There are hundreds of steps involved in transforming an idea from inside your head to a physical product in your hand and then releasing it to the public and shipping it all over the globe.
Back in 2009, when Ugmonk turned one year old, I thought it would be fun to celebrate by designing a special limited edition anniversary shirt to celebrate. Each year I’ve continued this tradition, and this year we launched our 7th Anniversary Set. I documented the entire process from concept to launch.
Phase One: Design
The first stage was brainstorming general ideas. At this stage, I try to think as far out of the box as possible, not worrying too much about pricing or manufacturing difficulties. Anything I think of was added to the list. The purpose was to get creative juices flowing.
Read more on design conceptualization:
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Pen and Paper
I started with a general aesthetic in mind, but the design ended up evolving quite a bit from the early concepts. I always like to start with pen and paper to rough out ideas as thumbnail sketches because this medium allows me to explore a variety of styles and ideas without being constrained to specific typefaces or tools within Illustrator.
For the 7th Anniversary Set, my design would be a play on the number seven. Seven is already celebrated for it’s luckiness, but I didn’t want to rehash that affiliation. Instead, I focused on a more a clean, elegant seven, living in it’s purest form. At the same time, I wanted to add an extra layer of depth to give it the trademark Ugmonk touch. When researching different interpretations of the number seven I came across a 3D seven-sided shape called a “heptahedron.” I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate the heptahedron as a secondary design element in the set.
I narrowed down the list of items that I wanted to include in the set. One of the trickiest parts of producing the set was figuring out what was feasible and affordable, given short run production. Finding manufacturers was a long process. For the 7th Anniversary Set I had to work with 6 different manufacturers.
Producing the steel heptahedrons was an especially large challenge, even though we’ve made other metal products in the past. The manufacturer that we had previously worked with fell through at the last minute and left us back at square one. Most of the machine shops and fabricators that I contacted about making the steel heptahedrons didn’t understand what I was trying to create or simply weren’t interested. It took a lot of leg work to finally find a new machine shop to create exactly what I was envisioning. This unexpected setback actually delayed the whole 7th Anniversary release by several weeks.
Tips on sourcing:
Once I had honed in on an aesthetic direction and selected the final parts for the set, I dove into polishing the design elements that would appear throughout the set. During this process, I quickly mocked up the designs on blank t-shirts and other items to get an idea of how the designs would look on final products. A design that looks great on its own doesn’t always translate well on products. The right fit depends on the proportions and shape of the product.
Prototyping and Production
Designing the product was the first half of the battle. Producing physical products isn’t as easy as commanding File>Print. It’s a multistep process that involves several rounds of sampling and communication with each manufacturer to refine details for each piece.
For example, the small serif type on the tin label design looked great on screen but had to be tweaked ever so slightly for the best result through letterpress printing. I chose to use letterpress over digital printing for a more quality feel. Even though this letterpress has existed for centuries, it still creates a crispness that digital printing just can’t replicate.
For the 7th Anniversary tee, we wanted a semi-transparent print that would allow the heather gray fabric texture to show through the ink. It took a few tries to nail the exact level of opacity we envisioned. We’ve learned that it’s not enough to just email the artwork to the screen printer and assume they understand everything clearly. Working with a good manufacturing partner important, but even then, it’s sound practice to verify the details of your designs.
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Phase Two: Preparation
With all of the pieces in hand, we moved onto counting, sorting, assembling, and packing the Anniversary Sets to get everything ready to be shipped out.
Even in this seemingly simple stage, we encountered the challenge of figuring out how to adhere the labels onto the tins with all the components lined up correctly. Since there were 300 sets, we needed a process that was repeatable without occupying too much time per label. We created a simple, hand-made template out of cardboard to ensure each label would be centered and squarely positioned on the tin.
While tasks like these can seem somewhat mundane, this type of quality control and attention to detail is a crucial part of a successful product launch that will ultimately result in happy customers.
Some might say presentation is as important as the product itself:
Good product photography is essential to selling products online. I can’t emphasize this enough. Since people can’t hold or see the product in person, the photos need to tell the narrative of the set and convey the incredible amount of detail behind each piece. It’s not enough to snap a few quick photos and move on – consider lighting, focal point, and environment with care. These photos can make or break how well the product sells.
For the Anniversary Sets in particular, I like to go all out with the product photography, and this year I even decided to shoot a behind-the-scenes video. While I could have outsourced photography and videography to someone else, showing the process through my personal lens was a key part of humanizing the set. It takes a huge amount of time and effort to get right, but was worth it.
Photography tips from Maker’s Row:
I fleshed out the details for each product, including product name, product description, dimension and specs, and pricing. We strive to tell a story to go along with each of our products. For an Anniversary Set, we take the opportunity to reflect and celebrate with all of our customers who have made Ugmonk a success. Copywriting is an art form in itself. Many brands seem to overlook this and don’t inject any personality into their product descriptions. This is a mistake because the story behind a product breathes life into it and helps customers connect with the brand.
Other successful brands implement storytelling as well:
- » The Secret to Telling a Compelling Brand Story
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I designed a custom product page for the Anniversary Set to showcase all these photos and stories. My goal was to create an multimedia narrative for the viewer that includes photos, videos, and text of the set’s story as they scroll down the page. I put together the page mockup in Photoshop and handed it off to my brother to actually code it.
At this point, the Anniversary Set had to be converted into a product. We finalized the description, price, and photos and entered them into our e-commerce system (Shopify). We also had to create additional graphics for each product launch, such as the homepage banner. Each one of these assets takes time to develop since each product is unique.
Phase Three: Sales
It was finally time to launch the set to the world. Even after 7 years, I still get the same nervous adrenaline rush on each launch day. So much work goes into that moment and there are so many things that can go right or wrong. Here are the 5 items I make sure to execute on launch day:
Other perspectives on successful product launches:
- » How to Pull Off a Successful Product Launch in 5 Steps
- » Planning Your First Season? Use These Tips to Establish a Realistic Launch Timeline
Now that the Anniversary Set was live and visible to the world, we monitored the site to ensure everything was working and loading correctly; we promptly answered questions and replied to comments that came up on social media. And then the fun part: watching sales start to flow in (we hope). No matter how many products I launch, it’s still incredibly humbling to see people spend their money on something that I created.
More Product Guidance
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