Looking Good



Those boxes you see up there? They don’t just happen.

When I decided a couple months back to resurrect my Etsy store, I knew it would be a lot more work, because this time around I wanted to have a better idea of what I was doing. And while I probably won’t be making any profit back for a long long time (ever?), investing the time and creating this brand is something I truly enjoy — to the point that I sometimes forget to eat.

This is becoming a very (temporally) expensive hobby, but the situation is only temporary. And I am so close to debuting!

A good chunk of my time has been spent reading about potential pitfalls and absorbing advice from masters of the art. In addition to Etsy articles and other online resources, I even purchased a (short) book on how to sell one’s handmade jewelry from a secondhand bookstore that is relatively dated (copyrighted in 2006 and doesn’t even mention Etsy) but still extremely applicable. A lot of the advice out there is common sense, but it always helps to see them over again — that means they are addressing problems that EVERYONE has.

One common piece of advice is to carefully track one’s time for everything from the amount of time it takes to make each product to time invested in business details, including advertising, description writeups, and whatnot (this is particularly important for helping calculate item prices). I’m just going to ignore this step for now 😛 and (quite validly) assume that setup takes forever and I will become much more efficient as things progress.

Another common piece of advice to develop a consistent look reflective of one’s style. This was something that I had trouble with earlier because I wasn’t sure what my style was and was trying too hard to be too many things. Now I just don’t care! Well, no, I do, but I try to be more strategic about it.

Consider the following:


There was a time when this plot used to decrease very gradually for increasing amounts of effort. Not so much anymore; arguably, these days, the downward slope is quite steep. If you like integrals, you can think of the area under the curve as the expected (not actual) reward for a given amount of effort, and I would like to think the current curve is converging on the solution for the actual reward in return for effort.

Trying Too Hard to Look Good

One of the challenges I have faced in design is focus; I tend to introduce more complicated and/or numerous elements than would be needed, and while sometimes this can turn out cool, other times it is, on many levels, just way too much.

For example, in one recent research manuscript, I used magenta and cyan to plot out my data, which I believe my advisor referred to as “the Easter Bunny effect”. He promptly suggested that I stick with a classic blue and red scheme, which definitely worked out more nicely. Another time, when I was plotting two data lines for multiple samples, I chose different colors for each sample and different shapes for each line:

  • Sample 1: line 1 (red squares), line 2 (red circles)
  • Sample 2: line 1 (blue apex-up triangles), line 2 (blue apex-down triangles)
  • Sample 3: line 1 (green diamonds), line 2 (green stars)

And really, the information was more easily interpreted when I just used the same scheme for each sample:

  • All samples: line 1 (red apex-up triangles), line 2 (blue apex-down triangles)

Good thing, because Matlab would have run out of shapes for me otherwise.

Outside the lab, I encountered another situation, thanks go Girls’ Generation.

I Got A Boy

This past Chinese New Year, another instructor and I were charged with choreographing and organizing the token not-traditional-Chinese dance for our dance group. Aside from cracking the whip at practice, we also had to figure out the best outfit color scheme.

The dance is (clearly, if you recognize the above picture) Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy”, and I was pretty smitten with the camo-style getups shown. We still had to make some adjustments, since the predominantly dark colors would not show up so great on our stage, so we decided on a palette with a balance of light and dark elements (dark green, blue (to allow for denim), gray, black, white, brown, silver and gold), which hopefully most of the members would be able to gather mostly from their own wardrobe with only a few additional add-ons.

Nope. Too many things. You think it could go right, but there are so many more ways it could go wrong. We looked more like a random jumble of students (which we technically were) than like a dance troupe.

What I had thought would have been a minimal-effort scheme turned into a burden, so we had to re-think the colors to maximize contrast while minimizing the micromanaging required to coordinate outfits. During subsequent deliberations, my co-instructor suggested we go with a super-limited color scheme — red and white, which was done last year — but most of the members voted that down, because half of us would have to wear red pants and WHERE THE HECK DO YOU FIND RED PANTS?! After another few suggestions, we compromised and tweaked what we had, and in addition to a few yes’s, there were a lot of no’s:

  • YES: black, white, gold, silver (i.e., aim for high contrast, and give me my metals!)
  • NO: any other color, except for the hat and shoes

As a result, at the next rehearsal, not only did we look coordinated, we looked AWESOME 😎 !!! I would like to think that was also in part due to the dancing, but yeah, we shined on stage (in some cases literally, such as the one of us who managed to pull off shiny silver leggings and a crop top)!

I went in with the preconceived notion that black-and-white was plain and boring, but there is a reason why they get paired and used together so often. Now in deciding my trademark colors, instead of coming up with logos and signages combining bright colors, rainbow pastels and 50 shades of plum, I was at peace in keeping to a simple color palette of black+white+gold. And maybe just one shade of gray.

It wasn’t until I started writing this blog post that I realized that the signature colors I picked are almost the exact same as those I wore for our token k-pop dance act.

Have I Learned Nothing?

Now, depending on how much you were paying attention, you may be thinking right now: “Hey, wait a minute, you have red in your featured post image! You totally broke your own rules!”

Ok, yes, I was sort of a hypocrite when it came to the actual product pictures, but hey, it didn’t take a lot of effort. (Plus, it’s not like my products adhered to these color rules either.) This time around, rather than thrashing around and trying every which thing I could grab hold off, I am much more consistent and deliberate in my look and have stuck to the following settings:

  • White background – for showing off the physical details of each item.
  • Bowl of coins – to give a sense of scale, in lieu of adding scale bars, which would have been a real pain.
  • Striped scarf – to provide a contrasting background. The scarf actually produced nicer image contrast (using an iPhone) than the white background did. I barely had to edit these images, if at all.
  • Blue-green scarf background while wearing items – the first scarf I pulled out, and much more exciting than any neutral background I could find.

Altogether, my product images tend to look something like these:


FYI, the wooden bowl (for the coins and gravel) was created at a wood shop by my beloved.


Arguably, I could have used the striped scarf for the background here, but this was the first scarf I pulled out of my closet and it was already too late. Plus, red+green+blue=white, so really, I’m not really breaking any rules, right?

As long as I stick with the same settings for the rest of the items, I am set!

Look Good, But Still Like You Don’t Care

I used to agonize over the pictures I used to take; I had to edit each one and was still not satisfied. I used to blame my lack of photography skills and equipment; in reality, however, I just needed a few extra tools and not a whole lot of money:

  • Natural lighting: Arguably a free resource, but it kind of depends on where you live. I used to live in an apartment with rather poor lighting, plus most of my daytime hours were spent at work. Now I have many large windows and an outdoor terrace, and I work from home! And for better or worse, most days are partly cloudy, so the lighting isn’t too harsh.
  • White table top: My old black table top got dusty very easily and made everything look way too austere. Now everything looks open and approachable, and for only about $30 (including shipping) from IKEA.
  • Canva: I came across this on this list of 300+ Awesome Free Internet Resources You Should Know and it has changed my life. Most of my graphical images were produced using this tool. There are already so many available filters, templates, and graphics that most of the work is already done for me as soon as I start a new file.

Creating a comprehensive product description through photos is still a time-consuming process, but it is definitely much smoother than before. I’ll always keep an eye out for new and better strategies (if you know of any, feel free to leave a comment 🙂 ), but for now I’m pretty happy with the results.


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