The Iconfactory has developed icons for a number of high profile clients including Adobe, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple to name a few. The company was founded in 1996 and is based in Greensboro, NC. In this interview Gedeon shares his experience in starting Iconfactory, gives us a peek at what a typical day is like for an icon designer, and shares insight on their recently released iPhone app, RampChamp. Enjoy!
How did you get started in icon design?
After being laid off twice by companies that thought they wanted to get out of the technology sector, I and the other founders at the Iconfactory made the conscious decision to become our own bosses. We had already done icon work on the side for Microsoft’s Outlook Express for the Mac, and made the decision to try it full time. I think this turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. I’ve enjoyed every minute of our careers together.
Tell me more about starting Iconfactory and the early days of the business.
The Iconfactory was started back in April of 1996 as a hobby between our three founding members: Corey Marion, Talos Tsui and myself. At the time, all three of us were working for a small multi-media company called Paradigm Interactive designing educational CD-ROMs for children. Icon making was part of the job description, and each of the three members started pushing pixels on their own time for fun.
Corey, Talos and I all had individual web pages where people could download our icons, but it wasn’t until Corey came up with the idea to create a single page where the three could consolidate their work and thereby increase hits that the first version of the factory was born. Corey came up with the name “Iconfactory” as well as the first icon of the factory itself. The original site (a single web page) was created and hosted on AOL.
How many employees does Iconfactory have now?
Today, the Iconfactory has grown to 11 people and had offices both in the US and Sweden.
Here’s a look at where Gedeon gets his work done
Iconfactory is known for working with some of the largest companies and creating phenomenal icons. How have you been able to build such a talented team?
We’ve been very fortunate in both our timing and talent. We started in icon design when there really was no competition and those who were doing it, didn’t specialize in the field. This left the door wide open for a company with attention to detail to step in and make a name for ourselves.
We have also been very fortunate to find some of the most talented designers in the industry. We really owe this to the icon design contest we used to run called Pixelpalooza. Pixelpaooza was a forum for icon artists around the world to submit entries and compete for cool prizes. We found three of our current people (and one founder) via Pixelpalooza – Dave Brasgalla, Anthony Piraino and David Lanham. We hope to bring the contest back at some point in the future.
With the business growing rapidly, how has your role changed? Do you do less design work now than you did in the beginning because of the additional responsibilities of running the business?
Unfortunately yes. As a company grows, so does the need to oversee day to day operations. When we first started out there was only three of us and we did everything from human resources, to tech support to design and more. But as the Iconfactory has grown into new spaces, software, iPhone, large contract work, it’s become difficult for me to stay focused on just design work. Someone has to respond to business proposals, do long term company planning, determine our software product road maps and more. More and more, that role is falling to me and I enjoy it. I also don’t get to do as much of the actual “creating” anymore though which is a natural evolution for a position like this.
You guys also have an impressive collection of stock icons as well. How does the workload break down? Is there a team that focuses solely on custom work and another on the stock icons you provide?
No, we all do everything. We structure our time between client work and internal work as best we can. Clients always have higher priority than internal Iconfactory projects, which is why a freeware release or a stock icon release may be delayed at any given time. About 1/3 of our time during a given week is devoted to internal projects like software, stock icons or freeware. The rest is all devoted to paid client projects.
Can you take us through a typical day for you?
Some days are more typical than others, but generally it goes something like this. I typically get into the office anywhere between 8:30am and 9:30am and when I arrive I always try to catch up on email both for my own personal account and for the Iconfactory’s Webmaster account. This email account is the “catch-all” for requests that come into the company. One of the things we pride ourselves on is that even after a decade in business, we respond to ALL emails we receive. It may take a few days, but we try to answer everything.
After email is parsed, I prioritize tasks for the day both for myself and
potentially for any one of the designers. If there are urgent request of
some kind or meetings that need to be set up, I try and take care of them or delegate those requests out. Next, if there are company bills to pay or payroll to distribute, etc. then I spend some time taking care of them before lunch.
Afternoons are spent doing as much actual “work” as possible. Sometimes this can be internal or external, but often it involves meetings via phone or iChat with clients or Iconfactory personnel who are not on site. I’m typically the last one to leave the office which is usually around 6:30pm.
Can you walk us through your design process from concept to a completed icon?
Typically it starts with a brainstorming session. This can be done alone by the assigned designer, or they can pull the entire group of icon artists in for brainstorm. We flush out what the client wants and try to come up with several rough concepts. Depending on the individual designer’s preferences, some provide the client with scanned pencil sketches, others opt for black and white line art from Adobe Illustrator. Either way they are simply concepts to be reviewed. Once the direction is established, we usually move to a rough vector comp to get the layout and perspective down and once that is approved we move onto final rendering. It varies depending on if the project is a new one or if the icon is part of a suite that has been tackled before of course.
What hardware do you and your team use? Can you give us a rundown of your setup?
All of the designers at the Iconfactory (myself included) have Quad-Core Intel Mac Pros with at least 4GB of RAM. We each also have one 30″ cinema display and a smaller 21 or 24 inch display for our working palettes, email & twitter. All of us have WACOM Intuos tablets, but some use them more than others. I use my tablet for standard mouse input as well as sketching, drawing and rendering. We also have a Mac Mini that runs Parallels for testing on the PC side.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I visit as many websites as I can, I also follow a large number of designers and illustrators on Twitter so I’m always getting to see new and exciting work online. I get inspiration from TV, movies, magazines, music and commercials believe it or not.
What blogs do you read daily?
Some blogs that read on an average day include:
You and your team, along with DS Media Labs, recently launched Ramp Champ. Tell me more about Ramp Champ. How did you guys come up with the idea?
We wanted to take a fun, familiar game that we remembered from our youth and give it a distinctly iPhone update. What started out as a simple version of classic Skee-Ball soon turned into a sprawling multi-laned game with unique themes, prizes, goals and more. We were fortunate enough to partner with the talented folks at DS Media Labs who wrote the actual software and helped us develop and fine-tune the game play over a period of around 7 months.
Each one of the designers here at the factory was assigned a ramp and its associated prizes and goals. We each worked on and off for months to create the artwork while DS created a native Mac OS X application that we could use to actually assemble the lanes. I did the majority of the sound effects in the original release as well as the design and production of the Space Swarm ramp. Everyone had a ton of fun working on the project. We’re about to release 2 new add-on packs for Ramp Champ which people should enjoy.
The game has been getting great reviews and seems to be a hit with pretty much everyone who has played it. Unfortunately the mechanics of the App Store have kept it from becoming a break away hit. We hope to change that with future updates.
We’ve written several posts about the development of Ramp Champ. If your readers are interested, they can check them out here:
What’s on tap for iconfactory? Any new stock icons coming out soon? Any new iPhone apps in the works?
We just released a whole new set of add-ons for stock icons for 5 of our families called Web. The add-on covers internet related metaphors and are our most affordable sets yet at $89.00. In addition, we’ve got another new iPhone game coming in October that I can’t say too much about yet. It’s smaller than Ramp Champ, but is designed to be fun for both single players and multiple players of up to 21 people. It’s family friendly and was designed by our own David Lanham. Watch for it soon.
Gedeon, thanks for taking the time to share more information about the Iconfactory. We’ll be on the lookout for the new iPhone app next month!