FEATURE: Local designer’s ‘Up Up’ app becomes a runaway hit

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer

Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 5

Barely two months after its inception, the “Up Up” (舉牌小人) app designed by Haniboi Lee (李翰) has received an overwhelming response, logging more than 900,000 people using the app through either the Web site or Facebook shares.

The app produces small figures with different-colored attire and hairstyles, each holding up yellow plaques which spell the sentence or word that the user has typed out in the message box on the Web site. The image may later be shared to Facebook or Twitter accounts.

In a recent article in the Chinese-language magazine Business Next, the 32-year-old Lee, who goes by the Internet ID of “Haniboi,” was quoted as saying that he has always liked how fans raised their own hand-made cards at ball games and “the positive attitude of encouragement to others” that it conveyed.

After he kept the idea tucked away in the back of his mind for a long time, he was quoted in the article as saying that the catalyst that prompted him to start on the project had been the first nationwide anti-nuclear rally in March.

Lee said he felt many of the slogans and pictures at the rally were too serious and it got him thinking about how to give a different feel to the same anti-nuclear appeal.

He posted the first draft of “Up Up” on his blog, with the small figures holding up cards reading: “Haniboi says No Nuke.”

“I agreed to make the same pictures for other netizens who left their names in the response forum,” the article quoted Lee as saying.

Lee studied design in England and then started his own studio — primarily working with illustrations — before finally moving back to Taiwan, because his design work necessitated constant travel between England and Taiwan.

According to Lee, there was no generator program at the time, and every figure, plaque and character had to be positioned manually, adding that he never expected to receive over 500 posts on the blog, requesting that names and messages be rendered.

“The responses gave me confidence, and it seemed that many people seemed to like this kind of thing,” Lee was quoted as saying in the article.

According to the article, the concept was further evolved after discussion with Hsu Chen (徐震), a friend Lee met in England and the founder of Zeczec, a crowdfunding site, and the two decided to work together to come up with the current generator program.

The project raised a total of NT$150,000 (US$5,000) on the crowdfunding site, three times the original goal of NT$50,000, the article said, adding that the team is now moving toward the end goal for the first phase of the project and merchandizing.

Postcards were made available this month, and T-shirts, stickers and cellphone cases are due to be produced by the end of the year, according to the article, which added that CMP Group have been given the rights to build 30 1.2m tall statues of the app’s figurines to be located in Greater Taichung.

The beta version of the app, made available in May and originally only a trial run, was rapidly popularized within several hours and reached a staggering 60,000 uses that very night, the article added.

Lee was quoted by the article as saying that the Internet has been the sole reason the app has been so popular, adding that though it conformed to his original idea — hence the links to share the images to Facebook and Twitter, as well as designing two separate sizes, one for Facebook cover photos and another for personal use — he still did not expect the idea to take off so quickly.

While the program generating the figures for the app also made it more appealing due to the ease of use and the fun factor, Lee said he was aware that such a program would not keep the attention of fans for long.

“We intend to take the design process at a slower pace,” the article quoted Lee as saying, adding that he wanted to make a revision to the program and maybe even an app game based on the figures to maintain fans’ interest in the project.

“Back in the day, if you wanted your works to be known, you had to hold individual expositions or print out the works,” he was quoted as saying, commenting on how the Internet has changed the design industry.

Business overheads are practically nil if utilizing the Internet, Lee said, adding that once the author had a solid fan base, “the fans themselves would become the media once it gets to a certain level: If you have 20,000 to 30,000 fans following your projects, [that is the amount of people who can fit] into multiple Taipei Arenas.”

According to the article, the Walt Disney Company has recently approached Lee and asked him to design several new figurines based on the characters of the Lone Ranger.

Lee cited the Disney approach as yet another example of how the his industry is being turned around, saying: “The Internet allows us to completely bypass media advertising, and instead makes the media come to us.”