A Conversation with Justas Galaburda – Icon Utopia

Name: Justas Galaburda
Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
Designation: Icon Designer
Associated with: Icon Utopia, Oberlo

When you think of icons, you cannot not think of Justas. He’s that famous guy on the internet whom we affectionately call as the ‘Icon Guy’. In a way, he made the art of designing icons cool way before there were enough jobs for Icon Designers.

One can hardly resist themselves from falling in love with Justas’ style of icons & illustrations. To top that, he’s also a super organized and process-driven individual and believes in giving back to the community via sharing his process and learnings through his blog.

Let’s learn more about Justas and his process of designing icons.

Thanks to Webflow for supporting this Conversation. Webflow gives designers and developers the power to design, build, and launch responsive websites visually, while writing clean, semantic code for you.

Hey Justas, how’re you doing? Let’s start this conversation with a little introduction?

Justas: Hey! First of all, thanks for having me.

It’s never easy to say what I do in life. On a personal level, I guess, I’m no different from everyone else, I find fulfillment in a lot of different things and activities. In the design world though, I’m most known for my icons and illustrations.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve built my audience and career as a designer, set up a blog on icon design – Icon Utopia, written and launched 2 guides: one on iconography and one on building your audience. I also co-founded a wildly successful startup Oberlo which enables hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs to source products and sell them to their customers with ease. I’m building and leading the design team there.

Audddience: A Guide to Building your Dribbble following
Audddience: A Guide to Building your Dribbble following by Justas Galaburda

How was it like growing up in the beautiful country of Lithuania? Were you always the creative type?

Justas: Growing up in Lithuania was great. As far as I can remember, I have always been one of those creative people fascinated by drawing, painting and similar activities. But once I got my first paid graphic design gig and realized that it was possible to make money doing what I love, my mind was blown. I dived into design 100% and haven’t looked back since.

You’re widely known as the ‘Icon Guy’ on the internet. What’s the backstory of your obsession with the icons?

Justas: It all began when I decided to start building my audience as a designer. Motivated, I made a commitment to publish my works daily. It was a lucky coincidence that I was really keen on icon design at that time, so all of my daily shots on Dribbble were icon-related. Soon I noticed the good consequences of sticking to 1 niche.

Little by little, people started referring to me as ‘that icon guy’ and my number of followers kept growing. As my fascination with icon design was only becoming stronger, I continued creating and publishing icons regularly.
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The next big step for me was my blog. I’d learned so much throughout those few years of working on icons, that I’d this overwhelming desire to share my knowledge. I created Icon Utopia and it’s been bringing me so much joy ever since and leaves with me this amazing feeling of doing something good and useful every single day.

Your illustration style is very unique and easily identifiable. How did you develop it? And do you think it’s important for a designer to have their own unique style?

Justas: I’ve been asked this question so often that I’ve even written a full article on the topic. You can check it out on my blog: How to find your own unique style.

How to find your own icon style? by Justas Galaburda
How to find your own icon style? by Justas Galaburda

You’ve been putting out some great content on icon designing for quite some time now. What inspired you to create Icon Utopia and what has kept you going with it?

Justas: Once I started receiving some recognition for my icon design work, people started reaching out to me asking various questions and advice. Since I’m generally always passionate about helping others, I spent enormous amounts of time answering these questions.

Soon I realized that such an approach was not scalable. So I collected the most popular questions, made their answers to articles and shared them with my newsletter subscribers. The response was amazing! It then dawned on me that I wanted to share this information with everyone, not just a couple of thousands of people from my newsletter subscribers at the time.

So this is basically how I started Icon Utopia. But the thing that really shook my world, was when I released my free guide on icon design. It was quickly picked up by a lot of major publications and got into the hands of thousands of people. And the thing that mainly pushes me forward is the positive feedback and knowing that I’m able to help out folks!

Your recently published book ‘Audddience’ is a comprehensive guide to building a creative’s Dribbble following. How did it come to be?

Justas: After all the positive feedback I received on my previous guide, I realized that I needed to focus not only on blog articles but on more serious work, that might have a greater possibility to change people’s lives for the better.

I’d done quite a few things to help people learn icon design, but I knew that having just a skill is not enough to build a thriving creative career, so the next logical problem to tackle was growing an audience and building a creative career. And one of the best places to do this right now is Dribbble. Because I went through building the Dribbble following myself, I wanted to share everything I’ve learned with the rest of the world.

To my surprise, one thing which a lot of people don’t know is that you’re able to get TONS of work inquiries if you’re active enough on Dribbble.
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Rocket Animation by Justas Galaburda
Rocket Animation by Justas Galaburda

So it’s not just fun and games, it’s a legit way to build a thriving creative career. I want everyone to know this and to give you enough theory to take action and build an audience for yourself, with the help of my actionable tips and techniques.

How has the response been so far from the book release?

Justas: It has been truly amazing! I couldn’t even imagine such a positive response from the community. I put my heart and soul into this guide and although I knew that it would be beneficial for anyone considering a career in design, I was still feeling vulnerable putting this guide out there. That’s why I was incredibly happy to see so many people writing to me saying that they are really enjoying the guide.

Apparently, this guide is not only about theory and actionable tips on building an audience but also something that motivates and inspires people. And I believe this is super important for starting your creative journey.

I’m a huge believer in the idea of “Consistency outplays talent”. It seems that you too are a believer in this idea. How do you keep yourself motivated and keep producing wonderful work that you do?

Justas: You’re absolutely right, I hugely believe in this. There is no doubt that hard work and consistency always outplays talent. There are a bunch of ways to keep yourself motivated and I’ve covered a bunch of them in my guide.

You have to understand that you create your own motivation, so you need to put in work even when you’re not feeling like it. A good thing about motivation is that it comes when you start doing something or when you see the results.

To succeed, you’ve to work and show up no matter what, even when you’re not feeling like it.
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I also believe that one of the most important things that could help you with this is accountability. It can be personal accountability when you promise something to yourself and closely track the progress. For e.g. saying to yourself that “I’ll publish one Dribbble shot every workday”, and then marking a day on the calendar every time you post a shot. Or accountability to someone else. Having a buddy to join you in your endeavors increases your chances of not abandoning it drastically. You’ll hold each other accountable.

You can also try public accountability – publicly stating that you will do something will keep you more accountable. If you set a deadline for your project and let everyone know about it, you’re more likely to achieve it.

BB8 Riding! by Justas Galaburda
BB8 Riding! by Justas Galaburda

You’re like a celebrity on Dribbble and as it’s seen, with great fame comes great hate. How do you respond to hate comments and negative criticism if you receive any?

Justas: Celebrity is a strong word, I don’t think I can consider myself one 😅

Actually, I don’t receive that many negative comments or criticism. And paradoxically, this fact is frustrating me. I think that you’re not bold enough in your actions if you’re not pissing someone off. You’re unable to be good for everyone.

Or maybe the reason why I’m not receiving negative comments is because the design community is made of only super nice and positive people 😌

What do you think makes for a good icon designer or an illustrator?

Justas: Hard work and passion to get better. As a designer, you can be good in so many aspects, so there is no generalized answer. But if you’re a hard worker who strives to always get better, you’ll be successful no matter what discipline you choose.

Do you think there are enough opportunities for icon designers in the creative industry as we speak? Can you recommend some places or sites where a designer can find decent work?

Justas: Yeah, definitely! Although the market for selling stock icons is getting more and more saturated, you’re still able to make decent money through marketplaces like Iconfinder, Creative Market or selling your self-published icon sets.

But client work is where the real money is for icon designers these days. And Dribbble is without a doubt the best place to get good client work.
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I would say that 70% of all my work inquiries come from there. And this is one of the reasons why I wrote the guide for building your Dribbble audience in the first place. Designers don’t know how many job possibilities they are missing out if they are not on this platform.

Skull-Snake Illustration by Justas Galaburda
Skull-Snake Illustration by Justas Galaburda

You’ve always been a believer in the idea of giving back to the community. What infused this idea in you and how do you go about implementing it?

Justas: In my guide, I talk about 5 main pillars of building an audience – giving back to the community is one of them.

Think about how many times you’ve downloaded somebody’s icon set, UI kit, or some other design elements to use in your own projects. It’s time to give back to the design community. Stop being one of that 99 % of people who just consume others’ content without giving anything back. Start returning the favor.

Giving something back to the community will set you apart from others and will make you look like an expert. Paradoxically, usually, you will benefit the most from providing value to others. And the best thing is that you’ll feel incredibly good while doing so.

You’re a legend and an inspiration. What would be your advice to budding illustrators and artists?

Justas: Thanks for nice words, but I’m far from being a legend of any kind. I’m doing my best to help and inspire as many people as I can though.

My main suggestion would be to approach your career and audience building proactively. Simply publishing your work randomly won’t do much.
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A good place to start would be downloading a FREE chapter from my guide about the single most important thing you must do now if you want to start building your audience.

Even though creating good work is important, it’s not the only thing which your career depends on. There are a lot of important pieces that go into building your career, and promoting yourself and growing your audience is one of the most important things you must do to move towards a thriving creative career.

Deliberate Practice by Justas Galaburda
Deliberate Practice by Justas Galaburda

Rapid Fire Round

You like Lithuania for its ______.
Fast internet. Lithuania has one of the fastest public Wi-Fi’s in the world.

Best places to find inspiration?
When I’m actively looking for inspiration, most likely I will turn to Dribbble. But most often than not, inspiration strikes me when I least expect it.

Favorite designers?

and of course, a lot more!

One thing that you love the most about Dribbble?

One thing that you hate the most about Dribbble?
Trend waves.

If Justas wasn’t a designer, he would probably be _______.
Hmm, Marketer?

Your idea of an ideal date?
Dinner with a beautiful view.

A book that has had the most impact on you both as a designer and as a person?
Of course, it’s Audddience, hehe 🙂
But seriously, writing this book had a huge impact on me.

On a more serious note, the 2 books I would recommend are:

  1. Outliers: The Story of Success
  2. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The best fan message you’ve received till date?
I always enjoy receiving pictures of my art tattooed on people’s skin 😌

Darshan is _______.
A great Product Designer and an awesome human being 😌

I thank Justas on behalf of the readers of this blog for being a part of the Conversations and sharing his inspiring stories.

You may check iconutopia,com to learn more about icon designing from Justas and follow him on Dribbble to keep an eye on his latest designs.

Justas is also fairly active on Instagram. Follow him there for your regular dose of icons and illustrations.

In case, you would like to reach out to Justas, tweeting him on @IconUtopia would be your best bet.

Helping Hands by Justas Galaburda
Helping Hands by Justas Galaburda

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