Last night I attended the Speak Up seriouSeries No. 3 and got to hear and meet some of the designers I’ve admired for years. The event was held at the studio shared by Coudal Partners and 37 Signals. And what a cool studio it was… late 90’s dot com era cliche. Inside an old meat storage warehouse, the open loft space included an Apple 23″ cinema display on all workstations, a foosball table, etc.
Those who spoke at the event included:
[Naz posted a photo of the rest of the panel]
Each talked about their various online businesses — how they were created and how they tie into each other.
The guys from Skinnycorp also run Threadless, an online t-shirt store and YayHooray!, an online design community. Threadless, which accepts design submissions from their audience and prints shirts based on the public’s voting, was their initial venture. After Jake and Jacob met on the now defunt Dreamless community, they hatched the idea of selling t-shirts online based on the designs submitted to them. As the business took off, they used the profits generated from that to fund the launch of Skinnycorp, which is their web design business. YayHooray! is basically their attempt to experiment with different technology and build a community. It’s gone under a number of iterations and will soon be relaunching again with some changes.
Jim Coudal discussed the creation of Jewelboxing, their small batch DVD/CD packaging kit which includes high quality DVD cases, pre-cut blanks and templates for all major design programs. The development of Jewelboxing came out of a need to package some DVD’s for a friend who was submitting them to BBC for consideration as a series. Not liking the options offered at Staples, etc. they reused some nice cases they’d gotten with Stock Photo CDs with some hand-made covers. Wanting more of these cases, they tracked down the Dutch company who made them and their California distributor. Having to buy a huge quantity, they stumbled upon the idea of putting together a kit, figuring that other creative-types would need and want a similar product. Another cool fact about Jim Coudal I learned is that he used to handle the White Sox marketing and is the one who created their “Good guys wear black!” campaign they ran for a number of years in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
Naz Hamid discussed the creation of Gapers Block, which is a Chicago-centric group weblog. The idea was hatched by a group of Chicago-area bloggers and designers who met through the Yahoo Chicago Bloggers group. After meeting up in person a couple times and becomming friends, the group decided to launch th GB site. Naz along with Andrew Huff–whom I also met last night–started the site and now have about 20 others contributing. All involved in GB have day jobs, and the site is simply a labor of love and a way to foster community in Chicago.
The last to speak was Jason Fried of 37 Signals. He discussed their web shop’s history and how it was among the first to put usability before eye candy, and how they’ve used their Signal vs. Noise blog to develop their business by establishing a knowledge base and comfort level within the web design community and potential clients. This audience has also allowed them to develop and sell some other products, such as their 37Express one page redesign package and Basecamp, their new online project management tool. Like Coudal’s Jewelboxing, Basecamp came from an internal need that they figured others in the industry would need, too. Jason discussed how they put extra effort to make it as intuitive and easy as possible, both to increase the user experience but also to keep down the time their 3-man show would need to spend on customer support. Jason also mentioned how they have decided to go with constant updates rather than versioned releases–one of the benefits to it being a web app version traditional software. He also mentioned how, because of it’s ease of use and flexibility, he’s found out that it’s being used for less-traditional project management tasks like home remodeling and wedding planning.
After the presentations, I got a chance to talk to Jason Fried for about 10 minutes. We started talking cars, because he just ordered a new Audi S4 and we seems to have about identical tastes in cars — European, high performance yet stealth looks… I asked him how they started up and how he decided to go out on his own, especially since he did so with no formal design or programming background and only 6 months out of school. I also learned that a number of their people have actually been remote, and how those relationships worked. Got me to thinking that maybe we should set up our own agency…