How to Create Designs that Sell

Business, Design, Hustle, Passive Income

This is arguably the best time to be a graphic designer.

  • Tutorials are freely available.
  • Freelancing platforms are becoming huge.
  • Salary of corporate/agency designers is relatively competitive.
  • Many marketplaces are available to sell design and potentially make passive income.
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Sad and tired Counter-Terrorist from CSGO Emoji.

I know a lot of designers have side gigs – often providing a range of design services. I’ve had a fair share of freelancing years. It was like an extension of my full time job. It was like having 2 jobs really. I learned a lot, earned a decent amount, and made a lot of connections… but I was almost always tired.

This is one reason why I’m so grateful for the abundance of marketplaces. The idea of creating once and selling it over and over again to me meant that I could save more time and still earn. Marketplaces allow designers to have their own products or assets that earn money over time. There are different types of creative marketplaces: merch designs (shirts, mugs, etc.), application extensions (iMessage stickers, line stickers, etc.), creative assets (vector stocks, photos, etc.), and application resources (3d models, brushes, game assets, etc.).

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Happy Counter-Terrorist from CSGO Emoji.

The initial return obviously is not as big as a freelance project. Profit might be small, but it will compound and become almost perpetual. For example, a logo might give a young designer a one-off earning of 500 USD. A shirt design in the marketplace might make him 5 dollars per week. If he wanted to earn 500 USD from the shirt design, it would take him several weeks. But imagine if that same designer had a hundred shirt designs online earning a steady 5 dollars per shirt per week. It would be a compounding passive stream of income of 500 USD per week. Easy… ideally.

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Proceeds from an iMessage Sticker pack that I made in January of 2017. It sells for 99 cents a pack.

The truth is that selling something can be quite challenging. I know a lot of designers who have tried selling in marketplaces and stopped after 3 or 4 designs simply because they weren’t getting anything in return. No one was buying their designs and it seemed like they were just wasting their time. Why is that?

Well, the amount of competition could be one reason. Market saturation is real – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Another reason could also be a lack in marketing skills. While there may be several reasons why designers struggle to sell, I believe the main issue is mindset.

Creating designs as an employee or as a freelance designer is in a way easier. There are goals that are set, requirements are defined, and even if you do X number of revisions, eventually someone is going to say “this looks good” and you are done.

Selling in marketplaces is different. There are no restricting requirements, no defined goals, and it is the market that decides which designs make it.

By default, an artist creates art as a form of self expression.  While people may see the art as beautiful, they won’t necessarily pay for it. Maybe it’s not for them. Why? Because the art resonates with the artist but not with the audience. No emotional connection is triggered. The art simply does not relate to something they love or like. They just don’t see the value that the art brings.

Look at it this way. Would you be excited about wearing a statement shirt that says something that you don’t believe in? Or would you pay 30 USD for a shirt that has a cartoon character that you don’t even know? Probably not.

The key to making designs that sell in marketplaces is by bringing value through emotional triggers.

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Succulent Plant and Cacti Emoji – I created this pack after finding a community of succulent lovers.

Look at Designs that Sell

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Plant Daddy by Adam Elis

On the left is Adam Ellis’ design on Teepublic. It’s very simple yet it is one of the site’s bestsellers.

I believe the audience is clear: male plant lovers. “Plant Daddy” is definitely something that the audience can relate to. It might even be something one buyer suggested he make.

Create something that you yourself would buy and wear. If you are passionate about something, you can be sure that there are others that are passionate about it too.

Adam has a lot of followers and that probably also boosted his sales, but you get the idea: create something that people are passionate about. Engage with a community of people passionate about something particular and learn their language – what they always like to say, what they laugh about, the inside jokes, the catchphrases, the symbols that they use, the images that each of them are familiar with, the scene that they always go back to – anything that you need to know to be a part of the community.

Finding and understanding your audience (a niche if you’d like to call it that) might need a bit of extra work, but once that is set, you can continually design for that target audience in mind.

Learn for Yourself What Sells

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Redbubble. Out of 243 views I had 7 sale. Not that bad.

Taking a look at bestsellers is a good starting point. Find out more by gathering data.  The great thing about most marketplaces is that they have their own analytics built in.

A simple strategy could be doing more of what works – “follow the green light” as they say. That could mean designing more for a particular niche. It could also mean using the same design template but with different colors or text.

Learn to analyse trends. As you keep selling, you end up getting a “feel” of what people like to buy.

Start Selling

If you are new to marketplaces, you can get started right now!

  • Sell merch! I recommend Teepublic. The UI is very simple. It will only take you a minute to upload a design. Bulk uploading is available too! You can earn around 4 – 21 USD per item sold, lower if it’s sale period.
  • Create iMessage Stickers! The only obstacles here are that you have to own a Mac and that you have to pay an upfront cost of 99 USD per year. You’ll get it back almost certainly if you keep pumping out sticker packs. Here’s my post of how I earned 1K USD selling iMessage sticker packs.

I mentioned that there are different types of marketplaces, but I have only tried two so far. I will definitely update this post as I explore new ones.

Happy selling! Feel free to ask me anything!

The Perks of Being Featured in the App Store

Business, Design, Hustle, Passive Income

A couple of weeks ago, my Avocado Emoji sticker pack got featured in the App Store for a week. This post is a documentation of its effect on my sales and steps that I would personally take to increase my chances of getting featured again.

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Avocado Emoji!

Honestly, I’m not sure whether this is the first time I have been featured. I never really looked through the App Store or iMessage Store before, simply because I didn’t own an iPhone or iPad then. For nine months, I had been creating stickers that I personally have never used nor tested on a physical device. I knew that testing on an actual device was best, but not having an iPhone didn’t hinder me from starting — the device is not cheap after all.

Getting featured alongside other well-known brands and global creatives sure felt amazing, but is it replicable?

The Numbers

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I got a total of 257 USD in sales during that week. 104 USD of which came from my featured sticker pack, Avocado Emoji. This was something big and new for me. No other sticker pack I made previously was ever able to beat my best seller Schwifty Catchphrases on a weekly basis. This was intriguing considering that I only made the Avocado Emoji two weeks earlier and had almost no sale prior to getting featured.

The Avocado Emoji gained 3,983,137 Impressions. Even my other sticker packs increased in their weekly sales. The figures may not look big but they add up in the long run. Like currency, drawing attention is something that I extremely value in business – especially if it is organic or requires no payment.

How to Get Featured in the App Store

I wish I knew the answer to getting featured. I’ve googled a bit and read several articles, most of which were app-centric, non-sticker related, and were more like general guidelines instead of definitive answers. I also tried going directly to the source: App Store on Discoverability and it said,

There is no paid placement or checklist of requirements for apps we write about or feature.

Go ahead and read the article if you haven’t yet.

The following guidelines have been made for apps and games but I believe are also helpful when applied to making iMessage sticker packs.

Localizations: high-quality and relevant

App Store product page: compelling screenshots, app previews, and descriptions

Uniqueness

The Case of Avocado Emoji

Relevance

When I created Avocado Emoji, I didn’t come up with idea randomly. I first checked whether there were a lot of people on social media sharing avocado related things. You would actually be amazed at how many people like to wear avocado pun tees and how often they like to take pictures of their avocado meals. Because there seemed to be so much interest in the avocado, I thought people would find it usable.

Stickers are not necessarily a need. They do not solve a problem. They can enhance a conversation, but people will not buy it because they need it. They buy it because it is related to something they are passionate about. If you love cute items, you would probably buy kawaii stickers. If you are vegan, you might want a set of vegetable emojis. If you are a gym rat, you might fancy a fitness or motivational sticker pack.

In short, we should create stickers that align with what people are passionate about. Funny, my wife randomly suggested “Placemat Emoji.” I love my wife so much but couldn’t use that suggestion. We both just ended up laughing about it!

App Store Product Page

In my last post, I talked about my personal strategy in creating effective app previews and screenshots. It is disappointing when a sticker pack or app is designed beautifully but presented poorly.

One thing I should personally be doing with my next sticker pack would be to have a well thought out and clearly written description. I neglected this thinking that most people would simply stick to checking the screenshots. That isn’t wrong, but I failed to consider the fact that others (like the editors) enjoy reading the story behind the app. People would appreciate your product more if they knew the process of how you made it.

In the case of Avocado Emoji, the description during the time of release was:

Holy guacamole! Avocado Emoji!

New emojis will be added by batch! Want to add more? Email us at pixeptional@gmail.com!

Definitely not the best example of a good description. If the editors ended up liking my sticker pack, I’m sure it wasn’t because of this.

Uniqueness

There are literally thousands of sticker packs in the store and more are being added by the hour. You would think that uniqueness is becoming hard to achieve and that is true. In a sense though, anything you come up with is unique – built according to your taste, crafted with your own style, and designed with your own creative voice.

The idea of using avocado as an emoji was not unique. Many others have already used the same concept. But my version looked a little different from the avocado stickers already available in the App Store. They stood out for some reason. And somehow, editors felt like featuring the pack. Maybe it was relevant to them? Maybe an editor was an avocado lover and the sticker pack somehow embodied his interest? I don’t really know for sure.

Focus on the quality and keep doing designs in your own unique way. Don’t let the saturation of the App Store scare you and stop you from executing your ideas. Remember that users, like you, have different tastes and preferences. They might actually prefer your wonky emoji over some mainstream sticker pack offered by a bigger brand.

How I Got 1K USD Selling iMessage Sticker Packs

Business, Hustle, Passive Income

I just reached my 1K USD milestone of selling iMessage stickers and I thought I’d share the experience! This basically is a documentary – a post that I would look back on to remember the things that I learned and areas where I made mistakes.

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Something New

I was introduced to iMessage stickers by a friend who wanted to collaborate. I did the design and he packaged it into an app. We released the sticker pack for free and got good results – in the Philippines at least.

It was fun designing the sticker pack. A breath of fresh air, especially for a UX designer like me who’s been concentrating on interaction design and focusing so much on interface design the past couple of months, even years. This new experience sparked an interest in creating my own iMessage stickers.

I already had a mac and my trusty old design software, all I needed was a developer account and I was set. Learning Xcode was easy. There was no coding required. Once you had the stickers ready, everything was almost drag and drop with not too many configurations.

My goal was simple: practice design and earn at least 99 USD (around 5,000 Php) which was the cost of an Apple developer account. The only success measure was the 99 USD which would be used to renew the developer account. The timeline I set for myself was a year, September 2016 to September 2017.

My first sticker pack was Player Expressions for CSGO. I simply love the game! I was stoked! I released the sticker pack hoping for the best. GLHF – Good luck, have fun!

 

 

It flopped. Weeks past, no one bought it. I took long designing the pack, like 4-6 hours from designing to deployment. I thought it would be easy money. I was wrong.

Being part of startups, I knew I needed to make something people would use, something that people would love. Well, I did love the game and I know a lot of people did too but those stickers were not solving any problem, not addressing any need. It was supposedly there to enrich the way people express, “spice up” conversations, make it more fun and, in some cases, easier. My “GG” or “GLHF” stickers weren’t doing that. It was easier to type them than to look for the sticker and drag.

October 2016, I decided to make a How I Met Your Mother sticker pack. Given the popularity, I knew there was a big audience. I knew that there was some emotional connection that I could tap. I could create something that the audience could relate to – something that resonates with them. I decided to create a catchphrase sticker pack.

I believed it would work. There was a specific audience. The pack was usable, it could be part of everyday conversation. It was reminiscent of the well-loved TV Series. It could be “evergreen” like the show was! True enough, I started seeing people buying it. 1 – 5 times a week. 99 cents (70 cents after Apple tax) at a time. Very small amount, but it was confidence-boosting.

I was happy. It was a taste of passive income.

Passive Income

Before I continue talking about the experience, I’d like to share my thoughts about passive income. Passive income, as some imagine, is not just doing nothing and getting returns. Think of it along the lines of investment. You still have to give, use, or sacrifice something. It could be money, effort, time, skills or other assets. The point is you are using your resources that you have right now, so you can gain something in the long run – even if those resources are not available to you anymore later on. Right now I can use my time and skills to create iMessage stickers. Even if I stop making stickers due to lack of time, the stickers that have been created would still, potentially, be making me money.

In fact, my “best-sellers” are the ones I made months ago. The ones I’m making now could be my best-sellers a year or two from now.

Setting New Goals

November 2016, I stopped creating new stickers and focused on preparation for my wedding (more details in another blog post).

After the holidays, I came back with a new and very specific goal: earn USD 7 per week.

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Awesome salad from SaladStop. Picture taken from Rappler.

Before 2016 ended, I fell in love with salad! I never thought I would, considering that I grew up avoiding vegetables and my parents happen to be vegetable dealers. The salad was an unexpected pleasure. I was addicted! Good addiction, I justified to myself. The problem was that it was expensive, USD 7 (Php 350). If you are Filipino, you know this is on the “higher ceiling” for a single meal. To keep this treat, I decided I would eat salad once a week, every Friday, and I’d make sure there would be no change in budget and savings (I’m a family man now!). I was going to earn the USD 7 through my stickers!

The goal was clear. It was measurable and time-bound. Whenever I got a new idea, I listed it down – no matter how crazy or simple it was. I started sharing promo codes on Reddit and Facebook Groups. I still haven’t done any paid marketing but will be exploring it in the future. I also made personal guidelines:

  • Sticker pack must only take 2 hours to do from design to deployment. Any pack that I think would take more than that is given low priority. This basically means 8-15 stickers per pack depending on quality.
  • Sticker updates should only take 30 minutes from design to deployment. 2-5 new stickers per update.

Setting goals and rules are very important even for side hustles. If I didn’t have any goal, I probably wouldn’t have known if I was doing alright or not, if I had to change strategy or just stick it out. And without rules, I probably would have been spending too much time on a single pack than necessary (I tend to binge-design at times).

Learnings

I learned a lot more than just designing and deploying my work. I learned to look for target markets, niches, trends, things that I know well theoretically and now put into practice. I learned how to put necessary limits and be more creative in the process. I learned to take the side hustle as it is, a “side” hustle.

If you are in the same position as I am, someone with a full-time job, and would like to try creating your own stickers, I definitely recommend it! Since January 2017, there has never been a day when I have not sold a sticker pack.

I currently have 20 sticker packs. I started September 2016 and had 2 sticker packs by the end of 2016. The other 18 were made from January to June 2017. That’s around 3 stickers per month. For these 18 packs and following my personal rule of spending only 2 hours per sticker pack, I spent approximately 36 hours creating the sticker packs and around 8 hours for the updates (44 hours total). Earning 1K USD and working for 44 hours means I earned USD 22 per hour spent. Not only that, but the stickers are still there and are still up for sale!

1K USD (around Php 50,000) may not be big but it is definitely helpful!  To put it into perspective, that could cover 5 months of our apartment rent or 10 months of our monthly bills (electricity, internet, and dues).

Tips on Selling iMessage Stickers

  • Try to find an audience first before you create a pack. It doesn’t matter if it is pretty if no one is going to use it. Remember that even if you make it free it doesn’t mean people will download it.
  • Remember that people will find your pack organically, meaning mainly through searching. Unless you have a big following or a partner, you would have to rely on organic traffic. Make sure you have the proper tags and good presentation. Iterate when it is not working.
  • When you create a pack, don’t go all in. Remember that stickers go through an approval process and if your pack is based on something popular, you are at risk of copyright violation and Apple is quite strict. Try to minimize your pack so you can deploy it swiftly and see if it gets approved. If it is denied, at least you didn’t spend too much time on it. If you need to revise it, at least you only need to edit a few stickers. Plus it is always an advantage to update often rather than to release and forget about it. So for example, release the pack with 10 stickers and do 4 updates until it reaches a total of 30 stickers rather than releasing it with 30 stickers all at once. I find that when I release an update, people download it more on the day of the release than on any other day. I have yet to learn the correlation between the time of release and the resulting download spike. I’m guessing Apple’s algorithm rewards updated apps in terms of search results.
  • Create a community around your sticker pack. In your description, mention that you are taking suggestions and will be happy to recognize them in release notes if you decide to apply their suggestions. This creates a feeling of ownership for the users. You’ll be amazed at how much people love to improve a product that they already use and enjoy! To thank them, I reward helpful users of my sticker pack by giving them my other sticker packs for free (which becomes free advertisement for me too)!
  • Take advantage of complaints. The number one problem, which I hope Apple would fix soon, is that it is quite difficult to locate newly installed sticker packs. All the support email I have received were about this one particular issue. I would respond to these users by sending an already-crafted email containing links of my other projects as part of my email signature. Through support email, you can advertise your other packs or your website for free!
  • I should have probably started a social media page long before I created my stickers. A good number of followers and the extra traffic are always helpful!
  • Find a process that would allow you to reuse and exploit some of your designs. That laughing emoji looks good with a hat? Create new designs out of it! Try to sell it without a hat or with long hair.
  • If you want to do this full-time, you need to hustle a lot more than I did! Selling iMessage stickers is good as a side project. At the moment, I can’t imagine doing it full-time.

Conclusion

  • Selling iMessage stickers is a viable source of income – excellent source of passive income in fact.
  • It is easy to create and sell sticker packs, and the learning curve is low.
  • It’s a good avenue to practice different skills – design, research, marketing, and time management.

I’ll update this post after few months. I’m looking forward to learn more! If you have any questions or insights, feel free to chat!

Progress

Design

Designing in a corporate setting can be pretty straight-forward. Requirements arrive. We design based on the specs. Simple. Sometimes monotonous. Sure, there are no two design requirements which are exactly the same, but making the same things over and over again can be boring.

The design process is different for each designer. I know a lot who can’t seem to start designing without a “spark” – a moment of inspiration. Others plan briefly and execute, then iterate, thriving in a beautiful mess. I tend to fall on the latter.

I rarely wait for “motivation” to create something. Most of the time, I just work and find that motivation while doing the actual design. It doesn’t always work. There are times I wish I should have waited for the right idea, looked for better inspiration, or researched more. When I try waiting for “it” though, I get stuck – almost always.

That is why even if being a corporate designer tends to be boring, I do well as one (or that’s what I think, at least). I just keep designing even if it is not exciting. Ideal? No, but it gets the job done. Customers are happy. Company is happy. Bills are paid. I love my job!

All good on the career side, but what about growth? Monotony can be a good thing, but it also can make you stale. As a UX Designer, I miss a lot of things. I don’t make cool posters. Less flashy typography. No complex photo manipulation. Too little motion graphics. It’s all about the users and the business – almost no self-expression.

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© Sean MacCabe – “Deliberate Practice

I don’t need to be good in a lot of “design things” as a UX designer, but as a designer I wanted to keep doing these things. This is where Pixeptional comes in. To gain fresh perspectives. To improve on the things I’ve learned in the past. To progress as a designer.

Athletes train everyday. Musicians practice a lot. Why should it be different for a designer?

Plus, I’ll be trying to sell my output. Win!