Season 1

|

Episode 8

Growing a freelance business as an icon designer

Bonnie Kate Wolf

Art Director @ Netflix

May 25, 2023

May 25, 2023

|

43 min

43 min

music by Dennis

About this Episode

BK shares lessons learned on her journey to becoming one of the most well-respected icon designers on the planet (including stories from designing the Netflix icon library). If you're interested in freelancing then you'll love this episode. We discuss pricing tactics and take a deep dive into BK's client process πŸ‘€

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Lauren LoPrete

Lead designer @ Netflix

David Hoang

VP of Marketing and Design @ Replit

Adrien Griveau

Founding Designer @ Linear

Femke

Design Lead @ Gusto

Join 10K+ designers

HC

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Deep Dives

Get our weekly breakdowns

Insights + resources from top designers πŸ‘‡

Lauren LoPrete

Director of Design Systems @ Cash App

David Hoang

VP of Marketing and Design @ Replit

Adrien Griveau

Founding Designer @ Linear

James McDonald

Designer @ Clerk

Femke

Design Lead @ Gusto

Join 10K+ designers

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Transcript chapters

Stepping into iconography

[00:00:00] BK: I started designing icons in, I think it was 2016 or 2017. Um, I was a production designer at Square on the brand team, and they already had some icons that their design director had made, and he was very into icons and pixel art. And I did pixel art as a child, like a literal child, like eight years old. And nobody else wanted to make more of these icons, and so my manager said, "heyyy---you like drawing... And you know, you're a production designer so you've got a pretty good eye for detail. Would you be interested in drawing some icons?"

[00:00:37] And I was like, "yesssss" so I started designing icons for Square, and the design director at the time basically would review for hours every single icon I made. We would sit at my computer and illustrator at the time and look at them and fidget with them. And he would be like, "no, that's literally one pixel off"

[00:00:57] And so it was probably like a dozen [00:01:00] hours plus of him giving me feedback on this icon set. , and then that turned into, oh, well I could build product icons and product designers would find that useful. And I started doing that and that kind of continued as a person who's doing one job, but who's also making icons.

[00:01:13] So at OpenTable I was a brand designer. I also made icons.

[00:01:17] At Aura I was a brand designer who also made icons.

[00:01:20] And then eventually, when I was leaving OpenTable, I was supposed to go to Thumbtack March, 2020. My offer was rescinded, like many people at the time.

[00:01:30] And I started freelancing. And it's at that point where I was like, "oh, I could be an icon designer" that could be the kind of freelancer I am, and that just kind of snowballed essentially.

[00:01:41] And that became what I do.

[00:01:43] It's the thing I liked the best.

[00:01:44] It's the thing I was the fastest at.

[00:01:46] And there was demand.

Stepping into iconography

[00:00:00] BK: I started designing icons in, I think it was 2016 or 2017. Um, I was a production designer at Square on the brand team, and they already had some icons that their design director had made, and he was very into icons and pixel art. And I did pixel art as a child, like a literal child, like eight years old. And nobody else wanted to make more of these icons, and so my manager said, "heyyy---you like drawing... And you know, you're a production designer so you've got a pretty good eye for detail. Would you be interested in drawing some icons?"

[00:00:37] And I was like, "yesssss" so I started designing icons for Square, and the design director at the time basically would review for hours every single icon I made. We would sit at my computer and illustrator at the time and look at them and fidget with them. And he would be like, "no, that's literally one pixel off"

[00:00:57] And so it was probably like a dozen [00:01:00] hours plus of him giving me feedback on this icon set. , and then that turned into, oh, well I could build product icons and product designers would find that useful. And I started doing that and that kind of continued as a person who's doing one job, but who's also making icons.

[00:01:13] So at OpenTable I was a brand designer. I also made icons.

[00:01:17] At Aura I was a brand designer who also made icons.

[00:01:20] And then eventually, when I was leaving OpenTable, I was supposed to go to Thumbtack March, 2020. My offer was rescinded, like many people at the time.

[00:01:30] And I started freelancing. And it's at that point where I was like, "oh, I could be an icon designer" that could be the kind of freelancer I am, and that just kind of snowballed essentially.

[00:01:41] And that became what I do.

[00:01:43] It's the thing I liked the best.

[00:01:44] It's the thing I was the fastest at.

[00:01:46] And there was demand.

Becoming a freelance iconographer

[00:01:49] Ridd: How did you get those original freelance contracts in 2020?

[00:01:54] One of them was me reaching out to Meg, at [00:02:00] Lyft when she was at Lyft at the time, cuz she said, "Hey, if anyone's been impacted by, COVID layoffs, let me know. We might be looking for somebody to help".

[00:02:08] So I'd reached out to Meg she also lived in San Francisco. And I was like, "you're so cool. I like you so much, can I have coffee with you?" And she was very nice. And of course she said "yes" and so I, met her once and I didn't think that would eventually turn into a job, but then when she posted this I was like, there you go. There it is.

[00:02:25] So I responded, um, and they ended up giving me that contract. So that was the Lyft job

[00:02:30] For Airbnb. It was like, uh, a friend of mine at Square went to Airbnb. He was an engineer though, and he was working on the experiences team. So when his teammate said,

[00:02:40] "Hey, we need icons, Who can we hire?"

[00:02:42] My friend, said, oh, well I think BK makes icons because he's an engineer. He's, he doesn't know exactly what I do, but he kind of knows. So I was like, yeah, Henry, I think I make icons.

[00:02:52] And I sent him the article I wrote for design systems.com. He gave it to um, Matt Farag who was working there at the time. And that turned into [00:03:00] a project.

[00:03:00] So a lot of it is like a friend who's adjacent in some way, or a person I've reached out to. Like I find my way back into their circle because they need my skillset and I'm friendly enough.

[00:03:14] Yeah, I was about say that it, it goes to, to show the value of just being a nice person, that people want to be around.

[00:03:19] BK: Yeah.

[00:03:20] Ridd: Everyone in your path just keeps pulling you back cuz they want to work with you again. I think that

[00:03:24] BK: Yes.

[00:03:24] Ridd: says a lot about you.

[00:03:25] BK: I once asked, Halli, who used to run Ueno who was in at Twitter. So I once asked him like, what's one piece of advice you would give a freelancer who's trying to turn their business from a single sole proprietorship freelancer into a more like a studio or to have people who report to you.

[00:03:43] How do you build a freelance business beyond yourself?

[00:03:46] And his answer was very short but very helpful.

[00:03:49] It was get repeat clients. Even if the person is not coming back to you for the same company, that human being will come back to you at the next job they're at next time they need [00:04:00] icons

[00:04:00] so that was really helpful to me cuz it basically told me I need to build relationships not just with companies, but with human beings.

[00:04:08] Ridd: That's amazing. I guess I'm curious, have you went back and looked at that original icon set that you designed for Square? Does it hold up?

[00:04:17] BK: I literally looked at it today for reasons I'm not allowed to discuss.

[00:04:21] Not related to Square, related to a completely different thing and as I was looking at it, I was like, dang, this is actually pretty good. And I think a lot of that is because the design director was looking over my shoulder making sure like I was nailing it.

[00:04:34] But I have looked at other old work, like I've looked at my stuff for Open Table and gone,

[00:04:38] "oh, that I see all these opportunities to improve", or the stuff I did for Aura, places where I didn't have mentorship or other illustrators---it is just me that work tends to be the stuff where I'm like, oh, now I see where I could have done better whereas the projects where I was working in tandem with others, tend to be better because there were more eyes on the project.[00:05:00]

[00:05:00] Ridd: Were there any like themes or specific tactics or skillsets that you would say you really improved in over the years?

[00:05:09] BK: Consistency is probably the main one. And that really happened once I worked at Lyft because I was working with Maryanne Yen, Nick Slater and Meg Rabishow as well as a couple other folks at Lyft on the product side. And I thought I was good at designing icons when I started, and then I started working with the three of them and I was like, "oh, I'm very average"

[00:05:29] They're so good and so consistent. They see these tiny details that once they tell you what they've seen, you can't unsee it. And so now that's the kind of stuff that I'm looking at and I, because I have subcontractors as well that work with me that I'm the person pointing out now, things like, "okay, well if you're gonna have icons at an angle like a phone or a pen or something like that, they should all be at the same angle, like 45 degrees, and they should all be facing the same way because your slash you want to be able to all go the same way...

[00:05:58] If you swap [00:06:00] back and forth, then all of a sudden it starts to break things in the system farther down the line.

[00:06:03] So consistency is the thing I think I've improved in the most and where I still have room to grow.

[00:06:10] Ridd: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, obviously you have such a robust portfolio. You've worked on a lot of household names and amazing companies. Do you have a set of icons that you're most proud of?

[00:06:21] BK: Yes. So I'm definitely the most proud of all the work I've done for Netflix. partially because it's good work that I am proud of, partially because I learned so much doing it and it was such a big project that I was entrusted with that I really didn't even know how to do.

[00:06:38] I think when I started it, we figured it out along the way but it really pushed me to grow and now I'm getting to do like emojis and stuff like that. And that's the stuff where I'm like, "Ooh, now we're really getting into really fun stuff". It's these small illustrations with color and, expanding icons into emojis has been really fun for me lately.

[00:06:58] So, there's only a couple in [00:07:00] the Netflix app right now, but I have made a lot of them for them, so who knows when they'll end up in the app or you might see 'em.

[00:07:08] Ridd: I saw those hearts on Twitter and I just kept coming back to the tweet cuz it looks

[00:07:11] BK: Oh yeah.

[00:07:12] Ridd: So. So good.

[00:07:14] BK: So that's what we call the pictogram library. So those are built at, uh, 96 by 96 and then put into, I'm sure y'all care about pixel sizes 96 by 96 into a 1 44 by 1 44 container, so that I can have like a glowy ass things in that, uh, white space.

[00:07:30] I can't share a huge amount of it because I'm not sure what's actually published, but I, I try to share things that will give nothing away like a heart.

[00:07:37] I'm like, that's, it's a heart. Uh, it's not gonna tell somebody what a new product feature is. but that project took a long time and to get the style to where it was difficult. Um, it started off with an agency doing the work, and when I saw it at the time, the, the agency's original, like deliverables, I thought, oh my God, they're so beautiful.

[00:07:57] This looks like pretty good. I see some places where like I [00:08:00] could tweak it and maybe improve them a little bit with my knowledge being in house. But like this agency that worked with them is one of the best agencies working in the states, I would say.

[00:08:09] And there was some feedback about the work.

[00:08:12] It wasn't perfect, so I took a stab at it and was able to actually solve it.

[00:08:16] And now we have those hearts and a whole bunch of other drawings that I've made in that style. And that for me was a huge moment where I was able to see that I am as good as the best and sometimes better than the people that I look up to, which is wild because objectively I was able to solve a problem they couldn't solve.

[00:08:35] And that is extremely cool to me, that I actually have specialized to the level where if I weren't me, I would see it and go, I wish I made that.

[00:08:43] Oh wait, I did make that .

Becoming a freelance iconographer

[00:01:49] Ridd: How did you get those original freelance contracts in 2020?

[00:01:54] One of them was me reaching out to Meg, at [00:02:00] Lyft when she was at Lyft at the time, cuz she said, "Hey, if anyone's been impacted by, COVID layoffs, let me know. We might be looking for somebody to help".

[00:02:08] So I'd reached out to Meg she also lived in San Francisco. And I was like, "you're so cool. I like you so much, can I have coffee with you?" And she was very nice. And of course she said "yes" and so I, met her once and I didn't think that would eventually turn into a job, but then when she posted this I was like, there you go. There it is.

[00:02:25] So I responded, um, and they ended up giving me that contract. So that was the Lyft job

[00:02:30] For Airbnb. It was like, uh, a friend of mine at Square went to Airbnb. He was an engineer though, and he was working on the experiences team. So when his teammate said,

[00:02:40] "Hey, we need icons, Who can we hire?"

[00:02:42] My friend, said, oh, well I think BK makes icons because he's an engineer. He's, he doesn't know exactly what I do, but he kind of knows. So I was like, yeah, Henry, I think I make icons.

[00:02:52] And I sent him the article I wrote for design systems.com. He gave it to um, Matt Farag who was working there at the time. And that turned into [00:03:00] a project.

[00:03:00] So a lot of it is like a friend who's adjacent in some way, or a person I've reached out to. Like I find my way back into their circle because they need my skillset and I'm friendly enough.

[00:03:14] Yeah, I was about say that it, it goes to, to show the value of just being a nice person, that people want to be around.

[00:03:19] BK: Yeah.

[00:03:20] Ridd: Everyone in your path just keeps pulling you back cuz they want to work with you again. I think that

[00:03:24] BK: Yes.

[00:03:24] Ridd: says a lot about you.

[00:03:25] BK: I once asked, Halli, who used to run Ueno who was in at Twitter. So I once asked him like, what's one piece of advice you would give a freelancer who's trying to turn their business from a single sole proprietorship freelancer into a more like a studio or to have people who report to you.

[00:03:43] How do you build a freelance business beyond yourself?

[00:03:46] And his answer was very short but very helpful.

[00:03:49] It was get repeat clients. Even if the person is not coming back to you for the same company, that human being will come back to you at the next job they're at next time they need [00:04:00] icons

[00:04:00] so that was really helpful to me cuz it basically told me I need to build relationships not just with companies, but with human beings.

[00:04:08] Ridd: That's amazing. I guess I'm curious, have you went back and looked at that original icon set that you designed for Square? Does it hold up?

[00:04:17] BK: I literally looked at it today for reasons I'm not allowed to discuss.

[00:04:21] Not related to Square, related to a completely different thing and as I was looking at it, I was like, dang, this is actually pretty good. And I think a lot of that is because the design director was looking over my shoulder making sure like I was nailing it.

[00:04:34] But I have looked at other old work, like I've looked at my stuff for Open Table and gone,

[00:04:38] "oh, that I see all these opportunities to improve", or the stuff I did for Aura, places where I didn't have mentorship or other illustrators---it is just me that work tends to be the stuff where I'm like, oh, now I see where I could have done better whereas the projects where I was working in tandem with others, tend to be better because there were more eyes on the project.[00:05:00]

[00:05:00] Ridd: Were there any like themes or specific tactics or skillsets that you would say you really improved in over the years?

[00:05:09] BK: Consistency is probably the main one. And that really happened once I worked at Lyft because I was working with Maryanne Yen, Nick Slater and Meg Rabishow as well as a couple other folks at Lyft on the product side. And I thought I was good at designing icons when I started, and then I started working with the three of them and I was like, "oh, I'm very average"

[00:05:29] They're so good and so consistent. They see these tiny details that once they tell you what they've seen, you can't unsee it. And so now that's the kind of stuff that I'm looking at and I, because I have subcontractors as well that work with me that I'm the person pointing out now, things like, "okay, well if you're gonna have icons at an angle like a phone or a pen or something like that, they should all be at the same angle, like 45 degrees, and they should all be facing the same way because your slash you want to be able to all go the same way...

[00:05:58] If you swap [00:06:00] back and forth, then all of a sudden it starts to break things in the system farther down the line.

[00:06:03] So consistency is the thing I think I've improved in the most and where I still have room to grow.

[00:06:10] Ridd: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, obviously you have such a robust portfolio. You've worked on a lot of household names and amazing companies. Do you have a set of icons that you're most proud of?

[00:06:21] BK: Yes. So I'm definitely the most proud of all the work I've done for Netflix. partially because it's good work that I am proud of, partially because I learned so much doing it and it was such a big project that I was entrusted with that I really didn't even know how to do.

[00:06:38] I think when I started it, we figured it out along the way but it really pushed me to grow and now I'm getting to do like emojis and stuff like that. And that's the stuff where I'm like, "Ooh, now we're really getting into really fun stuff". It's these small illustrations with color and, expanding icons into emojis has been really fun for me lately.

[00:06:58] So, there's only a couple in [00:07:00] the Netflix app right now, but I have made a lot of them for them, so who knows when they'll end up in the app or you might see 'em.

[00:07:08] Ridd: I saw those hearts on Twitter and I just kept coming back to the tweet cuz it looks

[00:07:11] BK: Oh yeah.

[00:07:12] Ridd: So. So good.

[00:07:14] BK: So that's what we call the pictogram library. So those are built at, uh, 96 by 96 and then put into, I'm sure y'all care about pixel sizes 96 by 96 into a 1 44 by 1 44 container, so that I can have like a glowy ass things in that, uh, white space.

[00:07:30] I can't share a huge amount of it because I'm not sure what's actually published, but I, I try to share things that will give nothing away like a heart.

[00:07:37] I'm like, that's, it's a heart. Uh, it's not gonna tell somebody what a new product feature is. but that project took a long time and to get the style to where it was difficult. Um, it started off with an agency doing the work, and when I saw it at the time, the, the agency's original, like deliverables, I thought, oh my God, they're so beautiful.

[00:07:57] This looks like pretty good. I see some places where like I [00:08:00] could tweak it and maybe improve them a little bit with my knowledge being in house. But like this agency that worked with them is one of the best agencies working in the states, I would say.

[00:08:09] And there was some feedback about the work.

[00:08:12] It wasn't perfect, so I took a stab at it and was able to actually solve it.

[00:08:16] And now we have those hearts and a whole bunch of other drawings that I've made in that style. And that for me was a huge moment where I was able to see that I am as good as the best and sometimes better than the people that I look up to, which is wild because objectively I was able to solve a problem they couldn't solve.

[00:08:35] And that is extremely cool to me, that I actually have specialized to the level where if I weren't me, I would see it and go, I wish I made that.

[00:08:43] Oh wait, I did make that .

Types of problems to solve in icon creation

[00:08:45] Ridd: I guess for people like myself who are not skilled iconographer just don't even understand the amount of thought that goes into it.

[00:08:54] Can you talk more about the types of problems that you're even encountering and [00:09:00] solving and how iconography fits into this larger system?

[00:09:04] BK: I would say scaling is one of the biggest issues because a lot of the time I'll see a system and people are just using icons of all sorts of different sizes. And so figuring out how are we gonna scale these, what is a solution that is going to be practical is a big problem with scaling. So like the Netflix system has 12 sizes, that's too many sizes. most systems should not have that many.

[00:09:31] We have that because of tv.

[00:09:33] Having to put things on a television is complicated. So how can you build a system that scales? Because it's gonna look more cohesive throughout.

[00:09:41] so figuring out the kind of scalability of the system is really important because then it keeps things on pixel and it keeps things looking crisp and it makes things look consistent.

[00:09:50] Consistency is is super important with icons. Another maybe more creative problem that I'm solving a lot of the time is what symbol to use.[00:10:00]

[00:10:00] And we have a Discord channel called What Symbol?

[00:10:03] It's just like a bunch of different icon designers and we talk about what symbol we should use for a certain thing.

[00:10:06] Ridd: Oh, that's cool.

[00:10:08] BK: It's very cool cuz you're like, oh, I don't know, for this weird thing, like, like I have to come up with an icon for Netflix, for profile transfer.

[00:10:16] I know I can talk about it cuz I saw it in my Netflix account. It's live. and that's literally taking your profile and moving it to your own account. The idea is maybe you go off for college and now you want your own Netflix and you're not gonna be on your parents' Netflix anymore.

[00:10:30] And so we had to come up with an icon to mean transfer my profile, which that doesn't exist. And we had to solve it. And so in the end we did a little the little smiley face with his offset little smile. that is like the classic Netflix profile image that kind of everyone starts with. It's basically that, but where the outline also turns into an arrow, so it's literally looks like it's moving out of something.

[00:10:54] But it took us a while to land on that. so it's problems like that where you can't just solve it overnight. [00:11:00] And if you want to use like a font awesome, or a phosphor icons or something like that, they won't necessarily have an icon that means profile transfer because no one's ever thought of it before.

[00:11:12] And maybe they'd have something you could use in place of that. But they also don't have a person like me that you can talk to to solve that problem, even if they theoretically had something in the library.

[00:11:21] You want to consult somebody whose expertise is around symbology. It's both solving the problem, but also having a person who's thoughtful and is gonna help you solve it to create the asset.

[00:11:31] Ridd: I'd like to double click on that because I've faced this issue before when a symbol doesn't exist, how do you even start? What is your process for arriving at what ultimately became this profile transfer icon?

[00:11:45] BK: so We started looking at, well, what is associated with profile transfer?

[00:11:50] What is associated with profiles?

[00:11:51] What's associated, associated with transfers?

[00:11:53] I straight up just go on the noun project and start Googling or searching like

[00:11:57] transfer...

[00:11:57] profile.

[00:11:58] I go onto the Netflix experience and I'm [00:12:00] like, okay, what is this? Where is this in the ui? What's near it? And then we realize, oh, that little face guy, we had put him on the pictogram that we built for this, which is like a little suitcase.

[00:12:13] And I just put it on as like a little sticker cuz I thought it was cute. And the suitcase makes sense as a pictogram because it shows like, oh, you're taking something with you. But as an icon, a suitcase symbolizes other things. And for an icon you need to be more iconic.

[00:12:28] Whereas with a pictogram it can be a little bit more illustrative.

[00:12:31] So we, have this pictogram, I'd put this little, little smiley face guy on it because for cuteness, basically, and to like add Netflix flavor. And then we kinda realized, wait a minute, that tiny detail in that illustration we made, that's actually the part that we can take. And then it's like, how do we show movement?

[00:12:54] Arrows are very common, and they kind of came about that way, I think.

[00:12:57] Ridd: It's interesting because your process starts the same as mine. [00:13:00] I go to the noun project, but where you end up is a lot different than me...

[00:13:06] BK: It's easier to scale up to.

[00:13:09] So like, when I'm looking at creating a series of illustrations, like the profile transfer one we have the pictogram, which is kind of in the middle essentially is a little suitcase, but the little symbol on it to show like a person going off somewhere, at a smaller size, we take a smaller part of that.

[00:13:26] So instead of the suitcase, we took the little symbol, and then at a larger size, it's like, well I can take everything I have in the pictogram. It could be a person holding a suitcase like going off, or it could be a suitcase up in a cabin or flying through space or whatever so starting smaller and going bigger is always gonna be easier cuz you can just add detail.

[00:13:43] It's harder when someone's like, they send you a, a beautiful picture of a person traveling and they're like, could we make an icon that has this vibe? And you're like, well it's gonna be hard cuz we got this much space and you have a beautiful drawing that you would like to fit into this much space.[00:14:00]

[00:14:00] Ridd: Yeah, that I've been, that person. I think , I know I've been that person. I'm also the designer that has like, yes, we need 24 pixels and 32 pixels. This is large, this is extra large.

[00:14:11] BK: Yep.

Types of problems to solve in icon creation

[00:08:45] Ridd: I guess for people like myself who are not skilled iconographer just don't even understand the amount of thought that goes into it.

[00:08:54] Can you talk more about the types of problems that you're even encountering and [00:09:00] solving and how iconography fits into this larger system?

[00:09:04] BK: I would say scaling is one of the biggest issues because a lot of the time I'll see a system and people are just using icons of all sorts of different sizes. And so figuring out how are we gonna scale these, what is a solution that is going to be practical is a big problem with scaling. So like the Netflix system has 12 sizes, that's too many sizes. most systems should not have that many.

[00:09:31] We have that because of tv.

[00:09:33] Having to put things on a television is complicated. So how can you build a system that scales? Because it's gonna look more cohesive throughout.

[00:09:41] so figuring out the kind of scalability of the system is really important because then it keeps things on pixel and it keeps things looking crisp and it makes things look consistent.

[00:09:50] Consistency is is super important with icons. Another maybe more creative problem that I'm solving a lot of the time is what symbol to use.[00:10:00]

[00:10:00] And we have a Discord channel called What Symbol?

[00:10:03] It's just like a bunch of different icon designers and we talk about what symbol we should use for a certain thing.

[00:10:06] Ridd: Oh, that's cool.

[00:10:08] BK: It's very cool cuz you're like, oh, I don't know, for this weird thing, like, like I have to come up with an icon for Netflix, for profile transfer.

[00:10:16] I know I can talk about it cuz I saw it in my Netflix account. It's live. and that's literally taking your profile and moving it to your own account. The idea is maybe you go off for college and now you want your own Netflix and you're not gonna be on your parents' Netflix anymore.

[00:10:30] And so we had to come up with an icon to mean transfer my profile, which that doesn't exist. And we had to solve it. And so in the end we did a little the little smiley face with his offset little smile. that is like the classic Netflix profile image that kind of everyone starts with. It's basically that, but where the outline also turns into an arrow, so it's literally looks like it's moving out of something.

[00:10:54] But it took us a while to land on that. so it's problems like that where you can't just solve it overnight. [00:11:00] And if you want to use like a font awesome, or a phosphor icons or something like that, they won't necessarily have an icon that means profile transfer because no one's ever thought of it before.

[00:11:12] And maybe they'd have something you could use in place of that. But they also don't have a person like me that you can talk to to solve that problem, even if they theoretically had something in the library.

[00:11:21] You want to consult somebody whose expertise is around symbology. It's both solving the problem, but also having a person who's thoughtful and is gonna help you solve it to create the asset.

[00:11:31] Ridd: I'd like to double click on that because I've faced this issue before when a symbol doesn't exist, how do you even start? What is your process for arriving at what ultimately became this profile transfer icon?

[00:11:45] BK: so We started looking at, well, what is associated with profile transfer?

[00:11:50] What is associated with profiles?

[00:11:51] What's associated, associated with transfers?

[00:11:53] I straight up just go on the noun project and start Googling or searching like

[00:11:57] transfer...

[00:11:57] profile.

[00:11:58] I go onto the Netflix experience and I'm [00:12:00] like, okay, what is this? Where is this in the ui? What's near it? And then we realize, oh, that little face guy, we had put him on the pictogram that we built for this, which is like a little suitcase.

[00:12:13] And I just put it on as like a little sticker cuz I thought it was cute. And the suitcase makes sense as a pictogram because it shows like, oh, you're taking something with you. But as an icon, a suitcase symbolizes other things. And for an icon you need to be more iconic.

[00:12:28] Whereas with a pictogram it can be a little bit more illustrative.

[00:12:31] So we, have this pictogram, I'd put this little, little smiley face guy on it because for cuteness, basically, and to like add Netflix flavor. And then we kinda realized, wait a minute, that tiny detail in that illustration we made, that's actually the part that we can take. And then it's like, how do we show movement?

[00:12:54] Arrows are very common, and they kind of came about that way, I think.

[00:12:57] Ridd: It's interesting because your process starts the same as mine. [00:13:00] I go to the noun project, but where you end up is a lot different than me...

[00:13:06] BK: It's easier to scale up to.

[00:13:09] So like, when I'm looking at creating a series of illustrations, like the profile transfer one we have the pictogram, which is kind of in the middle essentially is a little suitcase, but the little symbol on it to show like a person going off somewhere, at a smaller size, we take a smaller part of that.

[00:13:26] So instead of the suitcase, we took the little symbol, and then at a larger size, it's like, well I can take everything I have in the pictogram. It could be a person holding a suitcase like going off, or it could be a suitcase up in a cabin or flying through space or whatever so starting smaller and going bigger is always gonna be easier cuz you can just add detail.

[00:13:43] It's harder when someone's like, they send you a, a beautiful picture of a person traveling and they're like, could we make an icon that has this vibe? And you're like, well it's gonna be hard cuz we got this much space and you have a beautiful drawing that you would like to fit into this much space.[00:14:00]

[00:14:00] Ridd: Yeah, that I've been, that person. I think , I know I've been that person. I'm also the designer that has like, yes, we need 24 pixels and 32 pixels. This is large, this is extra large.

[00:14:11] BK: Yep.

How to avoid plateau-ing in your career

[00:14:12] Ridd: So I'm like feeling conviction during this call. . So obviously you are at the top of your game and honestly at the pinnacle of this entire like industry, like very well respected.

[00:14:25] For someone like you, how do you ensure that you are not becoming stagnant and actually growing in your skillset?

[00:14:34] BK: Great question. So I realized this, it was either, yeah, it was sometime last year. I was like, wait a minute. I'm one of the best icon designers in the world.

[00:14:44] Whoa. That's weird.

[00:14:45] I never expected to be the best at something.

[00:14:47] Like who does that?

[00:14:49] Very few people. Um so I, and I kind of realized it because I realized I was getting a little bored. I was like, I know how to do this. I know how to build a system. Most [00:15:00] systems are not as complicated as the Netflix system.

[00:15:02] I like developing new styles, but at a certain point I'm getting a little kind of tired.

[00:15:06] So there's kind of two things that I've done to help combat that and keep growing one is I hired a subcontractor. I tried out a few people and I found the person who's the best fit for me right now.

[00:15:17] And so training him has been very fulfilling. His name is Griff. I work with Griff. Helping him go from a really good icon designer to being a really fricking awesome icon designer has been satisfying for me as a person who can help him then get his own freelance contracts. He'll work with me, but he also does his own thing. So teaching, very satisfying and mentoring.

[00:15:39] The other thing I'm doing is expanding my expertise. I try to only take projects at this point that are really well paid for companies that I am interested in and believe in.

[00:15:50] At this point, I kind of just have enough inquiries that I can afford to do that. Um, the time where I will break that is if somebody asks me to do something I haven't done before. That's [00:16:00] interesting and will pay enough to kind of cover the time.

[00:16:03] And so the kinds of projects I'm taking right now that are in that category are emoji projects.

[00:16:08] I did some emojis for Contra. It was so incredibly fun.

[00:16:13] The ones I've been doing for Netflix are super fun.

[00:16:16] So one came into my inbox recently and I'm actively working on it right now. And so even though the budget is a little bit lower than I would normally do and I wasn't familiar with the company or the person asking me to do the work, I still was like, this is a project I should take because even though it's not the most time efficient, it's not the most money efficient, but it's gonna teach me about how to make emojis.

[00:16:36] And I really enjoy making emojis.

[00:16:38] So that is a way that I'm kind of growing as a designer, is by seeing how else I can infiltrate and then one day become one of the best emoji designers in the world.

How to avoid plateau-ing in your career

[00:14:12] Ridd: So I'm like feeling conviction during this call. . So obviously you are at the top of your game and honestly at the pinnacle of this entire like industry, like very well respected.

[00:14:25] For someone like you, how do you ensure that you are not becoming stagnant and actually growing in your skillset?

[00:14:34] BK: Great question. So I realized this, it was either, yeah, it was sometime last year. I was like, wait a minute. I'm one of the best icon designers in the world.

[00:14:44] Whoa. That's weird.

[00:14:45] I never expected to be the best at something.

[00:14:47] Like who does that?

[00:14:49] Very few people. Um so I, and I kind of realized it because I realized I was getting a little bored. I was like, I know how to do this. I know how to build a system. Most [00:15:00] systems are not as complicated as the Netflix system.

[00:15:02] I like developing new styles, but at a certain point I'm getting a little kind of tired.

[00:15:06] So there's kind of two things that I've done to help combat that and keep growing one is I hired a subcontractor. I tried out a few people and I found the person who's the best fit for me right now.

[00:15:17] And so training him has been very fulfilling. His name is Griff. I work with Griff. Helping him go from a really good icon designer to being a really fricking awesome icon designer has been satisfying for me as a person who can help him then get his own freelance contracts. He'll work with me, but he also does his own thing. So teaching, very satisfying and mentoring.

[00:15:39] The other thing I'm doing is expanding my expertise. I try to only take projects at this point that are really well paid for companies that I am interested in and believe in.

[00:15:50] At this point, I kind of just have enough inquiries that I can afford to do that. Um, the time where I will break that is if somebody asks me to do something I haven't done before. That's [00:16:00] interesting and will pay enough to kind of cover the time.

[00:16:03] And so the kinds of projects I'm taking right now that are in that category are emoji projects.

[00:16:08] I did some emojis for Contra. It was so incredibly fun.

[00:16:13] The ones I've been doing for Netflix are super fun.

[00:16:16] So one came into my inbox recently and I'm actively working on it right now. And so even though the budget is a little bit lower than I would normally do and I wasn't familiar with the company or the person asking me to do the work, I still was like, this is a project I should take because even though it's not the most time efficient, it's not the most money efficient, but it's gonna teach me about how to make emojis.

[00:16:36] And I really enjoy making emojis.

[00:16:38] So that is a way that I'm kind of growing as a designer, is by seeing how else I can infiltrate and then one day become one of the best emoji designers in the world.

Key metrics to measuring success in iconography

[00:16:49] Ridd: Another question that I have is for product design, a lot of times, maybe you're being interviewed by a hiring manager or someone like that, and you're asked about, your design principles and [00:17:00] like what influences how you even think about design and what you ultimately create.

[00:17:04] And I'm wondering if you have something similar for iconography, these rooted beliefs or ways that you approach icon systems.

[00:17:14] BK: So, um, success of a project for me, which I guess are my principles are efficiency. Am I creating efficiency for the team that I'm creating this for? Am I helping my subcontractor learn to be more efficient or am I learning to be more efficient? So either learning from my team or efficiency, like just straight up efficiency on the team I'm building something for, are they gonna have an easier time?

[00:17:37] Two is consistency. Um, I didn't even remember.

[00:17:40] This is one of my principles when I was talking about it earlier, which now I'm laughing. I'm like, oh, I guess I'm kind of a consistent person. So Am I creating consistency within the brand experience? Like does this feel consistent with the other work that's in the product or in the brand? Am I helping create consistency across a product so that all designers are using the same asset, that sort of thing. [00:18:00] And is this set within itself consistent?

[00:18:03] And then the last one I have is relief.

[00:18:05] So am I providing relief to the team who is gonna be using what I'm building? Am I providing monetary relief to the subcontractor that I'm hiring?

[00:18:15] And am I going to be feeling relief and happiness when I finish this project?

[00:18:19] I would say efficiency, consistency, and relief.

Key metrics to measuring success in iconography

[00:16:49] Ridd: Another question that I have is for product design, a lot of times, maybe you're being interviewed by a hiring manager or someone like that, and you're asked about, your design principles and [00:17:00] like what influences how you even think about design and what you ultimately create.

[00:17:04] And I'm wondering if you have something similar for iconography, these rooted beliefs or ways that you approach icon systems.

[00:17:14] BK: So, um, success of a project for me, which I guess are my principles are efficiency. Am I creating efficiency for the team that I'm creating this for? Am I helping my subcontractor learn to be more efficient or am I learning to be more efficient? So either learning from my team or efficiency, like just straight up efficiency on the team I'm building something for, are they gonna have an easier time?

[00:17:37] Two is consistency. Um, I didn't even remember.

[00:17:40] This is one of my principles when I was talking about it earlier, which now I'm laughing. I'm like, oh, I guess I'm kind of a consistent person. So Am I creating consistency within the brand experience? Like does this feel consistent with the other work that's in the product or in the brand? Am I helping create consistency across a product so that all designers are using the same asset, that sort of thing. [00:18:00] And is this set within itself consistent?

[00:18:03] And then the last one I have is relief.

[00:18:05] So am I providing relief to the team who is gonna be using what I'm building? Am I providing monetary relief to the subcontractor that I'm hiring?

[00:18:15] And am I going to be feeling relief and happiness when I finish this project?

[00:18:19] I would say efficiency, consistency, and relief.

The process of creating brand compliant guidelines

[00:18:23] Ridd: I love the fact that consistency keeps coming up. It's one of those things that feels very obvious to me, like as a designer, someone that would be ultimately using the icons you create, but it's a little bit of a black box to even think about how you as the, as the iconographer come in and, and even think about what consistency should mean.

[00:18:40] And one area that I'd love to drill into a little bit more is this idea of making sure that the icons you create are consistent with the brand guidelines that you're inheriting.

[00:18:53] How do you figure out the overarching motifs and styles that would best work within [00:19:00] the brand guidelines?

[00:19:02] BK: There are maybe six different things that I would say I look at when I look at a brand to help me decide where is my inspiration coming from.

[00:19:09] A big one is photography or use of metaphor how does the company position itself to the world when they're showing images of things or people?

[00:19:21] So an example of this is for the project I did with Spring Health. They are a mental healthcare company and they use a lot of floral photography and nature so when I was creating icons for them, when it came to picking metaphors, we tried to use as many floral or nature metaphors as possible.

[00:19:42] So we needed an icon to represent death. This solved multiple problems what we did.

[00:19:46] So you might think, we could use a tombstone, or a skull issues with those are like, well they're a little dark. And this is a sensitive topic.

[00:19:55] What we ended up going with is a Lilly, because Lilly's generally [00:20:00] represent death as a concept in so many cultures.

[00:20:02] And you also typically give lilies as the kind of flower at a funeral. it uses the floral nature metaphor. It's pretty sensitive still and it's universal.

[00:20:13] So that is kind of a way of taking their brand, looking at it, and then applying it to the metaphor that we're using.

[00:20:21] In that case with that product, we also use like lots of very soft edges and kind of natural shapes and lots of curves because again, it relates back to kind of all the flowers in nature.

[00:20:31] I also ended up using another thing if you're not looking at photography, is logos. That's the easiest place to get inspiration from. Like the spring logo has a. I kinda like shape. That is super helpful. Love, love demo like that. It's basically a leaf. I'm trying to show you a leaf.

[00:20:47] And so wherever we could, instead of using a rectangle, I would use a leaf.

[00:20:51] And logos are really, really helpful, to show you, curves and level of sharpness and breaks and all these little things. You can look at the [00:21:00] typography and see where to be inspired w hich brings me to type,

[00:21:04] ...type is another place if they're using a really, really sharp typeface. Probably don't wanna put some real curvy organic looking icons with it.

[00:21:11] Similarly, if they have a very soft, very gentle typeface. Very sharp icons are gonna be a contrast cuz you are gonna probably put a little icon in a button next to that type. It should look really good with the type. So type is is another place.

[00:21:26] Other things I've looked at are like product experience, color palette sometimes if you're talking about larger icons, or industry. So there could be chances where the industry itself is so weird or specific that you can find a way to use the actual industry to inspire yourself but the others are easier.

The process of creating brand compliant guidelines

[00:18:23] Ridd: I love the fact that consistency keeps coming up. It's one of those things that feels very obvious to me, like as a designer, someone that would be ultimately using the icons you create, but it's a little bit of a black box to even think about how you as the, as the iconographer come in and, and even think about what consistency should mean.

[00:18:40] And one area that I'd love to drill into a little bit more is this idea of making sure that the icons you create are consistent with the brand guidelines that you're inheriting.

[00:18:53] How do you figure out the overarching motifs and styles that would best work within [00:19:00] the brand guidelines?

[00:19:02] BK: There are maybe six different things that I would say I look at when I look at a brand to help me decide where is my inspiration coming from.

[00:19:09] A big one is photography or use of metaphor how does the company position itself to the world when they're showing images of things or people?

[00:19:21] So an example of this is for the project I did with Spring Health. They are a mental healthcare company and they use a lot of floral photography and nature so when I was creating icons for them, when it came to picking metaphors, we tried to use as many floral or nature metaphors as possible.

[00:19:42] So we needed an icon to represent death. This solved multiple problems what we did.

[00:19:46] So you might think, we could use a tombstone, or a skull issues with those are like, well they're a little dark. And this is a sensitive topic.

[00:19:55] What we ended up going with is a Lilly, because Lilly's generally [00:20:00] represent death as a concept in so many cultures.

[00:20:02] And you also typically give lilies as the kind of flower at a funeral. it uses the floral nature metaphor. It's pretty sensitive still and it's universal.

[00:20:13] So that is kind of a way of taking their brand, looking at it, and then applying it to the metaphor that we're using.

[00:20:21] In that case with that product, we also use like lots of very soft edges and kind of natural shapes and lots of curves because again, it relates back to kind of all the flowers in nature.

[00:20:31] I also ended up using another thing if you're not looking at photography, is logos. That's the easiest place to get inspiration from. Like the spring logo has a. I kinda like shape. That is super helpful. Love, love demo like that. It's basically a leaf. I'm trying to show you a leaf.

[00:20:47] And so wherever we could, instead of using a rectangle, I would use a leaf.

[00:20:51] And logos are really, really helpful, to show you, curves and level of sharpness and breaks and all these little things. You can look at the [00:21:00] typography and see where to be inspired w hich brings me to type,

[00:21:04] ...type is another place if they're using a really, really sharp typeface. Probably don't wanna put some real curvy organic looking icons with it.

[00:21:11] Similarly, if they have a very soft, very gentle typeface. Very sharp icons are gonna be a contrast cuz you are gonna probably put a little icon in a button next to that type. It should look really good with the type. So type is is another place.

[00:21:26] Other things I've looked at are like product experience, color palette sometimes if you're talking about larger icons, or industry. So there could be chances where the industry itself is so weird or specific that you can find a way to use the actual industry to inspire yourself but the others are easier.

How to begin in iconography

[00:21:45] Ridd: Let's transition a little bit to kind of just speaking to honestly, someone like myself who knows almost nothing about iconography. What advice would you give a designer who's looking to [00:22:00] potentially explore what it would look like to grow in this area of iconography?

[00:22:06] BK: If you have time, just starting with building a very small set that is completely unrelated to what you do in your day job. Because when you're learning a new skill and you're also trying to build something for work, the pressure of work can get in the way of the learning process sometimes.

[00:22:23] I used to teach, like I was a tutor when I was in college, and I was tutoring people about design while I was studying design because I didn't have enough money to just study.

[00:22:32] What I learned doing that because I was teaching mostly Adobe, I was teaching Illustrator and Photoshop and InDesign as well as like basic design skills...the students who were able to take the time to play around in the programs and learn how to build whatever it is they wanna build, typically did then better actually creating projects using those programs than the students who are like, well, but I just have to finish this, so I want you [00:23:00] to teach me while I'm doing the project.

[00:23:02] Because then it just kind of gets all mangled together.

[00:23:04] So kind of starting with, even if it's very small, something that's just fun, like I'm gonna make icons of different candies cause I like candy. Something you like make some icon set about that. It could be 10 icons. It doesn't have to be big. .

[00:23:17] The other thing I would say is you can get really far with a couple of basic skills or consistencies rather.

[00:23:25] So like, are all of your end caps the same?

[00:23:29] Are all, is all of your stroke weight the same, are all of your frames the same size?

[00:23:34] Even if you just have that, it's gonna be so much better than most icon systems you're gonna find at a lot of companies because they're just built by different people who didn't have guidelines.

[00:23:44] Even if maybe individually each icon isn't bad together, they look like a hot mess because they don't go together.

[00:23:50] So if you're consistent with kind of those three things, it'll look like a pretty consistent icon set. Like it may not be super elaborate or unique, but it will look [00:24:00] consistent and that will look good.

[00:24:02] so I would say that's another way to be like, okay, I just wanna make something that doesn't look terrible. Those are the things that you could like real quickly, latch onto and start building and then kind of learn the rest as you go.

[00:24:12] Ridd: This is a random question, but something that you just made me think of out of all of the Icon libraries that are out there right now, probably the free ones, do you ever look at them, spend time like studying them?

How to begin in iconography

[00:21:45] Ridd: Let's transition a little bit to kind of just speaking to honestly, someone like myself who knows almost nothing about iconography. What advice would you give a designer who's looking to [00:22:00] potentially explore what it would look like to grow in this area of iconography?

[00:22:06] BK: If you have time, just starting with building a very small set that is completely unrelated to what you do in your day job. Because when you're learning a new skill and you're also trying to build something for work, the pressure of work can get in the way of the learning process sometimes.

[00:22:23] I used to teach, like I was a tutor when I was in college, and I was tutoring people about design while I was studying design because I didn't have enough money to just study.

[00:22:32] What I learned doing that because I was teaching mostly Adobe, I was teaching Illustrator and Photoshop and InDesign as well as like basic design skills...the students who were able to take the time to play around in the programs and learn how to build whatever it is they wanna build, typically did then better actually creating projects using those programs than the students who are like, well, but I just have to finish this, so I want you [00:23:00] to teach me while I'm doing the project.

[00:23:02] Because then it just kind of gets all mangled together.

[00:23:04] So kind of starting with, even if it's very small, something that's just fun, like I'm gonna make icons of different candies cause I like candy. Something you like make some icon set about that. It could be 10 icons. It doesn't have to be big. .

[00:23:17] The other thing I would say is you can get really far with a couple of basic skills or consistencies rather.

[00:23:25] So like, are all of your end caps the same?

[00:23:29] Are all, is all of your stroke weight the same, are all of your frames the same size?

[00:23:34] Even if you just have that, it's gonna be so much better than most icon systems you're gonna find at a lot of companies because they're just built by different people who didn't have guidelines.

[00:23:44] Even if maybe individually each icon isn't bad together, they look like a hot mess because they don't go together.

[00:23:50] So if you're consistent with kind of those three things, it'll look like a pretty consistent icon set. Like it may not be super elaborate or unique, but it will look [00:24:00] consistent and that will look good.

[00:24:02] so I would say that's another way to be like, okay, I just wanna make something that doesn't look terrible. Those are the things that you could like real quickly, latch onto and start building and then kind of learn the rest as you go.

[00:24:12] Ridd: This is a random question, but something that you just made me think of out of all of the Icon libraries that are out there right now, probably the free ones, do you ever look at them, spend time like studying them?

Free icon libraries

[00:24:26] Ridd: Do you have any favorites or ones that you would highly recommend?

[00:24:30] BK: Of course. I literally, like every day I'm like, how do I draw a phone again? And I, every time go look at the phosphor icon set, I'm like, Helen, no. How do I draw a phone? I can't draw a telephone. I don't want to. Um, so yeah, every time, uh, I love phosphor.

[00:24:45] Helena's system is just it's so beautiful. It's all free.

[00:24:49] Um, I really like that one. , I believe it's called chunk or chunky. I wanna make sure I say it right. Mm, yeah. Okay. So Chunk Icons. So Noah Jacobs designed these.

[00:24:59] It's a smaller [00:25:00] library, but they are delightful and because they're so chunky, they're really, really simple. So sometimes I will go there just to look at how the heck did he simplify something.

[00:25:10] They're also filled, which I typically make stroke icons cuz that's what people ask for most of the time. So if I need to look at a filled icon set, that's a fun one to look at.

[00:25:20] And it's super unique. And then honestly, font awesome. , there's a lot of, people out there who'll be like, oh, font awesome. It's so basic.

[00:25:27] And I'm like, no. Do you realize how much effort has gone into that? Like beyond the fact they have all these styles? Um, like just the sheer number of icons and the sh searchability of them is amazing.

[00:25:39] So if I can be like, huh I wonder what, you know, a turtle icon looks like because there's a bajillion ways to draw a turtle. I'll go on font. Awesome. And of course Jory has drawn a turtle and it's great.

[00:25:50] Um, and that kind of gives me a starting point for, okay, my turtle has to be at least as good as jewelry's turtle if I'm gonna draw a turtle[00:26:00]

[00:26:00] Ridd: I love that. It also makes me feel better that like even the best still kind of source inspiration from everything that everyone else is doing. Like, I feel like a lot of people need to hear that, the further you get in the, your career, the more that some people I, I've heard talk about like, feeling pressured to, to create from scratch and like it has to be my idea.

[00:26:17] And yeah, there's a reason that Font Awesome has been around for so long. It's really good. It's really, really good. It's really good. Phosphor is really good. Like that's what we use at Maven. I love their Figma plugin. So I was also encouraged to hear that you listed that one first, cuz it like, I feel validated in my own decision.

[00:26:35] BK: One thing I've learned when I started designing, thought everything has to be unique and then especially with icons, I've realized, no, it doesn't like we want people to recognize these things.

[00:26:48] The whole point is that you're able to see it and know immediately what it is. So if you're reinventing the wheel over and over for something that you want people to recognize, it's probably not doing its [00:27:00] job of being clear and recognizable.

[00:27:02] And so what I'll often start with is like, how I draw a bus. Like if I'm a draw bus, I like to draw a bus the same way every time. I like to draw the car, kind of, I have a way of drawing a car that I like, uh, for like a basic sedan. And when I am starting a project, I'll do style exploration to show a client what their style could theoretically look like.

[00:27:22] And I know it's gonna go beyond what I initially start with, but when I'm starting and I show them like three to five different styles, I'm not going to figure out what the fancy, crazy car thing is gonna look like. I start with my basic sedan and apply the principles that I'm adding to the way that I draw a sedan.

[00:27:39] And then when they come back and say, oh, we wish it looked more serious, or, oh, we don't actually want a sedan, we want an suv because whatever reason, then I modify from there because typically that initial sedan gives them enough information looking at it in product screen to get a sense of what they're looking for, and then we can [00:28:00] adjust from there.

[00:28:00] So I try not to spend too much time in the very beginning getting every single thing super unique because they may drop that icon. They might say, oh actually we saw the car. We thought we wanted a car. But we realize now we want a rabbit because we want to show speed and a rabbit is cuter and we are a veterinarians.

[00:28:19] So, you know, whatever it is, um, it's better to start a low rough and rely on your experience and then specialize and unique I things unique. I that's the word.

[00:28:35] It is now

[00:28:35] as you go. It's now unique-fy. , hastag

Free icon libraries

[00:24:26] Ridd: Do you have any favorites or ones that you would highly recommend?

[00:24:30] BK: Of course. I literally, like every day I'm like, how do I draw a phone again? And I, every time go look at the phosphor icon set, I'm like, Helen, no. How do I draw a phone? I can't draw a telephone. I don't want to. Um, so yeah, every time, uh, I love phosphor.

[00:24:45] Helena's system is just it's so beautiful. It's all free.

[00:24:49] Um, I really like that one. , I believe it's called chunk or chunky. I wanna make sure I say it right. Mm, yeah. Okay. So Chunk Icons. So Noah Jacobs designed these.

[00:24:59] It's a smaller [00:25:00] library, but they are delightful and because they're so chunky, they're really, really simple. So sometimes I will go there just to look at how the heck did he simplify something.

[00:25:10] They're also filled, which I typically make stroke icons cuz that's what people ask for most of the time. So if I need to look at a filled icon set, that's a fun one to look at.

[00:25:20] And it's super unique. And then honestly, font awesome. , there's a lot of, people out there who'll be like, oh, font awesome. It's so basic.

[00:25:27] And I'm like, no. Do you realize how much effort has gone into that? Like beyond the fact they have all these styles? Um, like just the sheer number of icons and the sh searchability of them is amazing.

[00:25:39] So if I can be like, huh I wonder what, you know, a turtle icon looks like because there's a bajillion ways to draw a turtle. I'll go on font. Awesome. And of course Jory has drawn a turtle and it's great.

[00:25:50] Um, and that kind of gives me a starting point for, okay, my turtle has to be at least as good as jewelry's turtle if I'm gonna draw a turtle[00:26:00]

[00:26:00] Ridd: I love that. It also makes me feel better that like even the best still kind of source inspiration from everything that everyone else is doing. Like, I feel like a lot of people need to hear that, the further you get in the, your career, the more that some people I, I've heard talk about like, feeling pressured to, to create from scratch and like it has to be my idea.

[00:26:17] And yeah, there's a reason that Font Awesome has been around for so long. It's really good. It's really, really good. It's really good. Phosphor is really good. Like that's what we use at Maven. I love their Figma plugin. So I was also encouraged to hear that you listed that one first, cuz it like, I feel validated in my own decision.

[00:26:35] BK: One thing I've learned when I started designing, thought everything has to be unique and then especially with icons, I've realized, no, it doesn't like we want people to recognize these things.

[00:26:48] The whole point is that you're able to see it and know immediately what it is. So if you're reinventing the wheel over and over for something that you want people to recognize, it's probably not doing its [00:27:00] job of being clear and recognizable.

[00:27:02] And so what I'll often start with is like, how I draw a bus. Like if I'm a draw bus, I like to draw a bus the same way every time. I like to draw the car, kind of, I have a way of drawing a car that I like, uh, for like a basic sedan. And when I am starting a project, I'll do style exploration to show a client what their style could theoretically look like.

[00:27:22] And I know it's gonna go beyond what I initially start with, but when I'm starting and I show them like three to five different styles, I'm not going to figure out what the fancy, crazy car thing is gonna look like. I start with my basic sedan and apply the principles that I'm adding to the way that I draw a sedan.

[00:27:39] And then when they come back and say, oh, we wish it looked more serious, or, oh, we don't actually want a sedan, we want an suv because whatever reason, then I modify from there because typically that initial sedan gives them enough information looking at it in product screen to get a sense of what they're looking for, and then we can [00:28:00] adjust from there.

[00:28:00] So I try not to spend too much time in the very beginning getting every single thing super unique because they may drop that icon. They might say, oh actually we saw the car. We thought we wanted a car. But we realize now we want a rabbit because we want to show speed and a rabbit is cuter and we are a veterinarians.

[00:28:19] So, you know, whatever it is, um, it's better to start a low rough and rely on your experience and then specialize and unique I things unique. I that's the word.

[00:28:35] It is now

[00:28:35] as you go. It's now unique-fy. , hastag

The process of freelancing

[00:28:40] Ridd: can you shed a little bit of light on what your freelance process looks like and how you interface with clients and kind of how you guide them to the finish line?

[00:28:50] BK: I have an assistant, um, she helps with intake. So I have essentially a Google form that, or like a a just a, [00:29:00] a Google doc that has questions that she can send to any potential inquiries.

[00:29:03] So, We can get information from a client before I have a video call with them, because they might say, oh, we need 10 icons and we have $300, and I'm gonna be like, well, that's not the project for me. Here is the list of some people maybe who would take that project. Um, so that is a starting point typically is her reaching out to them, um, assuming that the project looks good.

[00:29:28] Um, I typically will meet with somebody in a video call to honestly like, kind of sus them out, like, what's their vibe? They seem like a good vibe because I can be picky at this point. And also, even when you're starting out, you do not want a client who has red flags who's maybe not gonna pay you.

[00:29:45] Basically, you, you want to get paid 100% every time. So if I get into the call and they keep asking for discounts or if they're like, oh, can we pay you at the end of the pro. , I wanna make sure that they seem like a person who will pay me.[00:30:00] And also that they have a good idea of what they want because you can also waste a ton of time, iterating and iterating and iterating when they don't know what they wanted in the first place.

[00:30:07] And if you're especially new to freelancing, you probably don't.

[00:30:12] If they don't know, you probably don't know yet because I've done projects where they didn't know, so I didn't, um, when I was starting out. So I wanna make sure they kind of know what they want, at least a sliver of, of an idea, and that they're gonna pay me because they seem upstanding, especially if I don't know them.

[00:30:29] From there, my personal process with it could be icons, it could be a brand system as well, or illustrations, is to create three options.

[00:30:38] It sounds like way too simple, but that is what so many freelancers do.

[00:30:43] I usually name them with Musicians for some reason, I'll be like, style one Rihanna, style two, James Taylor, style three Taylor Swift.

[00:30:51] If it's called Taylor Swift, that's the best one. So I will show them three options. I'll kind of ask them to be like, you sure, sure, like [00:31:00] 100%. We don't wanna go back later. Um, have them give me any feedback. So that might be like, oh, we wish it was rounder, or, we like this style, but can you use square and caps instead?

[00:31:10] Or it needs to feel more fun. It could be, you know, it may not be as prescriptive. So then typically I'll take another pass at the style based on the one they like the best, or sometimes combining two things into one, which happens a lot. I basically at that point just start building a library and we then go back and forth on rounds of

[00:31:28] how does this look?

[00:31:29] Which ones are approved?

[00:31:30] And I'll slowly whittle away until they're all approved.

[00:31:33] At that point, I create a style guide and they put it in their design system.

The process of freelancing

[00:28:40] Ridd: can you shed a little bit of light on what your freelance process looks like and how you interface with clients and kind of how you guide them to the finish line?

[00:28:50] BK: I have an assistant, um, she helps with intake. So I have essentially a Google form that, or like a a just a, [00:29:00] a Google doc that has questions that she can send to any potential inquiries.

[00:29:03] So, We can get information from a client before I have a video call with them, because they might say, oh, we need 10 icons and we have $300, and I'm gonna be like, well, that's not the project for me. Here is the list of some people maybe who would take that project. Um, so that is a starting point typically is her reaching out to them, um, assuming that the project looks good.

[00:29:28] Um, I typically will meet with somebody in a video call to honestly like, kind of sus them out, like, what's their vibe? They seem like a good vibe because I can be picky at this point. And also, even when you're starting out, you do not want a client who has red flags who's maybe not gonna pay you.

[00:29:45] Basically, you, you want to get paid 100% every time. So if I get into the call and they keep asking for discounts or if they're like, oh, can we pay you at the end of the pro. , I wanna make sure that they seem like a person who will pay me.[00:30:00] And also that they have a good idea of what they want because you can also waste a ton of time, iterating and iterating and iterating when they don't know what they wanted in the first place.

[00:30:07] And if you're especially new to freelancing, you probably don't.

[00:30:12] If they don't know, you probably don't know yet because I've done projects where they didn't know, so I didn't, um, when I was starting out. So I wanna make sure they kind of know what they want, at least a sliver of, of an idea, and that they're gonna pay me because they seem upstanding, especially if I don't know them.

[00:30:29] From there, my personal process with it could be icons, it could be a brand system as well, or illustrations, is to create three options.

[00:30:38] It sounds like way too simple, but that is what so many freelancers do.

[00:30:43] I usually name them with Musicians for some reason, I'll be like, style one Rihanna, style two, James Taylor, style three Taylor Swift.

[00:30:51] If it's called Taylor Swift, that's the best one. So I will show them three options. I'll kind of ask them to be like, you sure, sure, like [00:31:00] 100%. We don't wanna go back later. Um, have them give me any feedback. So that might be like, oh, we wish it was rounder, or, we like this style, but can you use square and caps instead?

[00:31:10] Or it needs to feel more fun. It could be, you know, it may not be as prescriptive. So then typically I'll take another pass at the style based on the one they like the best, or sometimes combining two things into one, which happens a lot. I basically at that point just start building a library and we then go back and forth on rounds of

[00:31:28] how does this look?

[00:31:29] Which ones are approved?

[00:31:30] And I'll slowly whittle away until they're all approved.

[00:31:33] At that point, I create a style guide and they put it in their design system.

Strategies for pricing yourself as a freelancer

[00:31:39] Ridd: One more broad kind of advice question. What's something that you know now that you wish you knew when you first started creating icons?

[00:31:49] BK: I wish that I knew that I do not have to price myself hourly. Because pricing yourself hourly means you then also have to estimate [00:32:00] how many hours it's gonna be. and realistically you can't know for sure. Sometimes it takes a lot less, sometimes it takes a lot more.

[00:32:06] And so that can surprise your client or you can surprise yourself and then be like, oh, I'm not making as much money as I thought I was. so hourly, not as great as having either a per unit cost, which for me is easy per unit is per icon. Or just a project fee. Or you can split it up into like, the style guide is this much and my exploration is this much, and the email system is this much.

[00:32:31] And the logo is, you know, you can, depending on what kind of project it is, you can split it up into deliverables that have costs. And that in my experience, clients really like because they then know the project costs $30,000, they're gonna give you $30,000 and they're gonna get what they asked for and you know, you get $30,000.

[00:32:47] So that has worked much better for me, also because I. , and you don't realize this until you're really good at your job. you get faster.

[00:32:58] So of course you raise your hourly rate, [00:33:00] but you just get faster. So you're doing fewer hours, but you're better at your job and you're doing it faster for them.

[00:33:05] So you're providing more value in less time, but then getting paid less because at a certain point you can't ask for more than a certain amount per hour, or people just will not like talk to you,

[00:33:16] they care about the thing they're getting at the end of the day. So as much as you can charge based on a project fee or a deliverables based fee, because over time you're gonna get better at your job and you're gonna get faster and it's going to be a disservice to yourself to charge per hour.

[00:33:35] Ridd: I love that.

[00:33:36] I, I think charging hourly is just it. Misaligns incentives totally. . So like something that I switched to is,

[00:33:43] BK: it's not good for anyone

[00:33:44] Ridd: not doing hourly, but maybe I don't feel confident enough to give like a full project rate, especially for something like designing a mobile app where that can mm-hmm. scope creep is real, but what you can do is align on weekly [00:34:00] objectives.

[00:34:00] This is the deliverable for this week, and I have a fixed rate. And that way they can opt out at any point and they know what they're getting each week. And then I'm incentivized to work really efficiently because I can do directly impact my hourly rate.

[00:34:14] And I think it makes a lot of sense and too many people, especially when they're starting off, think that they have to do this hourly rate. Yeah.

[00:34:22] BK: I've also seen, projects this way, where I will say, well, you can have me on a retainer for a week, a. month I will work as much as you ask of me this month.

[00:34:34] Because again, I know I am very good at my job. It's not gonna take me four day hours a week. I'm cuz I'm good at my job.

[00:34:40] I'm not gonna overload myself anyway. But, I can say, okay, you can have me for a month. This is how much it costs for a month. So it might be like, okay, for a month you can hire me for $25,000 and I'm at your beck and call whenever you need.

[00:34:51] Or here's everything broken down by deliverable and it's gonna cost $23,000 and it takes as long as you want, [00:35:00] but you and I don't worry about when I'm available. I just do the work for you, and get it done. And it might take six weeks. It might take three weeks. And so you can charge a like weekly or monthly fee, which can work.

[00:35:14] And especially as you're describing with product design, something that could take a really long time, you might also want to do that because if the project is really big, like if it's a hundred thousand dollars, you don't necessarily wanna get paid 50% up upfront and then be waiting on that other 50,000 for like a year.

[00:35:32] That could be really rough as a like, you know, person who has to eat food and live in a house. Um, so, uh, having milestones is another really good way of setting things up for those really big projects. And a lot of companies are fine with milestone-based pricing.

Strategies for pricing yourself as a freelancer

[00:31:39] Ridd: One more broad kind of advice question. What's something that you know now that you wish you knew when you first started creating icons?

[00:31:49] BK: I wish that I knew that I do not have to price myself hourly. Because pricing yourself hourly means you then also have to estimate [00:32:00] how many hours it's gonna be. and realistically you can't know for sure. Sometimes it takes a lot less, sometimes it takes a lot more.

[00:32:06] And so that can surprise your client or you can surprise yourself and then be like, oh, I'm not making as much money as I thought I was. so hourly, not as great as having either a per unit cost, which for me is easy per unit is per icon. Or just a project fee. Or you can split it up into like, the style guide is this much and my exploration is this much, and the email system is this much.

[00:32:31] And the logo is, you know, you can, depending on what kind of project it is, you can split it up into deliverables that have costs. And that in my experience, clients really like because they then know the project costs $30,000, they're gonna give you $30,000 and they're gonna get what they asked for and you know, you get $30,000.

[00:32:47] So that has worked much better for me, also because I. , and you don't realize this until you're really good at your job. you get faster.

[00:32:58] So of course you raise your hourly rate, [00:33:00] but you just get faster. So you're doing fewer hours, but you're better at your job and you're doing it faster for them.

[00:33:05] So you're providing more value in less time, but then getting paid less because at a certain point you can't ask for more than a certain amount per hour, or people just will not like talk to you,

[00:33:16] they care about the thing they're getting at the end of the day. So as much as you can charge based on a project fee or a deliverables based fee, because over time you're gonna get better at your job and you're gonna get faster and it's going to be a disservice to yourself to charge per hour.

[00:33:35] Ridd: I love that.

[00:33:36] I, I think charging hourly is just it. Misaligns incentives totally. . So like something that I switched to is,

[00:33:43] BK: it's not good for anyone

[00:33:44] Ridd: not doing hourly, but maybe I don't feel confident enough to give like a full project rate, especially for something like designing a mobile app where that can mm-hmm. scope creep is real, but what you can do is align on weekly [00:34:00] objectives.

[00:34:00] This is the deliverable for this week, and I have a fixed rate. And that way they can opt out at any point and they know what they're getting each week. And then I'm incentivized to work really efficiently because I can do directly impact my hourly rate.

[00:34:14] And I think it makes a lot of sense and too many people, especially when they're starting off, think that they have to do this hourly rate. Yeah.

[00:34:22] BK: I've also seen, projects this way, where I will say, well, you can have me on a retainer for a week, a. month I will work as much as you ask of me this month.

[00:34:34] Because again, I know I am very good at my job. It's not gonna take me four day hours a week. I'm cuz I'm good at my job.

[00:34:40] I'm not gonna overload myself anyway. But, I can say, okay, you can have me for a month. This is how much it costs for a month. So it might be like, okay, for a month you can hire me for $25,000 and I'm at your beck and call whenever you need.

[00:34:51] Or here's everything broken down by deliverable and it's gonna cost $23,000 and it takes as long as you want, [00:35:00] but you and I don't worry about when I'm available. I just do the work for you, and get it done. And it might take six weeks. It might take three weeks. And so you can charge a like weekly or monthly fee, which can work.

[00:35:14] And especially as you're describing with product design, something that could take a really long time, you might also want to do that because if the project is really big, like if it's a hundred thousand dollars, you don't necessarily wanna get paid 50% up upfront and then be waiting on that other 50,000 for like a year.

[00:35:32] That could be really rough as a like, you know, person who has to eat food and live in a house. Um, so, uh, having milestones is another really good way of setting things up for those really big projects. And a lot of companies are fine with milestone-based pricing.

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