When it came to designing T-shirts to celebrate their channel, the team behind RKG were determined not to make generic YouTuber merch. “We didn’t want to slap our logo onto 10 different coloured T-shirts,” as Daniel Krupa, one third of the gang told us. “We wanted to design something unique and interesting that would appeal to our audience.”
As the brains behind RKG, Daniel Krupa, Gav Murphy, and Rory Powers are keeping the fun at the heart of YouTube gaming. Having worked together at the entertainment website IGN for years, the trio left in January this year to found their independent production company RKG – spurred by the success of their Prepare to Try series.
We loved their space-themed design so we caught up with them to discuss their design process, trusting their audience and why they get inventive with promotion.
How can you tell that your audience will actually want your T-shirts? Well part of the beauty of the preorder campaign model is that it’s structured around demand. Your T-shirts will only be printed if the number of orders placed covers the set up costs, and because we print the exact number that are ordered, it means there is no waste or risk involved.
Still, though, it’s always nice to have a rough idea that there’s a market for your T-shirts before you launch. For RKG, judging appetite was a matter of listening to their audience, and waiting until the timing was right, “We’d been making the precursor to Retry, a show called Prepare To Try, for our old company for about two years. During that time, we’d grown a wonderful and highly-engaged audience who we would interact with all the time,” Krupa explains, “We knew directly from them that they would like there to be official merchandise, but it wasn’t something we could offer at that time.”
Know Your Audience
In the same way that listening to your audience is one of the best ways of sussing out whether there’s a demand for your T-shirts, it can be useful when it comes to the design stage too. Krupa is a big advocate of designing with your audience in mind; after all, they’ll be the ones to wear your tees. “Come up with a design that will appeal directly to them,” he says, “Is there some aspect of your channel or something in a past video that continually gets mentioned within the community? That might be a good starting point for a design.”
RKG trust their audience, and their relationship is such that they understand they should put quality over quantity in what they do, “We’re fortunate to have a brilliant audience that allows us to focus on making things we’re really passionate about,” as Krupa puts it. “Our audience expects a high level of quality when it comes to our content and that extends to the T-shirts we’re designing.”
RKG’s NASA-inspired design started life as a potential logo for their series Retry, but, realising it was too specific to use for all their future series, they put it to one side to work up as a T-shirt. It’s a story that goes to show the value of toying around with ideas, and not being afraid to reuse something in a different context even if it wasn’t the right fit originally. On how they arrived at the NASA theme, Krupa says it’s a direct reference to both their channel and trajectory, “The show we’ve become known for is all based around playing really difficult video games and overcoming them together. Each series we go on a mission together, to a far off destination, and achieve something by the end of it.”
“This season in particular was a huge undertaking for us since it was the first we’ve made after founding our own company. The T-shirt commemorates all of that, and that’s something we knew our audience would pick up on. And even if you don’t pick up on any of that, I think it still stands on its own as a cool design.” It’s definitely true that some of the best designs will be both specific enough for a niche audience to understand and appreciate them, but general enough to land without the context, and it’s worth bearing this in mind when you’re brainstorming ideas.
Bring A Designer On Board
We’ll always shout about the joys of working together at Everpress. Exciting things happen when talented people team up, and the collaborations we’ve seen so far on our platform have resulted in some of our favourite T-shirts. They offer a chance to bring two (or more) perspectives to a design, sub in skills you might be lacking, and meet people whose work you love, and this resonates with Krupa too.
Though RKG had a strong vision for their T-shirts, and a good idea of the concept behind it, they’re ultimately not designers, so they decided to pair up with one to create their T-shirt. Who you’ll chose to collaborate with will depend on your own skills, and what you feel they can bring to the project, but Krupa’s insights shed a lot of light on the process. “Find a talented designer who you feel comfortable working with and giving ample feedback too,” he explains, “we worked with Ryan Quintal, someone we knew from our time at IGN and who has worked with us to define the look of our channel.” Working with a designer you trust is essential for those conversations that can arise as you work towards the final design, as Krupa added, “You probably won’t land on the final design immediately, so it’s good to find someone you’re comfortable being honest with. Give them a clear brief, share examples of the things you’re inspired by, and go from there.”
It Pays To Promote…
One of the things Krupa really emphasised was the value of promoting your designs, and as he put it, “This extends beyond a single tweet or hoping that people will find their way to it. If you’ve put thought into your design, that’s a cool thing to tell your audience about.”
The key to promoting your designs without feeling like you’re pushing too hard, is keeping promo content inventive and relevant to your audience. In RKG’s case because their YouTube channel is at the centre of what they do, that’s where the group did the bulk of their promotion, rather than using a more obvious medium like Instagram. “We did the obvious things like taking photos of us in the T-shirts so you can get a better idea of how they actually look, but we also wore them in our episodes and live streams while the campaign was up,” Krupa says, “This takes a little bit of planning but it’s the best way to get it in front of the people most likely to want one.”
… And Remember To Tell Your Story
As we’ve seen, RKG’s T-shirt had a real story behind it, so they made sure to make this part of their promo too. “With both T-shirts we’ve really told the story of how the T-shirt came about. I think that’s why it’s important for us to come up with designs that have a little bit of thought behind them,” Krupa says. “There’s not much you can say about a shirt that just has your logo on it. So it’s about explaining the thought that’s gone into the design and who we’ve collaborated with on it.