[Interview] Designing & Creating Chat App Stickers For Online Engagementby@rachelminnlee
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[Interview] Designing & Creating Chat App Stickers For Online Engagement

by Rachel LeeJuly 9th, 2020
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Thibault Defrance has created a worldwide online storytelling platform called HeadUP. HeadUP is inspired by the messaging platforms that contribute to building stories between people, daily. The price of these stickers is set at $1 USD worldwide (across more than 140 countries) The income we generate can be used to reinvest into the development of many cool features. The stickers are a way to contribute into the project by purchasing them to communicate about our storytelling project, and the stickers are free to use.

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I wondered about who is behind the often cute and creative online stickers we use and share on chat apps to others, these days, as a medium to express our feelings, and found someone who created a whole family of stickers with sometimes poignant stories behind them.

Here’s Thibault Defrance, and his story about creating online stickers, meaningfully.

Hello, Thibault! Thank you for speaking to us about your creative project making online stickers for sharing on chat apps. You’ve recently launched this online.

HeadUP is a worldwide online storytelling platform and its inspired by the messaging platforms that contribute to building stories between people, daily. With my business partner Carlos, we decided to create our HeadUP characters that would accompany people in their daily life, through the messaging tools they use (such as Whatsapp, Gboard, LINE), and extend HeadUP beyond the limits of our online platform, itself.

At the same time, we wanted to find an elegant way to thank many people who took part in our storytelling project with enthusiasm and helped it to grow to where it is now, so we decided to derive the sticker’s persona from someone we knew in real life, and these minute details makes them special for us.

Users from all over the world would not need to know these people personally, yet they are able to enjoy the cuteness of our stickers. So, all these people that embody HeadUP are somehow also giving a soul to our small HeadUP ‘friends’. Additionally, these stickers are a way to contribute into the project by purchasing them to communicate about our storytelling project. The price of these stickers is set at $1 USD worldwide (across more than 140 countries). As our platform is free to use, the income we generate can be used to reinvest into the development of many cool features.

That’s why the stickers seem to each have a unique personality of their own!

Yes, exactly! ‘Suprabot’ is our friend Thavikham, a ‘gentleman under armour’, he’s interested in fashion and always looks dapper, a tireless sports man who has a necessary sense of humour to face any challenge - apart from being a bit of a geek, he is always ready to wear a bow tie in all circumstances. ’Suprabot’ is derived from his family name Souphrasavath.

‘Kamarine’ is based on a friend called Nabil. When I asked him which object, fruit, food, thing he would like to be if he could be one thing, he told me he would have liked to be a plane or a submarine.

Based on his personality, and family name that contains “Mar” - meaning the sea in Spanish, we created a submarine character. The specificity of Kamarine(the name of this sticker) is that he is an unsubmersible submarine, haha, and we created the emotions around this idea, including one sticker where he is with his son (his baby boy was recently born.)

With Carlos, my cofounder, he became this luchador libre taking care of his newly born child, Oscar, and is represented in daily parental activities under the name of ’El Carlos‘.

Carlos is a warrior in life and naturally we chose a luchador to emphasise his exceptional resilience, wearing a mask with 2 colours of the Venezuelan flag which is his country of origin.

’Petit Pain’ is Naoko, a person who was very important to me at the early stage of our project, we created the first draft of the HeadUP logo based on my directions, using her excellent Japanese naive drawing style, and always encouraged us all the way. Her face is squarish and similar to this toast bread, she seems to have a sort of supernatural power, being able to sleep on demand (and for which we created this special sticker.)

She is soft, like the bread which represents her and knows how to enjoy simple moments and things.’

Did you have any strategy for which chat apps to launch those stickers in?

At the beginning, not very much. Lots of people use WhatsApp worldwide so it became evident to make them available there. But while I was living in China, and Japan, I also used LINE quite a lot (it is popular in Asia), so I starting digging on how to create stickers on both chat messaging apps.

I realised LINE has a LINE store but WhatsApp did not have a similar way to launch new stickers, so we would need to create an android app, which we did. And while developing the app, we also included Gboard as a 3rd option.

Oh, was it an easy experience for you to launch in all 3 chat apps then?

It took some time, especially since we had no experience with app development for instance. Aside from the technical aspects, there were a lot of steps to go through to comply with Google store policy, sync your in-app products listing with your app listing, work on the descriptions here and there, and details that would be appearing on the user interface, and Google Play store.

Image formats are key too, each site accepts different sizes (the px requirements differ.) Protect your stickers with as much copyright as possible is my advice.

As for challenges launching on LINE, we had to setup a Paypal account accepting Japanese yen as the currency, otherwise LINE would not deliver the payment after purchase - we needed to comply with their payment policy.

The ’El Carlos‘ character could not be released in the Indonesian market on LINE, due to the fact that the sticker is showing some naked areas of the body, so we had to resubmit the sticker for review, twice (the review was taking surprisingly long and it was also in the midst of Covid-19) and finally we had no other choice than to exclude the availability of this sticker character, in Indonesia.

We also had potential copyright conflicts for 2 of the sticker’s emotions on LINE. One for our joystick character whose initial name was ’Naveentendo‘, since our friend’s name was Naveen, and we combined it with Nintendo. This potential copyright infringement blocked us to release 2 of this sticker’s emotions - for our joystick character, we had an emotion that looked like the Ironman’s armour and had to remove the Ironman hand 🖐 that we originally used for our design.

For another character, ‘Jeet Zitundo’, we created a dummy ‘wing chun’ (martial arts) character in reference to our friend, Ziad Zitouni. It was wearing a Batman costume (basically the dummy ‘wing chun’ training tree was covered by a black costume with the Batman ears), so we eventually turned it into a ninja costume, instead.

Finally, for our WhatsApp launch, we initially launched the app under an app URL that was not simple enough and we were not visible at all on Google Play store’s organic searches and hardly visible when searching specifically for it, too.

Thus, after we did the first launch we unpublished the app, and redid the entire setup again! There isn’t any other choice if you had to change the app’s URL.

Now we have much more organic visibility but it delayed our stickers launch quite a bit. =)

I was thinking that there would definitely be challenges with launching such a new product online in relatively unexplored territory - It seems that we are all governed by either data protocols or compliance these days to get our creative ideas out into reality. I wanted to ask about how you found the designers to make your ideas about turning the people you knew into concrete character images?

So our designers are Indonesian and I approached them based on their portfolio. They never really did something like that before, so I asked them if they would like the idea and if it was challenging enough for them.

I sent them a task related to each character, one or two pictures and keywords related to behaviour, hobbies, taste, specific things that each designer had to come up with in a draft.

After review, I suggested a list of emotions for each sticker, and we were refining these together to capture the funny and useful expressions to create stickers that users would send to their friends while chatting.

It is really well done! 👏 I seem to feel that I kinda know those friends of yours embodied in the stickers! I think when you mentioned your storytelling platform earlier, what resonated with me is how you felt strongly about this Japanese word, ‘Kokorozashi’. Loosely translated, it means ‘The Heart of a Warrior’. Do you have ’The Heart of a Warrior’?

Thank you Rachel, happy to hear that you feel this way. =) This means we managed to make what we had in mind real by projecting it in a ‘tangible’ format (although, it is still in a digital medium!)

There is always a story behind everything and these stickers somehow originate from some people’s stories and is made into another form of a story by creating a sort of artefacts for other people to create more stories.

I feel it is a sort of fractal pattern / demultiplier effect to empower more and more stories, to articulate or connect stories that do not directly relate to each other (For instance, Carlos does not know you, yet he is part of your stories too, when you use El Carlos stickers) into a same continuum if you see what I mean!

Kokorozashi is a word that really fascinated me, a word I discovered while living in Japan and is at the root of this whole project - it was the trigger.

It is a word to approach with care in the sense that it makes you wonder about the power of the words you use everyday, and too often we verbalise ideas, concepts, feelings, without weighing the usage of those words, which is key in storytelling, and thus, also in conducting a respectable life on a daily basis.

So, there is this rigor and discipline that apply to warriors, never giving up even when failing, being combative and resilient, fighting for what you believe or think with sincerity, having faith in an idea and every initiative taken for this, recognising mistakes, and adapting to the conditions of the “battlefield”, simply questioning yourself every moment - seeing yourself as your main obstacle in achieving something you believe in - without letting doubts dry your actions, not letting your guard down, and your fears dictating your actions, inspiring others when they are down (thus our platform’s name: HeadUP), to humbly help people to remember who they truly are, and remind them of this spark every one of us has in his/her eyes (for a time, we forget about it and just need a kind reminder), then... yes, maybe I try to have the heart of a warrior.

An interesting fact is that my first name means ‘Brave Warrior’ (origin of Theo bald) , haha, maybe there is some connection here! At the same time, what does it mean for you to have the heart of a warrior? That would help me to answer.

I would like to add, attached with this idea of continuum, there is this same universal concept of Pars Pro Toto or Cosmos (the most beautiful arrangement) behind, and it is, I guess, why we chose the domain name to be instead of a .com.


More about Thibault

I am Thibault Defrance (and obviously I am not Italian with such a name), I am about to turn 32 and have been working and studying in 3 different continents (Latin America, Europe and Asia). I have been living in Asia for around 6 years: in China, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia. I first came to Singapore in 2014, after I graduated from Peking University I thought Singapore would be a great environment for me to keep growing up my skills, keep practising my manadarin and a place of opportunities for someone who graduated from a Master Degree in Energy & Finance.

What I did not know is that 2 weeks after I landed in the Merlion country, the CEO of Total died and oil prices badly went down which impacted the industry I was trying to get a job in that much that I had no other choices than reorienting my career towards another sector that would require some analytical skills: Digital industry. It was not an easy reconversion though and a part time job in the RWS casino/ in the hostel where I was living helped me temporarily to preprare that transition.

Surprisingly, my journey in this industry really started in Japan, in Akihabara (Tokyo) the geekest area of the city (where there is this gigantic SEGA store).Few great experiences in Digital later (both in Japan and Malaysia), I came back to Singapore for a new challenge and was brought backed here also for what I would call the "rationales of the heart". Data is useful but great decisions need to have passion, passions contain this ”dangerous-ness” due to their nature of always calling for another to replace the previous one, but they challenge you to (re)create an harmonious environment from the uncertainties that your decisions created - like a new necessary input to relaunch the calculation matrix. Am I approaching the topic of Machine Learning now at some point... looks like yes.

Well, this is the segment I am currently exploring (and would like to continue to do so) in the industry I am in. Additionally to this, I wrote a book (it is in French though but still looking for someone to help translating it in English) available on Amzon under the sweet name of Les Vibrations du Monde, and I co-founded HeadUP with my friend Juan Carlos Tabares. 

I started learning Fencing while in the university in China, I felt in love with it. It is like a philosophy of life made sport! And of course, as every boy from the North of France where I grew up, I love football, for the values of excelling oneself it implies, the generosity in the effort it requires, the notion of respect towards your opponent it carries and the need of playing collectively, strategically, and thinking holistically in order to succeed. Again, there is this idea of Pars pro toto.