Posts Tagged ‘Design work’

The Creative Destruction of design

May 13, 2009

Whether we like it or not competition is inevitable. It’s the bedrock of our capitalist system – The Free Market. Whilst existing competitors try and out smart each other (Like the BMW/Audi Ad’s below) new entrants will also challenge an industry structure. Schumpeter calls this “Creative Destruction”. In the Free Market customers will pursue the most attractive deals. Kodak famously ignored customer preferences and lost their majority market share. The big record companies have vigorously fought change. They’ve even sued their own customers! The traditional design industry is now being challenged by a new type of entrant – ‘Free Pitching’ marketplace providers 99designs and Crowdspring.

BMW Audi Santa Monica Ad

Competition is a bitch

In this difficult environment what should an incumbent industry do about a new emerging structure, driven by a new type of competitor:

  1. Ignore the challenge
  2. Fight the new structure
  3. Adapt to change

As a design customer I’ve been drawn into the ensuing battle. The design industry is up in arms about this new type of supplier. Our website monitoring startup has used one of these new suppliers. The outcome was good and we’ve told others about our experience (p.s. I’m not affiliated with 99designs). When I’ve commented on the web its been responded  rapidly by the design community:

There is tremendous passion from the design community in fighting the new entrants. A steaming post entitled 99designs: Bullshit 2.0 said:

“Those “savvy clients” just got a shitty design, the winner got some shitty pittance for their effort, and all of the other shitty designers got jack shit for their shitty work.”

Perversely, this huge effort and passion in battling off the likes of 99designs is increasing the new entrant profile. It has become a talking point and thus the message becomes even more viral. It seems an increasing number of design customers are trying these new design marketplaces.

Perhaps this is the start of a major shift within this industry, it could simply be market segmentation or maybe its just a fad. Rather than designers fighting, which wastes time and energy, why not understand the customers changing preferences and change business models. This does not mean doing the same as the new upstarts but do it better. Like BMW customers, clients will always pay more for a better quality of service.

Changes in technology, law and customer preferences that effect market structures are inevitable. Change can either be fought or embraced. Seth Godin recently said:

viral marketing means that you can spread an idea farther and faster than ever before. It also makes it far cheaper for a competitor to enter the market putting existing players under significant pressure from newcomers. This business model revolution is just getting started. It’s’ not too late to invent a better one.”

Some designers such as Doug Lyon from Mash Interactive seems to be embracing a new business model. Doug: “We do not charge for work , rather,  we invite our clients to pay what they can afford”.


5 Startup Steps to finding & working with freelancers

April 7, 2009

As there are just two of us (Simon Oxley – my co-founder and I) in our startup we need outside help. We’d love to employ full time permanent staff but without external funding or product traction it’s too risky. The challenge is to find high quality external resources and keeping them focused on the project. Find the right fit/match and your onto a winner. This takes time and a bit of luck.


Finding a good freelancer takes effort, requires teamwork & can be risky

So far we found freelance and company resources through our friends, Elance, 99Designs and LinkedIn. My friend Martin Wright at the new Web2.0 Surgery has asked me to post on our experiences working with freelancers:

  1. Where to find help? – As a startup we don’t have a long list of trusted suppliers. Trust takes time and experience working together. The next best thing is to ask your friends or rely on marketplace reputation e.g. Elance. We’ve been making lots of new friends at networking events over the last year. Many of these contacts are now on our LinkedIn contacts. Through LinkedIn we identified 12 local freelancers for our front-end web design/dev work. In the end we chose Luc Pestille because he had the right skills and understood our needs.
  2. Choosing right person? Keegan is one of the best freelancers we’ve worked with. We found Keegan through 99Designs and used him for our logo, business cards, Launch page and a new blog for Bootstrapping. Why did it work so well? We’ve now experienced working with logo designers and Keegan is an experienced designer with flare. We explained succinctly what we wanted and he understood our needs accurately. A good freelancer really gets under the skin of the requirement and turns it into a great product.
  3. How much to pay? – The saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” – James Goldsmith. As a Bootstrappping startup costs need to be kept down but cut too much and the job maybe be badly done. The deal needs to be a Win/Win outcome for both customer and supplier. Also remember that money is not the only motivator. If the company/freelancer is genuinely interested in the project and passionate about the work they will do a good job.
  4. Rules of engagement – My co-founder Simon has done a fantastic job in the architecture and prototyping of our new website monitoring app. Unfortunately there is only one of Simon. So we’ve used an offshore company to do much of the bulky development work. All projects should have a job specification/scope in place including  project timescales, a payment schedule and copy write/IP transference.
  5. Keeping focus – It is always useful to meet the people you are working with. This brings a personal aspect to the relationship which helps to work problems through. However its not always possible to met face to face when off-shoring.  Positive feedback is vital to keeping freelancers motivated. A note of warning: don’t interfere with the creative process once work starts. If you have done your homework and found the right resource get out the way. Otherwise you may do more harm than good.

We’ve benefited using freelancer by finding expert resources and only paying for them when we’ve needed their help. Its important to get alternative quotes because costs vary a great deal and be prepared to pay the going rate. A word of warning: don’t loose too much internal knowledge of your product. This knowledge brings the flexibility required to rapidly respond to customer needs and the ability to innovate ahead of the competition.

Creative designs: gimmick or differentiator?

March 12, 2009

I’m not a designer but I like to think I know the difference between good and not so good design. You may disagree with my judgements but that’s the great thing about design, its an opinion. Design is like Art but on a practical level. Design is all around us – the chair you are sitting on, the keyboard you are touching and the building you find yourself in. Design is at the heart of everything. I believe what makes a good design is a holistic creation right through a product or service. A design should effectively connect the consumer with the product or service.

Ryan Carson Twitted this week linking to 36 imaginative business card designs. The card designs go from creative to surreal. Many of these cards are great ideas. However a good design is a tightly woven combination of an appealing visual form and an underlying practical purpose. Of course the purpose can vary a great deal.


I’ve picked out my favorite three creative business cards from the 36 but find myself asking what is the purpose of these wonderful designs? These cards are produced by designers for designers. They are there to impress each other with their creative ability. For the vast majority of consumers  the message of these cards send out may be too strong or give the wrong impression. So before we pick a ‘nice’ looking design for anything we need to first understand the purpose of the design. Designs are a journey, they connect people. They connect the consumer with the producer through a product or service designer.



Designs therefore should start from the inside of a product or service and work outwards. The external design form is the most important part but it is also not the most important.. A design should also be attractive from the inside as well as the outside. A good design should make a ‘thing’ more friendly, usable and appealing. Apple has done a wonderful job with the ipod and iphone. Apples devices are much more friendly, usable and appealing than many of the alternatives. That’s why they have been so successful. A good designer listens and understands their customers. They understand the purpose and the need.

I recently heard a fascinating talk from Design Award Winning Wayne Hemingway. Wayne referred to modern residential housing as “sh*t buildings” or “prisons”. So he designed houses around peoples needs. He understood the need for people to be social and part of a community. Wayne is not a building designer but he listens and empathises. In a way we are all designers. We create whenever we form or change a service or product.  A good design and redesign often come at a higher cost than a unthought out design. But why not spend more time getting a service or product right so that it is well used and loved rather than becoming unwanted.

Launchpage design: One v.small step for man, one giant leap for Aware Monitoring

February 17, 2009

We’ve now got our Aware Monitoring launch page up – hurray!!! It took more work than we originally thought, which seems the norm for software development. The two build choices for a homepage or Launch page are pre-built technology or Do-It-Yourself.. We looked at both. Here are our experiences, ideas and some useful links. Our launch page requirements were:

  1. Email address box
  2. Beta Tick box
  3. Text action button
  4. Unsubscribe & email statement
  5. 1-2 sentences about product/benefit
  6. Logo image branding
  7. Link to Privacy Policy

We looked at heaps of past Launch pages  including the examples on Launch Soon . Dave Stone also has some useful tips on launch pages. We liked the Newsvine page the most because its straight forward and bold. We also looked at Alex Tew’s PopJam recent beta Launch page.

Newvines launch page

We were going to use Feedburner for our registration system and email updates, but after some thought found it too limiting. We wanted to give visitors the option to signup for news updates and also be on our beta. Feedburner did not give us this capability, so we decided to build our own registration system. This brings more flexibility and we can extend the system as our needs change. Now I’m starting to see why so many dev houses build there own tools.

Aware Monitoring Launch page backend

Aware Monitoring Launch Page – One small step at a time.

We also published our new Extreme Bootstrappers blog static holding page today:


More details on the Extreme Bootstrappers blog to follow another day. Interestingly I viewed a slide show entitled ‘What is design’. Its says design is at the heart of everything. I think they could be onto something 🙂

Business cards – 5 key features for success

February 5, 2009

Business cards – a boring subject…but they are very important. It is said when you first meet someone you make your mind up whether you like them within the first 30 seconds! On these occasions business cards are often exchanged. Quality business cards can help make a good impression and are worth investing time and money on. The business card exchange ritual goes back along way:

American Attorney business card 1895
(a very serious looking fellow!)

I’ve received 1000’s of business cards over the years. They come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, textures, materials, etc. I’ve even been given a Titanium card!! With so many choices what do you choose for your business card? We dusted off our boxes of other peoples business cards last week and compared 100’s of cards. In the end we decided that the key feature of choosing a business card are:

  1. Text– Clear readable text which is a good font size and is well spaced. This makes the card easier to read and brings the impression of spaciousness. We found plenty of cards which used very small fonts and/or the text/lines were crammed together.
  2. Print quality– First impressions do count. Cut costs here and you maybe sending out a cheap low quality impression of your company and its products/services. Unfortunately we found several poor quality print jobs.
  3. Card thickness – Again quality counts. This is a strange thing to describe but when you hold a thicker business card it gives a feeling of substance. Again quality. When we looked through our cards quality thick paper makes a big difference (preferably 400g+).
  4. Back of card– IN the past I’ve used the back of peoples business cards to write summary notes. Alternatively the back of a business card is a great way to reinforce your logo and brand. It’s a walking advertisement of your brand. We found some great examples including Jive Software, Trampoline Systems and Mindcandy.
  5. Size– Having a card which fits into a wallet or purse is helpful. In a wallet it can be easily found and will be looked at again. I do like the ‘mini’ card funkiness but there just not practical as they get lost easily.

With all this in mind we had our cards designed by a professional designer. In the past we skipped the designer and did it ourselves. I think its worth paying that extra cash even when you are extreme bootstrapping to have it done properly. Here is our final result:


Armed with a great design/layout you then need to find a good printer. We have looked at several printing companies and selected They offer a local service which is always useful when in a rush, a useful proof checking service and they are a big outfit which means they have good printers. Yes, we checkout what printing machines they used. There are lots of other printing companies. Emma Jones at Enterprise Nation has suggested several  including MOO and “They cost as little as £15 for 250, again with free ‘template’ designs that look very professional” (Emma).

Good business cards really are worth investing in to give out the right impression when meeting a potential partner, prospective client, etc for the first time.

My other startup related posts:

Using 99Designs: Sourcing low cost logo designs – PART 2

January 28, 2009

We’ve now got a great logo for our new Aware Monitoring service using 99Designs:


Our logo was developed with the final designer over a number of ideas:


In the end we had 37 designers who produced 146 design concepts which I gave 78 feedback comments on.  The contest started at break neck pace over a weekend. It takes more time than you think to look at, rate and comment on all the designs. The design quality varied a great deal. Here are two examples of the more elaborate designs. In our 99design brief we said we wanted a clean, simple modern logo.


We found it very useful to look at each designers past work. As we did with the Elance bids for our Viisys logo. This approach helps to choose which designers to encourage.  Clearly the designers have to be careful where to put their efforts in because no win, no cash. I did feel uncomfortable rejecting 36 peoples efforts.  These are our final contest results:


To view the full Aware Logo design contest at 99Designs site click here. The winner Keegan from Indonesia has entered a staggering 716 events and won 43 to date. That’s a mere 6% conversion rate. The contest is definitely in the contest holders favour with the designer taking most of the risk. However at an average of $300 per logo Keegan will have earned $12,900 on his 43 wins plus any extra followup work.

The Internet and crowd sourcing continues to plough through traditional business models e.g. the newspaper industry, music distribution, software, etc and now logo design. 99Designs brought us more choice and ideas which developed between all the competing designers. It was a good experience and I would recommend both 99Designs and Elance despite the ethical debate and unhappy traditional designers.

Local designers will have to adapt to the new market place or they will be marginalised. When our startup grows up and has more cash it would be great to use and compare top end niche designers like this who developed Jive Software’s logo. But for now we are extreme bootstrapping and as the saying goes fail cheaply and quickly.

“The only barrier to failing fast and failing cheap is your ego. You must be willing to fail, fail, and fail again if you are going to win in today’s competitive marketplace.” BusinessWeek 2007

My other startup related posts:

    Sourcing low cost logo designs – PART 1

    January 20, 2009

    Now you’ve got a business name and bagged the URL you’ll need a great logo. Head down the Street and you’ll find the local design agencies charge big business prices. $2000 in our case!  For extreme bootstraping startups like ours the cost of everything needs to be kept down. That includes design work. We’ve now sourced several low cost logo’s from designers across the world. Here are our experiences.

    Our first two logo’s (viisys and were sourced through Elance. Elance if you’ve not heard is a great resource for tech and design project suppliers. The client puts out a requirement proposal and suppliers bid for the work. After evaluating eleven bids on Elance we chose Canadian Nuvo Logo to produce our Viisys company logo at a cost of $215. We chose Nuvo because they are a small close-knit team offering a personal approach. Nuvo provided us with six initial design ideas based on a detailed questionnaire and lots of feedback:
    The final logo was developed from the sixth design concept. We were happy with their final result, however Nuvo were too busy for our next logo. So, we used a much bigger logo design  house – NetMen Corp ($149 cost). Argentinian NetMen were very professional and efficient with account and project managers. They produced nine initial design concepts:

    e20portalcom_lo-01 NetMen’s first three concept logo’s (the final logo was based on number 2.)

    NetMen give us a great final design for our logo, however for our new Aware Monitoring service logo we used 99Design’s. This time we wanted more choice and a wider range of ideas. 99designs are an innovative design sourcing service based in Australia with a HQ now in San Francisco. I’m still amazed by the flat world we live in today with designers in Canada, Argentina, and from all over the world.

    99 are very 2.0, open and like the threadless business model use a form of crowd sourcing. Some are very unhappy with the 99designs concept. The idea is the client sets a contest for designers to out compete each other. The designers do the work before they get paid with most of them not getting paid at all. We set our contest prize at the recommended $300 ($150 minimum/$600 maximum for this type of contest plus $39 going to 99 to post the contest). You also need to grab the designers attention as there are 1000’s of contest’s on the 99Design site.

    I’ll let you know how we got on with 99Design’s and our thoughts on quality of the service, end results and the ethics of 99Design’s in PART 2 of this post..

    My other startup related posts:

  • Using 99Designs: Sourcing low cost logo designs – PART 2
  • 5 factors in choosing a company/product name
  • 5 career alternatives for start-up founders during the recession