The power of the icon is greatly under estimated, behind every user interface be it on the web, your desktop, or even phone… I guarantee it wont take you long to find these small pieces of artwork.
Tha Phlash is a designer based in Canada, and the man behind ThaIcon - the biggest icon website in the world. His work has taken mobile devices by storm, and with his urban art bringing buildings to life you can only imagine what his next project will be.
I recently sat in on a virtual interview to see what makes him tick; to see what his history is and more importantly for a few words of wisdom.
You originally started off as an urban artist painting murals, what originally drove you to that and if any, what was your inspiration?
“I actually started by drawing scrolls for churches, very tiny intricate work that was draw with a feather (yup, very old school). Than after a while I couldn’t bare to do small work i needed something totally the opposite, saw this big wall and made my homework to paint it. I had the piece commissioned by a balloon festival and it took me a good full month to do the piece, lots of fun… and kept going for a good 500 walls afterwards…”
“I like the knowledge of new technology and how it can improve my work, and make it easier… When I started, Photoshop was great for making mural mockups to present to clients while Flash allowed me make creative website where I could animate my artwork… and I needed coding knowledge to integrate everything together… I still uses all my scripting abilities today as a web-designer.”
So it all started with a bit of ‘magic’ (HTC Android powered phone) – Excuse the pun. Do you still have it as a piece of history, a memorabilia?
“Well shame on me its still my primary devices haha!… I have yet to upgrade, but i’m just not too demanding in this regard. I use my followers to test my work for compatibility on a range of devices tho.”
Do you still use your original designs on your current HTC device or have you traded them in for some of your more recent work?
You seem to churn amazing designs on a regular basis, how do you manage it? Surely it takes time to come up with new concepts…
“Well the secret besides hard work is that I have my icons in a lab folder where I work a particular style for sometimes months… They then pass through several development stages over a long period of time… so don’t worry if sometimes I disappear for a few months, and come back.”
With that said, where do you seek inspiration?
“From everywhere really.. new movies, textures, request submitted by my followers, and anything around me that stimulate my senses.”
Personally I currently do concept work and have a folder of 30+ basic stock icons that I manipulate in my designs. Assuming you have stock files you use, ball park figure – how big is your library?
“I have vector sources and production files for all my icons… you could say that my icon project folder has around 240 000 files in it.. it takes quite a lot of method to manage everything… and that method was implemented since day 1… since the first icon.”
You also take requests, in all honesty what was the strangest and favorite request of all time.
“Requests are great really… no matter how good you are a new perspective is what gives you a edge really… but my weirdest pack HAS to be Tha Nyan Cat… truly epic weirdness.”
You’re ‘brother’ site “ThaSyndicate” deals with a wide range of website services, do you have a partner in design there or do you fly solo?
“Tha syndicate is my corporate headquarters to manage my web-clients and my work oversea, I have partners in there, do hosting and stuff like that… its mainly for my clients that are corporations and where my lawyers reside… for Tha icon im by myself and partner up with a few developers to create my apps.”
Every designer has their unique style, how would you describe yours?
“Don’t think I limit myself as far as style is concern. I really appreciate the art of adaptation and self renewing, if there’s a style I would say is constant it would be quality… never settle for anything less.”
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?
“In a years time, I want to sustain myself only with icons, be a themers best friend, and give another perspective to the general public that icons are a lot of work and that there’s value to this work, good icons shouldn’t be free if someone worked their *** off to make them… inspire other to do the same, so that we become a industry.”
Piracy is a huge issue in the film, music and software industries. Even for designers like yourself, but how do you combat that persistent challenge?
“Piracy is rampant in icon design, but the way i think about it is that piracy is simply a competing business. They happen to sell at the price of $0, so you can’t beat them on price, but you CAN beat them on 1. convenience and 2. content (piracy takes awhile to get up to date unless you have a hugely popular pack which gets pirated within HOURS of release). As long as these two points outweigh the price difference, you’ll be ok.”
And finally some words of wisdom?…
“Rule of thumb for posting your icons online: Treat people as if they were standing in front of you. Be consciously polite. Assume people’s intentions are good. Remind yourself that your lucky to be alive, and grateful to be in the presence of others. Though I’m sure I’ve wavered from this philosophy on occasion, I’m not proud of those moments, and try to get better.”