Like most professional icon designers, I am happiest when I am making icons. I also make a signficant portion of my income from selling icons on marketplaces like Iconfinder, The Noun Project, Flaticon, and others. Because the icon designer’s product is licensing our creations instead of selling our time, we make more money when we make more products. But the tedious, time-consuming tasks required to to get our products onto the various marketplaces takes away from our productivity. If we spend our own time doing it, that is time we are not creating products. If we have someone else do it, it cuts into our take-home pay.
Nobody Likes Tagging Icons
One of the most time-consuming tasks is organizing, packaging, and tagging the icons. Unfortunately every marketplace has a different interface and workflow for doing this repetitive task. Not only is it tedious, but web-based interfaces for tagging are not especially user-friendly or well-suited to the task. And the same manual process must be repeated for every site on which we sell. This is not good for designers but it is, in my opinion, even worse for the marketplaces.
During my three years as the Head of Content for Iconfinder, more than a few designers lamented to me the reason they did not upload more icons was because they did not have time to properly do the tagging. And since marketplaces, and Iconfinder in particular, rely on their search engine (Iconfinder is a search engine), designers live and die by the quality of their tags.
The existing models are not working and they reduce productivity and profit for everyone.
There’s (already) an App for That
IconJar was born out of the creators’ personal frustration, but after a post on Dribbble that attracted a lot of attention, and uncovered a shared frustration amongst many designers, Heuser and Hard set up a landing page that garnered about 1,500 signups in about 2 days. Clearly there was a demand for a better way to organize one’s personal collection.
The IconJar format has been steadily advancing but after Iconfinder recently introduced support for downloading icons in IconJar format, IconJar shared that the adoption by Iconfinder increased the distribution of their format tenfold. This is a great step forward and much-needed advancement, but I don’t believe it goes far enough. I propose that there is also a demand for a better way, industry-wide to organize, tag, and distribute icons.
The truth is, the ability to download icons from sites in IconJar format is not nearly as useful to icon desigenrs as the ability to upload and distribute icons in a standard format. IconJar is the logical choice for a few reasons, which I will elaborate below.
Standards Are Good For Icon Customers, Designers, and Marketplaces
The arguments for adoption of a standard format, and IconJar in particular, are compelling and yet simple. Customers benefit because they can more easily organize and find the icons they need for their projects. No more indistinguishable folders distributed around hard drives or in different project folders. All icons in a single place, visibly searchable, tagged, and easy to use. IconJar already allows users to do this as well as drag-and-drop icons to their desktop or into their favorite apps.They have even created their own URL format to easily download icons from websites directly into IconJar.
Icon designers will benefit by adopting IconJar as the standard upload/interchange format because they will no longer need to repeat the same tasks for each marketplace. Tag once and distribute.
A Technically Trivial Task
The good news for the marketplaces is that implementing support for the .iconjar format would not take a lot of re-coding. Most of them already support ZIP and GZIP format and the IconJar format is really just a GZIP file in disguise. More specfically, the IconJar format is a package, which is a special kind of folder on MacOS that allows groups of files to behave like a single file. You can easily access the contents of this special folder, or package, if you right-click (Control-Click on Mac) on a package, in this case the IconJar format, and select “View Package Contents”. The IconJar file format is quite simple: a folder of icons named icons and a file named META, which is a compressed JSON object containing the metadata about the icons: tags, file name, UUID, etc.
A Very Cool Discovery About Iconfinder and IconJar
While I was thinking through this topic, it occured to me that Iconfinder already supports uploading both ZIP/GZIP files. I wondered if Iconfinder’s upload page would read the file, AS-IS, and recognize the enclosed icons. It turns out, my hunch was correct. Iconfinder already has a head-start on implementing this format. For their part – and I sincerely hope they are the first to adopt IconJar as the standard icon data interchange format – they need only parse the META JSON file and apply the tags to each uploaded icon.
There is a time for businesses to jealously guard their proprietery processes and there is a time to standardize and support the growth of the industry. Several of the icon marketplaces (Iconfinder, Noun Project, IconScout, and Flaticon) have existing proprietary icon apps. Personally, while I understand the business argument for a proprietary app, I think it is short-sighted and not in the best interest of the industry as a whole. What I would love to see is for IconJar to implement the various APIs from the different marketplaces, thus becoming a universal publishing tool as well as exchange format, and for the marketplaces to put their voices, and more importantly, their resources behind a standard app. I believe this is better for customers, better for designers, and that is better for the marketplaces.
The IconJar logo is a registered trademark and copyrighted design of IconJar.