Obra Icons indie report: how I launched – how it’s going. 2 sales, but powering on.

- Posted in bootstrap build-in-public obra-icons

I launched an indie project called Obra Icons on October 1st. This is a report of how it’s going.

The initial version took me about 7 days of work total + around 3 days of external freelancer’s work to work out the initial version.

What is it? It’s a set of 750+ vector icons, both in stroke and filled variants. The icons are ideal to use in user interface designs.

The website has all the icons downloadable for free, and there is also a free Svelte package.

The commercial aspect is a $15 license to get the Figma source files and original vectors.

I posted a version of this blog post on Indie Hackers which is a community for, well, indie hackers. The blog post was intended for that audience but I am putting it here to make sure it’s archived correctly.

After launch I decided to work full-time for my client(s) because of an influx of work. Given evenings and weekend work I managed to put around 3 more days into the project after launch myself, and paid for 2 more days of freelance work to improve the project over the past month.

For the initial iteration, I designed and developed the website, put the icon set up for sale at $20, developed the Svelte package with a freelance developer and launched it on Product Hunt (pretty poorly).

The design of the marketing website has since received several small copy and UX tweaks but more or less stayed the same.

For the initial iteration I dove into the setup to be able to sell the source files and quickly compared SendOwl, LemonSqueezy and Paddle with each other. In the end I chose SendOwl, which is connected to Stripe for now.

The platform works but I don’t love it though. The checkout page is very ugly and unclear. Since I only have 2 sales so far, I am not going to spend time finding the right merchant of record – but maybe I should since the checkout does not inspire confidence.

I released Obra Icons as Obra Icons 1.0.0 with 350 icons. I followed up over the past few weeks with 10 more releases, which goes fast since I count adding icons as a release.

Together with the team I grew the icon count from 350 (initial release) to 750+. I personally believe the icons are always getting better and we are reaching a great quality level. Although I’ve found the overall quality to be decreasing as we add more exotic icons. Let me tell you, it’s not that easy to draw a car at 24x24px.

I am also dogfooding my own work the whole time, using Obra icons in my design projects. When I discover flaws I go in and fix them.

One thing that really annoyed me was the search engine on the website icons page. In a previous project I made a manual keywords file to provide better search. A design goal of Obra Icons was to be able to update the set easily, so we explored automating things.

In the first iteration of Obra Icons we chose to generate the keywords by the OpenAI API using a custom prompt. This worked OK, but I quickly discovered that some icons have multiple meanings. For example, a typical refresh icon might as well pose as a redo icon. An icon that depicts sparkles is often used for “ai” these days.

We then improved the search engine adding additional logic to the scripts that parses the layer name in Figma (e.g. sparkles[ai]) into a manual keywords file which should get priority in the search.

The search is not perfect yet but it’s kind of fun how it can generate interesting results you wouldn’t think of yourself some times. We use Orama in the background.

Now, what about the commercial aspect? The project is sold directly and via Figma’s community. It has been sold twice directly via SendOwl, and not yet via Figma community.

What do I think after one month and “only” 2 sales? To be honest, it’s pretty thrilling to receive a sale from an indie project. I am happier with an indie sale than another billable hour on a client project.

I don’t track stats on the website so I have no idea how much is it visited, but the npm package has 7,238 weekly downloads. Not sure where all those are coming from, but that’s nice!

I created a discount code to give the set away to some friends. I am getting some nice and positive reactions. Since it’s a digital product, I can give it away for free to my designer friends, hoping they can help promote it – because I am sure anyone following me on X is already annoyed by my promotional tweets.

I have lots of ideas to improve, on the planning:

  • Create a blog
  • Create a React dev package (maybe Vue? Does anyone still use that?)
  • Blog about the process
  • Keep improving the set!
  • Maybe some SEO blog posts (Christmas icons! Halloween icons!) but it’s not really my style to dirty up the internet

Right now I don’t really know where my priorities are with this project. I might move on and only maintain it lightly. It was supposed to be a small project after all.

I want to blog about it more and see if I can get any “design influencers” to promote the project.

I lowered the price to $15 and I am planning a sale in December for $10 to experiment with pricing. I think it’s good to do pricing experiments with light, small projects like this.

I am constantly thinking about how to improve things. First of all about which icons to the set and how to improve the drawings.

Talking about drawing quality, I went as far as starting the design of a first font, to be able to support icons with letters and numbers in them in a better way. I drew the characters of a full alphabet in uppercase and lowercase in Figma. I started to learn Glyphs, too. People on the Glyphs forum say Figma is not a great vector tool, and I agree it has shortcomings, but for this project I rather like it.

I know my way around Figma and its features such as autolayout combined with the scripting/plugin capabilities it has, I am able to work at a scale that I’ve never been able to work before.

To support that working at scale, I created a custom Obra devtools plugin to handle all kinds of manual actions to be able to maintain the consistency of the set while scaling it up with hundred of icons. Through this I got better at creating Figma plugins, which helps with another project I have, which I might revive soon.

It’s funny how working on this project is affecting my outside behavior. I take photos on the streets of icons I see in real-life and I’ve never looked more closely at any graphic design around me as before.

If you’ve made it this far, all feedback is welcome, and in exchange for your feedback you can get a discount code to download the set for free. Thank you for your attention!

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