Why I Released Free iOS Icons When Others Made Thousands of Dollars
How to hit or miss a trend
Custom icons on iOS
Apple has never been fond of giving the user customization opportunities like Android. They still don't really. But bright people have always come up with clever ways to customize iOS as much as possible. Last year, one of the biggest trends on iOS was customizing the home screen with non-native app icons. For this, you don't need much. You need the Shortcuts app (Apple-owned app, free on the App Store), a cool icon pack or icon image files, and some time. This story is not a tutorial on how to do this. You'll find one here.
In this story, I want to tell you how I created a few icon packs and started offering them for free in 2021.
Hit or miss a trend
There is a great story about designer Traf who just at the right time created a minimal icon pack for iOS, put it up on Gumroad for sale, and made more than 5000$ the first night. In a week, he earned over 100,000$ with his icon pack. And this is not the only story. Many designers picked up on the trend back then and made similar amounts, sometimes even more.
At this point, I thought: I can do this too. So I did. I created a number of icon packs and put them up on Gumroad for sale. 3$ a piece. And I waited.
But here's the thing: You can't just wait for your success. You need to promote. The first lesson I learned. The second was: You can hit or miss a trend. I had sadly missed it. It was already the end of 2020, and the market was saturated with an enormous amount of iOS icon packs at every price point. By independent designers, small creators, or even newly-built businesses that knew how to sell, how to promote, and how to advertise these products. To this day, however, I don't quite understand how some designers managed to sell their icon packs for 30$ a piece. It's nuts.
I thought about what to do next. A short-run ad on Facebook and Instagram didn't translate to sales. All the while, I witnessed how other designers cashed in more and more money with their icon packs. I told myself: Just take your icons off Gumroad and try something else instead. There will always be new trends.
Free iOS icons
Then I had another idea: Why not just give them away for free? I actually hadn't seen many free icon packs that I liked. Minimal, aesthetic, and cohesively designed.
The day after, I just removed the price tag from my Gumroad icons. They're now available for free. I wrote a few social media posts about my icon packs and boom: The first download. Then 2,3… 10… 100. It went up pretty quickly. No surprise. Who doesn't like free stuff?
How to still make money with free stuff
What I realized then: Even with free stuff, there's an opportunity to make money. I did offer my icons for free, but I started accepting donations for the icons as well. And a few awesome people donated for the work that went into them. It's not a lot. It's not thousands of dollars that I potentially could have earned at the right time back in 2020. But every dollar makes me happy.
This also opens up other opportunities: Growing your social media following, making a name for yourself as a designer & content creator, learning the dos and don'ts of marketing, and much more. With that, the next product or creation I come up with might just hit the trend.
So, what's the takeaway? Am I envious of the designers that cashed in? Maybe a little. To a greater degree, I am grateful for the people who donated, for the feedback I received, and for the new skills I acquired throughout this process. Most of all, these icon packs, or rather the sales flop, led me to another opportunity that I might have missed otherwise. To Medium. You see, while looking for a way to accept donations for the icon packs, I starting comparing services like Patreon, Ko-Fi, and Buy Me a Coffee. The more I looked into it, the more I wrote it down. That all led to my very first published article on Medium in Better Marketing, and to a few more ever since. I couldn't be happier about that.