Is there a survival guide to Threadless design?
June 19, 2011 4:12 PM   Subscribe

How do I survive the brave new world of Threadless design?

I've decided to start submitting designs to Threadless. I am interested in design and illustration, and I really like Threadless t-shirts. My goal is to have a shirt printed in a year's time.

My biggest problem is that my stuff isn't scoring well. I haven't had any designs that haven't finished scoring early. I keep staring at the skinnyStats on my failed designs, and they're bumming me out. Usually more people have voted 0 than 3.

I understand that rejection is part of the game. But despite my love of art, I've never had that art school experience of constantly being critiqued and rejected. As a big fish in a small pond, I've always been "the artsy one." As such, this constant rejection is leading me to, well, dejection.

How can I embrace rejection? How can I change these low scores into a motivation to succeed? Rejection is such a part of life in the art world. If I can't figure out a way to handle rejection like this, I'll end up burning out before I achieve my goal.

Anonymous because my accounts can be loosely connected.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Submitting yourself to a lengthy and torturous process by which you learn how to become nothing more than the person best suited to designing a Threadless t shirt - once - is a waste of time. If the voters on Threadless don't like your designs then focus your attention elsewhere. Rejection is a great motivator, but try and submit yourself to an audience that aren't just people who want chewbacca puns on their clothes. Threadless was exciting in 2006 afterall, there are plenty of worthier places to exercise your creativity.
posted by fire&wings at 4:35 PM on June 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Criticism in art school provides feedback, not motivation. Up/downvoting something is not the same as constructive criticism.
posted by jon1270 at 4:48 PM on June 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

I have friends who are award winning designers and art directors at top global agencies who get similar scores on Threadless. Make of that what you will.
posted by Jubey at 5:04 PM on June 19, 2011

You're missing is the social aspect of this endeavour, which on Threadless means that Person A submits a design; blogs, tweets, DeviantArts and Facebooks it; gets all their friends to vote; and while they are there, for good measure, they down vote other entries.

In no way am I saying that is the main or only way t-shirts get made at Threadless, but that definitely takes place. In other words, your score doesn't represent what it appears to represent, and there are often forces greater than you at work there.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:44 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Rejection, as such, doesn't tell you anything. There were hidden requirements that all those Threadless voters had in mind that you didn't fulfill. Your rejection there doesn't even really count as a failure, because you weren't playing whatever game they wanted you to play.

If you can possibly get rejected by someone you know better, that will yield information: this person holds aesthetic standards X,Y,Z; your work did not fulfill those due to A,B,C. It's a good idea to seek out that kind of experience, because it will make you a better artist, but I don't think that's really what you're looking for. You're looking for motivators, given an environment where rejection is constant and random.

Have you ever wanted something really expensive, and had to save up a ton of money, nickel by dime, in order to get it? Think of the rejections as nickels and dimes.

Or, do you play computer RPGs? You know how at some point you inevitably end up in front of a boss you're not leveled enough for, and you have to run in circles and kill the same damn orcs until you collect enough EXP? Like that. It isn't really fun, but you remember what the game is like when it's good, and you just know this boss fight is going to be amazing when you're prepared for it.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 PM on June 19, 2011

First, comments from my days in a college design course: do your best with your project prior to submission. But once it's posted, it is no longer yours. Detach yourself from it, stand back, and critique the design as if it was someone else's work.

Second, have you submitted and designs to the Threadless critique subsite? I don't know how active it is, or what kind of feedback you'd get, but it could be helpful.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having tried and failed several times to get a Threadless shirt accepted, despite using the Critique subsite, I have given up on the site. I have plenty of designs that people will tell me they want on t-shirts, but will get rejected by a t-shirt contest site like threadless for needing "more work" or some other vauge qualifier. I realize it's your goal to get a t-shirt sold on this particular site, but be aware that in order to do so you'll have to play to the site's unwritten "rules" and "trends".

If you want your stuff on shirts, find a good print place online. If you want critiques, join an art forum.

I took my one art class a few years ago, and during which we had to hold critiques, and just about everyone hates them because 1) They're Drawing 1 students, what do they know and 2) the artwork is finished, so any fundamental things about it can't be fixed unless you were to make a whole new painting.

During that class I learned a valuable lesson, in that most of the time your peers know about as much as you do when it comes to making art, so take any of their advice with a grain of salt (or, better yet, ignore it)

How can I embrace rejection?

In my opinion, you cannot. Rejection, especially over a long period of time, wears one down.

I think instead of a long series of rejected designs, you should spend more time making things on your own and showing them to friends, or nobody, to get better practice. Try's weekly t-shirt design contest for a while to get in the practice of making designs based on a theme, some of them might turn into threadless designs. (If your design doesn't win, you can keep the rights to your art to sell elsewhere, most of the time [unless you resubmit it during a '2nd chance' design contest, but you can research that further])

I really don't know. Philosophically, I like the *process* of drawing more than the end result. As Banksy said (crudly) "Nobody eats so they can take a shit later" . I feel the same way about art, if people like the stuff I make, then that's more of a bonus.
posted by hellojed at 7:03 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing DarlingBri times a thousand. I've seen what she's talking about in action.

It's a popularity contest that has little to do with the actual artistic value of the piece.
posted by royalsong at 7:46 PM on June 19, 2011

Don't take Threadless too seriously; it's a model that works well for people who already have a fanbase, although a lot of artists have left it after finding the winnings and effort of trying to fit a mold to please the masses in order to win the vote just wasn't worth their time.

If you still want to bother with it, skinnyCorp has a design-related forum called YayHooray that, back in the day, a good handful of very successful contemporary designers and art-types used to post work on in hopes of a good critique. If you're itching for some honest answers mixed with general internet asshatery from people who have probably submitted more failed designs than they'd ever admit to, you can go there and try your luck.
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:50 PM on June 19, 2011

hellojed makes a point - there are certain types of designs that seem more popular than others. If you are gung-ho about getting *something* printed, see if you can follow these - pop culture references, cute designs, and puns seem to be pretty popular. Also, things that would work on the boat-neck/V-neck/tanks, or zipper hoodies (I saw two designs that amused me - one of a queen where the zip went through her neck, and one of a frog where the zip went through his middle). Of course, none of this may be the kind of art you want to make.

Have you also tried places like teefury or designedbyhumans? DBH is more arty, large scale if that suits you - more graphic than Threadless, Teefury seems heavily reliant on pop-culture parodies.
posted by mippy at 3:48 AM on June 20, 2011

I saw some people from Threadless give a talk once. They mentioned that there is a certain style of t-shirt design that sells very well for them. It has certain qualities, a certain look, etc etc, you might do well to look at their t-shirts to figure that out and emulate it. Also, they seemed very friendly, so I wonder if they host any workshops to help emerging designers. Try sending them an email, they're just people too!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:22 AM on June 20, 2011

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