November 16, 2007

Avatar Icebreaker

Avatars certainly aren’t a new thing. They’ve long been a staple of pride and showmanship in forums all across the internet. I’ve never really paid much attention the avatars I use, generally just opting for a boring cropped photo or some version of my logo, and being pleased just to be done with it. With dozens of accounts across dozens of websites and services, I find myself using avatars more than ever before. And each time I create an new account I’m once again tasked with figuring out how I want to represent myself.

A couple of years and a couple of jobs ago, Kevin starting making avatars for everyone in our circle of friends. He has always taken to drawing us from the full spectrum of flattery to insulting, but these were presentable caricatures we could even show our parents. All of us used them mostly for IM an the various sites that allow a profile picture. Flash forward a couple years and we started using them in our Basecamp account for Happy Cog. Everyone likes them so much, that we’ve gotten Kevin to keep outfitting our roster with avatars whenever new people come onboard.

In the past year or so I’ve been noticing a funny thing during our kickoffs with new clients. We briefly show them Basecamp and talk about how we would like both companies to use it during the project. When we get to the People page their demeanor completely shifts, they see a slew of our avatars staring back at them. We just used them because we thought they were funny, but for new clients unfamiliar with Basecamp, it has the added effect of breaking the ice for them. Rather than “oh great, new software to learn,” it becomes “hey, we can have fun with this.”

It’s a simple thing, and certainly an unplanned one, but it shows some of our personality to the people we work with and helps them get acclimated to our process. Below are the current Happy Cog avatars. Some were created years apart, so I’ve listed them in chronological order. As you can see, the style has gradually gotten more detailed. Some fun details: mine was made when I didn’t wear a beard or need my glasses so much, Erin’s is setup so she can change its hair color to match her own ever-changing hair, and Rob’s forehead (fivehead?) extends about 40px higher than the cropping.

Commentary (38):

1. luke dorny says… nov 16, 2007 | 9:53 am

I’ve loved yours and rob’s for some time. Then I noticed Zeldman’s a while back and noticed there was a nice movement going on here.

These are wonderful. Kevin has quite the gift.

2. GUESS says… nov 16, 2007 | 9:55 am

kevin never ceases to amaze me with his illustrations. i’m completely jealous of those avatars.

3. Tom says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:01 am

Nice little bit of trivia, Stan. I’ve always wondered where the various cartoon Twitter avatars of you guys had come from. And now that I know, you’ve put a new wrinkle in my brain.

4. Scott says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:01 am

When Dan C. changed his recently on Twitter, I wondered where that came from. Question answered.

Lovely to see the entire set too.

5. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:06 am

There are actually quite a few more that Kevin made for other friends a few years ago.

6. ManxStef says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:18 am

I think it also says that Happy Cog cares about attention to detail and executes even the smaller details really well, ‘cause those avatars are all bloody lovely. That’s got to be a good thing from a client’s perspective.

JZ looks a bit grumpy in his – he’s not that grouchy in real life, is he?

7. michael says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:43 am

boy, that Hoy v. Zeldman avatar stare-down looks intense…who’ll blink first..!?

8. Alex Gilbert says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:48 am

I’ve noticed these avatars a lot on Twitter and wondered how they came about. Love the thought of seeing them in a Basecamp message thread. There’s something really charming (disarming?) about using an abstracted illustration instead of a photo. You guys are lucky to have Kevin around!

9. iamjealous says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:53 am

of your avatars

10. Jonathan Snook says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:54 am

It’s interesting to see the style change over time, too. The first two, then dan’s, then greg through to heather, and finally, the remaining five. Whether I’ve accurately grouped them is another thing. :)

11. Joshua Lane says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:55 am

I’ve got one from our days at Pixelworthy. All my new coworkers love it and have asked where I got it.

12. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 16, 2007 | 10:59 am

Jonathan Snook: You are indeed right, good eye!

13. beth says… nov 16, 2007 | 11:16 am

People talk a lot about friendly language on the web reassuring users, but there’s a lot to be said for friendly iconography as well!

Thanks for sharing these by the way :)

14. Dale Cruse says… nov 16, 2007 | 11:36 am

According to her Twitter feed, Dan Cederholm’s wife is creeped out by his avatar.

15. Travis Schmeisser says… nov 16, 2007 | 11:39 am

It’s good to see the full set. I’ve seen random ones across Flickr and Twitter, but a lot of these are new to me. So funny!

It does help lighten the mood and it’s hard to get upset or bothered when replying to a Basecamp comment with a smiling little character looking at you.

We use our drawings for the same things. Varick drew all of them as well as all the Happy Webbies.

16. Ian says… nov 16, 2007 | 12:09 pm

Haha! Dan Mall looks so awesome! So does Liz D. Where the eff is Kevin’s?

17. Greg Hoy says… nov 16, 2007 | 1:13 pm

Here is Kevin’s.

18. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 16, 2007 | 1:19 pm

Greg Hoy: I just updated the post to include Kevin’s too. :D

19. Ian Adams says… nov 16, 2007 | 1:45 pm

Ahh, I was wondering why the styles all looked similar on everyone’s Twitter pictures! I’ve been using this one for awhile, now, even though it’s not entirely accurate. (I’ve now just got a little soul patch instead of a full-length anchor, and I almost never wear a beanie anymore, since I’ve grown my hair out.) I should get around to updating it one of these days…

20. Tom Watson says… nov 16, 2007 | 1:57 pm

After talking about this at FOWD I’m glad you posted it. At Blue Flavor I’ve noticed how, at the very least, having your picture in Basecamp helps. Email (and Basecamp messages) can so easily come across as cold so anything you can do to lighten things up is great. It’s great when our clients upload their photos too. It’s amazing what an image does to lighten the mood, and we all know there’s plenty of times during a project when moods need to be lightened!

That said, I’m still jealous of the avatars.

21. Ben says… nov 16, 2007 | 4:06 pm

@michael I’m pretty sure thats a Meyer v. Zeldman stare down.


22. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 16, 2007 | 4:16 pm

Ben: Nope, that’s Greg Hoy, president of Happy Cog in Philadelphia. We don’t actually have an avatar for Eric yet, but I think we might have to get one in the next batch we do.

23. Rob Weychert says… nov 17, 2007 | 1:46 pm

Kevin’s personal avatar was actually originally designed for iChat (though it works well with Basecamp, too), since the word balloon would be coming out of his mouth.

Also, for mine, he did an alternate version that I use sometimes. :)

24. Andy States says… nov 18, 2007 | 1:39 am

Oooh Rob’s alternate is a real winner. I think I saw that on iLike.

25. Chris says… nov 18, 2007 | 4:17 am

huh~ Nice avatars man :) I want my face in an avatar too. :D

26. bandelin says… nov 19, 2007 | 2:37 pm

wow, all you guys need some sleep

27. Warren Blayney says… nov 19, 2007 | 5:09 pm

I recognized Dan’s avatar right away! He sort of looks like he’s spent too much time on the set of ‘Damn of the Dead!’

28. Warren Blayney says… nov 19, 2007 | 5:11 pm

*Dawn* even! But ‘damn’ works too I suppose!

29. Eric Meyer says… nov 21, 2007 | 12:03 pm

Yeah… I’m always a bridesmaid, never a character study. <sob/>

So is this going to be one of the advertised job perks for being hired by Happy Cog?

30. Leonardo Melendez says… nov 24, 2007 | 3:29 pm

Fun indeed. Absolutely gorgeous. Fivehead? lol.

31. Gordon Mackay says… nov 25, 2007 | 12:46 pm

Haha, those are great! I wish I could draw about 25% as well as that!

32. Marla Erwin says… nov 27, 2007 | 4:46 pm

Run a contest where the prize is your very own Kevin-made avatar and I will break new ground in vote-fixing.

33. endekks says… nov 29, 2007 | 11:14 am

We’ve been doing this for a couple of years on our BC setup as well. Only problem is that all of our clients want us to draw one for them as well. Only we don’t have the time for that. ^___^

34. ManoloWeb says… nov 29, 2007 | 12:20 pm

So, you get to work at HC and besides infinite fame and money you also receive your very own Kevin Avatar. Are there any job openings? :-)

35. Jason Santa Maria says… nov 29, 2007 | 12:24 pm

ManoloWeb: Some of us had our avatars pre-Happy Cog (me included) because Kevin has been a friend of ours for many years. But wow, I really need to figure out where the infinite money has been hiding in the office :D

36. zeldman says… dec 3, 2007 | 8:01 pm

It’s right next to the infinite fame.

37. Greg Hoy says… dec 4, 2007 | 11:58 am

…and the infinite doughnuts.

38. Nate says… dec 5, 2007 | 10:47 am

Any chance someone could pay Kevin to get an avatar made for them?