronco Rotisserie anymore. And with good reason. We’re all realizing what we’re capable of, and long gone are the little lines of text that say, “Questions? Contact the webmaster.”

We’re all fucking webmasters now! (I mean “fucking” in the descriptive sense, not as a verb.)

In her talk, Samantha points out that we aren’t just putting together mock-ups for people, but systems for them to work with.

Websites aren’t just store-fronts to display our wares. They’ve now become actual platforms for communication, and that’s what’s so exciting about it. I love this idea because it’s a focus on exchanging information and growing together, rather than just throwing your hat in the ring and hoping for the best.

There is push and pull content, not just push alone.

It’s easy to fall back on blaming the client for their lack of creativity or imagination. And I know there are tough discussions about that. But the more I think about it, the more I think it a poor excuse for doing a bad job.

In most cases, projects can go to hell because everyone is looking out for their own best interests. And of course if something is always someone else’s fault, then everyone ends up sucking monkey balls on a hot day.

Her suggestions about abstracting a website’s look and feel goes much further than avoiding “franken-comps” and fights with the client. Style tiles and other such methods give value to the designer-client relationship, in my opinion. It becomes less about giving someone a product, and more about engaging them in an actual conversation.

We then allow ourselves to reflect and consider different options, rethink certain decisions, and maybe get to better solutions than what we first pitched.

I like the notion of working with your clients as people who have their own thoughts and ideas, and giving them the platform to share this—not just giving them a product in a box. It makes the job sound less stupid and a little more meaningful.

Just as we are realizing that the web is fluid and alive and organic, I think we should be transferring that idea into how we treat the people we work with, too.

The client shouldn’t be some kind of cartoon in a suit talking to a car-phone. The same way designers shouldn’t be thought of as pixel-pushers and drones in black turtlenecks.

How much confidence and good will can you foster with this approach? I think a lot. The same way you have charities and organizations empowering women, kids, minorities that change social perspectives; giving anyone a great set of tools and the opportunity can set so many things in motion.

While design can ultimately seen as a service, I think it also helps to see it as a relationship. There is trust needed and guidance involved from both parties. It isn’t one person pushing their expertise on another, but equals with each something to offer.

And if we start with that common ground, instead of “I am here to fix things for you,” then we all get to have a nice time at the party. Nobody wants to talk to that asshole who thinks they know everything. And nobody wants to be said asshole, either.