Design Secrets of

by Joseph Flaherty on September 19, 2010 is a popular online Tshirt brand built on the creativity of their customers. Users submit designs for shirts which are judged by other users. The most popular are printed and revenue is shared with the artist. The process leads to innovative designs, but the characteristics of winners are predictable.

The Threadless community has established an emergent design aesthetic as distinct as any driven by a major brand or retailer. This presentation highlights styles & attributes typical of 250 randomly selected, successful designs and provides all the information you need to create winner.


Of Threadless shirts are humorous in nature. This example “extra pulp fiction” combines caricature, puns, and anthropomorphized characters. If you want to get a shirt printed at Threadless, think funny.


Threadless is usually described as a “community centered online apparel store” but could also fairly be called an animal themed shirt brand.

Anthropomorphized Objects

Anthropomorphized objects make up 25% of selected designs.

Pop Culture

10% of the designs in this sample make use of well known cultural icons, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. It is an interesting legal issue, do these design count as “Fair use” or is it trademark infringement?


Food, often given human characteristics, makes up a large portion of Threadless designs.


The living dead are a weirdly popular Tshirt motif.

One Color

Two Color

Nearly 50% of Threadless Tshirts are printed in two colors or less which are more profitable than multi-colored alternatives. Is this design preference or business decision?

You could find many other patterns in the Threadless collection if you parse the data in different ways. If you are interested in how communities, empowered with production tools are reshaping design, follow me on twitter @JosephFlaherty Or subscribe to this blog.

The Design Secrets of

  • BBIndia Forums

    Wonderful article.

  • Jesse Desjardins

    I really enjoyed this, thanks for putting it together.

  • Jesse Desjardins

    I really enjoyed this, thanks for putting it together.

  • Jesse Desjardins

    Great job on putting this together. I feel I now have an unfair advantage to make a tshirt that sells on threadless 🙂

  • Kevin O'Hara

    Excellent! Would make a great presentation, always interesting to see this kind of snapshot of a company/web/community. So simple it's complicated.

  • Joseph Flaherty

    Haha, thanks, yeah if I were a real journalist I would have tried to go under cover and use my insight on the market to get a winning design through!

  • Joseph Flaherty

    Thanks Kevin, I agree, There are some simple categories, but the more you parse it you see that many designs fit multiple criteria e.g. any time you have anthropomorphized food, you'll generally have a humorous scene!

  • Threadless: What attributes do designs that get printed at Threadless share? – Quora

    […] Someone has actually studied what makes it on Threadless and published their findings here:…Insert a dynamic date hereCannot add comment at this […]

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