The real sticker artists behind Allo, Google's underrated messaging app

Ever wonder who the artists are behind the digital stickers you use in your favorite chat app? I certainly have, especially after I started using Allo. The app's included Google-commissioned sticker packs are not only unique, they were designed by prominent and prolific artists, including Gemma Correll, GIF animator Cecile Dormeau, and BuzzFeed.

I managed to sneak some talk-time with two of Allo's artists, Mauro Gatti and Marylou Faure. Gatti's sticker packs include Funder the Sea, a collaboration with Stefano Meazza, while Faure's include the vibrantly colored 90s Baby and Worst Day Ever sticker packs. I talked to both about how they each became artists, what their respective processes in designing, and what it was like to design for a messaging app.

You're an artist. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started doing the kind of design you do now?

Gatti: I was born and raised in Italy — my obsession for pizza comes from there! Now, I live in Los Angeles, where I work as VP of Content and Programming for JibJab (the funniest company in the world) and as an illustrator on a wide range of projects. One of my dearest projects is Mojimade, a small shop focused on creating the best static and animated stickers for brands, startups, and agencies.

Gatti's characters with Meazza.

My passion for illustration goes a long way back. I've always considered myself a person who loves telling stories through pictures, stories that make people laugh. Turning my passion into a career (and a pay check) has been an incredible adventure made of failures and achievements, endless nights of work (and cold pizza), curiosity, friends that inspire me, and dogs — lots of dogs.

Style wise, I've always cared more about the message than the style and I found my inspiration in the art of amazing artists like Ed Emberley, Ryohei Yanagihara, and Raymond Savignac.

Faure: It was a bit of a discovery journey to be honest, I worked on a lot of different illustration styles until I found one that I felt really suited me and that I was happy to take on forward. I did a project called 'The Ultimate Summer' that was really a turning point for me, that's when I realized I was having a lot of fun working with this vibrant, bubbly, quirky style!

Does your design method typically include digital cartooning and animation? What software do you typically use?

Gatti: Ninety-nine percent of my work is digital. Sketching, illustrating, and animating are all done on a pen display. I'm not a great animator, so for projects like the Allo sticker set I collaborated with one of the greatest animators that I know, Stefano Meazza.

The software I use is part of the Adobe Creative Suite: Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects.

Faure: I will always create the digital artwork on Photoshop or Illustrator, and if I'm animating anything, it will mainly be done on After Effects.

Did designing stickers for Allo feel like an extension of your craft, or just a fun side project?

Gatti's characters.

Gatti: Designing the sticker set for Allo was right up my alley. All the right ingredients were there: mobile content, character design, animation, and lots of fun. Working for brand the size of Google is always challenging and stimulating because their standards are very high and you have to give your best. The roster of artists involved in the project was packed with people I admire and respect.

Faure: It was nice working on a sticker set (especially for Google!) because there was a challenge of making the illustrations work on a small format. But it was a bit different from the projects I usually work on; I had to make [the sticker set] not too simple so that it would be boring, but also not too complex that you wouldn't be able to understand [the context].

Let's talk about your characters. Where did you derive inspiration? And are they related to your other character art?

Gatti: I always liked the juxtaposition of a cute little character with a big clumsy one, and these two guys were just perfect together.

Faure: I'm very much inspired by people I see in my everyday life. I will often see something about their outfit or their attitude that I'll find inspiring and portray through my characters.

Was there a theme you adhered to?

90's Baby by Faure.

Gatti: The theme assigned was "best friends." I sent ten different ideas — including a squirrel/acorn and a lumberjack/sasquatch [variation] — inspired by things around me, like pop culture, or sketches from my sketchpad. In the end, they picked the Starfish and Octopus.

Faure: I had a theme for both of my sticker sets — Another one just came out called "90s baby".

The first theme was "negative comment" and I had to come up with phrases and visuals that would follow that theme.

How long does it take to design the stickers used in a chat app? For instance, do you go through the same iterative process an animator would, like with a storyboard?

Gatti: The process is pretty linear. I start sketching the characters in different poses, focusing on the few best actions that really underline the synergy between the two characters. Once the client approves this first step, I start working on the colored version of the characters and a sketch for each of the stickers. When all the sketches are approved, it's time to work on line test animations so the client can see a quick preview of the stickers in action.

Faure's Worst Day Ever.

The final phase is animating the finalized illustrations and export all the stickers. I've designed sticker sets in as quickly as five days. Some have taken as long as three months. It really depends on who the client is, the approval time in between each phase, or how detailed the illustrations and animations are.

Faure: There is a first phase of sketches that needs approval. Once that's done, there will usually be a few rounds of feedback once we get to the color versions. The feedback is mainly about changing the color palette, removing or adding elements to make an expression more obvious, things like that.

Were you aware what Allo was when you were designing the stickers?

Gatti: No, I knew it was a new Google product, but we were working on the sticker set while Allo was in the making.

Faure: I was told that I was creating a set for a new messaging product from Google, but didn't know the name or anything more specific about it.

Do you use Allo?

Gatti: Yes, absolutely! I love all their stickers and to chat with Google Assistant!

Faure: I do, actually. Especially with my family and boyfriend.

Faure's characters.

Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

  • No offense to them but I want proper SMS for Allo. Give me that then I'll think about your stickers.
  • Tbh a lot of us just want hangouts support back, stop trying to copy imsg. It exist, it has its user base and plenty of us don't want it, hence why we don't use it. Stop trying to be a copycat and go back to serving a different niche, trying to shove allo down our throats won't work.
  • How exactly is allo being forced on you? Don't like it, don't use it. Pretty simple. I enjoy Allo and use it regularly. We all have our options.
  • It's more about ignoring your user base and moving resources from something that is close to being great (hangouts) to something that no one uses. Allo has dropped off the top 500 ranking for good reason, and while it's great that some people find it useful, this strategy confuses the hell out of most of us. It's also why the word underrated feels a bit like a slap in the face; androidcentral should be a voice of the user base and not write fluff pieces for google.
  • These stickers are cute, but Google needs to admit that Allo is a complete failure and move on. Everyone wants an iMessage clone, and the best that Google could do was a Telegram clone with always-on surveillance. Truly pathetic. Anyone who isn't using WhatsApp or Signal should be using WhatsApp or Signal.
  • Can this replace the SMS app? I don't think it can thats why im not using it lol don't know anyone that's using it and only my sister has a pixel phone that I know of
  • I certainly hope this article is just a clever troll and not serious. Underated? Allo is rated exactly as highly as it deserves and that BECAUSE no one cares about the stickers. We want proper SMS support and any of a dozen of the other features that competing messaging apps have, not more stickers. I have come to accept that Google is out of touch with its customer base, but I thought Androidcentral at least had a clue.
  • It's not true that no one cares about stickers. Every 12 year girl in my niece's circle of friends uses them. Hey Flo, how old are you anyway?
  • What a bunch of whiny ******* on here. Don't like it use something else.
  • I agree, they're quite whiny. Google has clearly stated where they plan to go with Hangouts, which I think is to gaudy of an app, so just pass on Allo if it's not your thing. I happen to like it. And, the folks that I chat with the most do use it and like it. That being said, I genuinely wish it had SMS support. But, it doesn't, so no biggie. Life goes on! I actually like the stickers and most of its other features. I especially like the assistant within Allo and that's been one of the main reasons why I haven't easily been able to switch back to regular SMS.
  • Yes, moron. Because everyone who has an opinion that's not yours is "whining".
  • Hardly think anyone is being whiny. If Google wants people here in the US to use Allo, then it needs seamless SMS support. Want people to switch from another IM app, then it needs more features (desktop support). I'm hoping Google is positioning Allo for the future when RCS rules, but I have my doubts.
  • Definitely not underrated. Just rated. We all have a great handle on what it is and what it does and, more importantly, what it doesn't do. These reads like a sponsored article.
  • I would see if the disgust for Allo alone would be enough for anyone to comment on this article. I wondered about these artists and thought some of the stickers were kinda out there, but after reading this I have a better understanding of the creators. Good little bit of info.
  • Stickers aren't everything.
  • Is it possible that Allo doesn't have SMS support because it supports IM chat and is cross platform?
  • Without SMS support it's just not useful for most people. My apple friends don't care cause imessage is still way better and most Android users don't want ANOTHER limited messaging app. Really had high hopes for this but unfortunately it never got used after the first week
  • I get that they have iMessage, but if the fun features of iMessage only work with iPhones, then that's where Allo comes in. I mean c'mon, it's not an iPhone only world. And, the Google assistant is a pretty neat feature that iMessage doesn't have. And, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Allo is the best but it's certainly better than many are giving it credit for. I use it regularly and absolutely do not like Messenger or Hangouts nearly as much. But, I've never really liked Hangouts gaudy UI. I hate its UI almost as much as I hate the FB messenger UI. They're simply trying to do too much.
  • How about making it work with SMS first? Til then it will not be installed on my phone
  • I think the very reason it does not work as an SMS app has to do with its IM capabilities that it will lose if it gets SMS support without RCS. In the meantime, I'm actually enjoying the app. I use Pushbullet so I'm not losing the ability to connect while on my laptop or tablet.
  • Hangouts seems to accomplish this, instant messaging and SMS integration, and Google voice sms/call integration... And it's cross platform. And I'm not understanding your gaudy claim, hangouts is plain green and white. Not exactly bright or flashy like all the strange choice in themes with Allo. Those are more gaudy than anything in hangouts. Bright color chat bubbles and weird designs for chat background. Pretty ugly.
  • It's not just the lack of SMS support. It doesn't even work as well as hangouts in many respects. I can be signed onto hangouts on multiple devices at once and reply from any of them. I can only use this app on one device at a time. Why would I want that? Add all the sticker packs you want. The utility just isn't there.
  • Froth and bubble. Google needs to blend in the popular, utiltarian features of Now, Hangouts, Keep, Gmail and Calendar to Allo for it to be successful. Designing and promoting new sticker packs is a distraction.
  • Replace "underrated" with useless
  • Underrated? It's rated low cause it sucks. That's just fact
  • Lmao did you say underated. No it's rated right. Google needs to give the people what they want