Jun 5, 2009

Interview with Shawnimals creator Shawn Smith

pocket_ninjaMailChimp user Shawn Smith is the creator of Shawnimals. His little plushie characters are sooo darn cute. A little while back, we actually purchased his wee ninja t-shirts for our entire office.

We’ve all doodled crazy creatures before (right?) but not many of us get to keep doing it for a living when we’re "grown up." But Sensei Shawn is livin’ the dream. He doodles, makes plushies, and has his own Nintendo game (Ninjatown for Nintendo DS).

Ben: I doodled ninjas and monkeys all through middle school (ahem, okay I still doodle monkeys), and I think the dream for a lot of people is to some day see their characters come to life on TV, movies, or in video games.  How’d you do it? How’d you get your work "found?"

Shawn: I’m as surprised as anyone honestly. I was a game reviewer and hardware editor for EGM in my former life, so I have a lot of moustachio300_mediumfriends in the industry.

Long story much, much shorter: Been drawing and designing and making my whole life, and after developing the idea and characters of Ninjatown I got hooked up with a friend of a friend who is Jeremy Pope who came up with the genre for the game and the rest is history. SouthPeak, the games publisher, green lit it, and we got to work.

Ben: Just curious. You use MailChimp for a lot of product announcements, general news, and these fun little Chronicles of Professor Fliggins discoveries. What kind of stats or metrics do you use to measure success?

sausage-cadetShawn:  Certainly ‘Opens’ help us measure, but click rate is the biggest thing for us at the moment since we can only show so much in a newsletter. Ultimately we want our customers to buy our products, but in order for them to become true fans, they need to get into our worlds, read the stories and enjoy the characters and illustrations. By making educated decisions on where to send them, we can then measure how long they stay there reading, or, if not, where they navigate to instead or bounce to. After that we can analyze that click rate data and match it up where our orders are coming from [Ben – see MailChimp’s ROI tracking feature]. Interesting results sometimes emerge, or confirm our suspicions.

Observations from Ben:

professor-fligginsThe Chronicles of Professor Fliggins is a fascinating idea. It’s a fictitious blog written by a professor who documents all the strange creatures he discovers on a mysterious island. The creatures that he catalogs are plushies that you can buy online. You can follow the blog or subscribe to email announcements to hear when a new discovery has been made. It’s a fun, creative way to say, "Ok, I just made a new plushie. Go buy one now, please."

The blog is a gold mine for doodlers and illustrators. Check out the tools the professor uses, like this Expandable Monocular Discoverator:


and this Gingerfizz Kerchief Dirigible:


Brings back memories of drafting exploded diagrams back in my Industrial Design classes (T-squares and lead pointers anyone?).

And you gotta love how the antique-serif’d "close X" link on the bottom of his modal windows matches the old-timey blueprint look:


Even the "loading" animation is an old fashioned clock:


On the Shawnimals.com homepage, there’s a cute little character waving visitors toward the subscribe form:


You’ll also notice he includes a link pointing to his MailChimp UN-subscribe form. That’s something not a lot of people know even exists in MailChimp (you’ll find it in your list form design process).

Shawn uses MailChimp’s interest groups functionality on his signup forms to learn where his subscribers are hearing about him:


Using the interest groups and MailChimp’s list segmentation, you can send targeted emails to subscribers based on how they found you.

Overall, lots of great ideas for other artists out there for using email marketing to stay  in touch with their fans. I’d love to see Shawnimals automate his email updates by switching over to MailChimp’s RSS-to-email tool, so that as Professor Fliggins blogs about new creatures, the subscriber list gets automatically notified.

If you’re into illustration (and monsters) be sure to also check out MailChimp user Steamcrow.