What's in an avatar? You know, that little, square picture that is your "face" to the worlds of Etsy, Artfire, Ning networks, Twitter, and the like. An avatar can be your door to branding your shop.
It is no accident that an avatar is named as such. One of the definitions is "an embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person." So for all essential purposes, an avatar is a summary, a distillation of your brand, your personality, and the goods sold in your shop.
Let's look at Etsy's avatar:
It is easily recognizable by anyone familiar with Etsy.com. The color orange is signature Etsy. The capital "E" is in the same font used in the Etsy logo and banner on the website. The modern simplicity of the singular "E" follows Etsy's simple, mod look.
I've have found some great websites, twitter friends, and Etsy shops by clicking on a beautiful avatar. I have also found some great websites, twitter feeds, and Etsy shops with really horrendous avatars. I have decided to create a little tutorial on what makes a great avatar and how to formulate one that's right for you.
1. Make a list of words that describe your brand, your Etsy shop, the goods you sell, the overall personality associated with your shop. If your Etsy shop was a person, what characteristics would you use to describe him/her? What colors are commonly used? If your Etsy shop was a time period, house, or fashion line, what words would you use describe it? Think specific and general: gothic with a touch of punk-rock from the '80s with a dash of animal print? Cozy, country kitchen, outfitted in plaid plaid and cross-stitch, and the smell of apple pie? You get the idea.
2. I think the best avatars that best represent your brand are images of your actual product. Don't just post any image of one of your items. Make sure the photo is clear, taken using natural light. Use some basic photo manipulation to edit any imperfections or blur the edges; make sure the colors of the item are accurate. Choose an image that really represents what you sell. The item should be in the color, type, fabric, etc. that you most frequently sell or maybe your signature item. Choose a background to photograph the item that also communicates your brand (see the composition of your Etsy shop).
3. The most common mistake I notice is seeing snapshots of everyday life be the avatars. Do not use a picture of yourself, your pets, or your children, unless it also communicates the descriptive words you wrote down above. For example, If you are dead-set on using a picture of yourself for your punk-rock jewelry, make sure you look like a punk rocker. Wear your jewelry. Then manipulate the photo to look like a mini concert poster.
4. Be consistent. Use your avatar everywhere: twitter, Facebook, Etsy, Artfire, your blog, everywhere. Just like the orange Etsy avatar, your brand should be easily recognizable as it is consistently the same. You may want to create several sizes of the same avatar:
Artfire: 140-140 pixels
Twitter: 73-73 pixels
Myspace: 158-158 pixels
Google gmail: 96-96 pixels
Ning: 120-120 pixels
LinkedIn: 80-80 pixels
StumbleUpon: 48-48 pixels
5. As part of the consistency of branding, make your banner to your blog, Etsy shop, Artfire shop, etc. similar to your avatar. Use similar colors or themes. Do you have a lot of hot pink in your avatar? Use predominately hot pink in your shop banner, blog, and twitter theme. Think of branding as part of decorating your home: use similar themes throughout the whole room (the internet) so people will be able to easily recognize you and your brand.