The “Picasso” Formula: Design for people that suck at design (how I saved $5,000)


Since launching The Bootstrapper’s Guide to Explainer Videos in October, 1,923 people have enlisted and created some pretty amazing videos.

Thanks to a tip from David Garland I sent out this email to my students right after their first lesson.


I didn’t expect anyone to respond but boy was I wrong. The replies to this email have been invaluable to growing this site.

The response rate has been 4%. Of the 1,923 people that have received the email, 40% have opened it and 69 have replied back.

Here are some of the responses I’ve received:


I started noticing 2 repetitive themes throughout these messages:

  1. Do I have to buy expensive software? What tools do i need? How will I know how to use it?
  2. I don’t want my video to look like crap! I suck at design! How will I make them look decent?

I had the exact same fear as well. But I finally figured out framework that I could use to design killer videos, software or services.

Here is my secret.

Are you ready?

I copy someone else. 


There I said it. I other people.

I prefer the word copy. Stealing is too strong. Copy sounds more…genuine.

“But Bryan Isn’t this just glorified plagiarism?”

Pablo Picasso disagrees with you.

The first time I did it

Last Summer I needed an explainer video for an app I was launching. I was getting decent traffic to the site but conversions were low. So, I started to make a video to cure that.

I suck at design and I knew I wouldn’t be able to come up with something from scratch that looked halfway decent.

If I could take someone else’s design and modify it to make it my own, I thought I could probably pull it off.

So I did.

Task #1? Find one to copy.

After a few hours of research, this is the video I settled on using as my template:

After 7 days and $200, here is the final product:

Results: Conversion shot up by 200%. 1 out of every 50 people that hit the site were clicking through to download the app.

How Did I Do It? (and how you can copy me)

To reiterate: Bryan = Bad @ Design

Honestly, I am terrible. C- at best.

Despite that I’m able to constantly pump out quality videos. This is how I do it.

Step 1: Find 3 ‘Templates’ to Emulate

For this video I really had no idea where to start. So, I hit Youtube. I started searching key terms like: ‘Explainer Video’, ‘Launch Video’, ‘New Launching’ and ‘Coming Soon.’

That didn’t get me what I was looking for. Next, I started thinking about the apps I use everyday. I made a list:

  1. Evernote
  2. DayOne
  3. Skype
  4. WordPress
  5. Gmail
  6. Facebook
  7. TweetBot
  8. DropBox

I went to the home page of each of those to see if they had an explainer video. A few did but nothing that would be easily copied and tweaked.

As a last resort I went back to Youtube and searched for each of those companies to see if perhaps they had an explainer video that wasn’t on their home page.

That is when I ran into this beaut:


Step 2: Break down the template

Now that I had a video to base my video off of, I needed to make it my own.

The first step was to break it into key scenes.

I use Google Docs and Skitch to pull this off. I took screenshots of each major scene of the video and pasted them into a table. This makes it super simple to reproduce the video with your content and modifications.

Finished product (click to view the doc):


Step 3: Insert my content

Now it was time to make the video ‘my own.’ Each row in the table represented a key scene from the video. There were 17 in total.

I went through each of the 17 scenes and wrote out what content, screenshots, text coloring and music I wanted in those scenes.

This was the finished product (click to view the doc):


Step 4: Hire someone to re-create it

Now it was time to find someone to help me turn this ugly spreadsheet into a legit explainer video.

I headed over to Elance.

Elance is a job board that has over 100,000 contractors that will help you do nearly anything you can think of online.

I put up a short 300 word listing and 3 days later I had my completed video.

Cost: $200 & 2 hours of my time.

What would this video have cost had I hired a full blown production firm? $5,000 – $10,000


But I don’t need an explainer video

I’ve used this technique to design and create 5 apps, 3 websites (including this one) as well as 100’s of videos and other smaller projects.

Use the 5 step framework above to implement it:

  1. Find 3 sources of inspiration
  2. Break them down into key components
  3. Inject your content, changes and spin
  4. Hire someone to help you put it all back together

I’m not sure about copying other people

If you have said that at all while reading this, get off my blog now. Seriously, you need to leave.


Oh, you’re still here?

If you are reading this blog, chances are you will probably implement something I’m talking about. And if you implement something you’ve read here you are copying me. Making you no better than me.

Plus everyone copies everyone else, wether you know you are doing it or not.

Don’t believe me?

Maybe you’ll listen to these guys:

“Art is theft” – Pablo Picasso

“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism” – William Ralph Inge

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from” – David Bowie

“immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better; or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into w hole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn” – T.S. Elliot

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photograph, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Selecting only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.” – Jim Jarmusch

What I’m talking about here is not theft. It’s inspiration. It is finding inspiration in other peoples work and building on it and turning it into something that is greater and uniquely yours.

The greatest painters, authors and developers of the last 200 years did it, so I think it’s alright if you do as well.

(There are best practices you need to observe and straight up knocking off other peoples work is never good. I don’t condone that.)

PS: Have you ever used a similar method to create something? If so, tell me about it in the comments. Be sure to share a link so we can check out your work.