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

Bryan Harris —  Bryan Harris - March 17th, 2014

art-is-theft

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.

email-video-bootstrappers-guide

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:

fears

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. 

steal

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:

new-inbox-explainer-video

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):

google-doc-video-breakdwon

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):

finished-doc-explainer-vid

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

how-much-explainer

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.

gtfo-kick

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.

  • Yet another great blog post, thanks a lot Bryan!!! 🙂

  • I agree, by the time you put your own content, logo and colors in the video it’s very different from the inspiration source.

  • Viktor Jiracek

    Amazing! So many applications to other areas of life 🙂

  • Estelle Lafforgue

    Bryan, did you ask the contractor to record his screen while using the app or did you send him the footage of these parts?

    • I did. He ended up recreating the app as vector art inside of After Effects. But don’t get caught up in all that. Give your instructions and let them figure out those details.

  • I copy the work of other similar company’s for the forms, rules, guarantees,…. everything! In my case it’s as simple as insert my company name and offer less than they do for the #’s.

    This summer I’m soliciting client videos and photos under the pretext of some type of prize being awarded for the best… or … and worst… etc.

    That will be the basis of my advertising for next year. The Best part is that they will be involved and will share “there” work with my audience…
    Win Win!

    Keep up the good work Brian!

  • Spot on. Why start from zero when you can get a head start? Anytime I need to be “creative” I’ll start by going into my bag of examples. At the very least I’ll find inspiration, but if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pull bits and pieces from each and link them together to create something greater than the sum of the parts.

    To speed this up I keep a pretty tight ship on organizing all the online content I come across to reference later. As they say, “what comes out is only as good as what goes in” 🙂

    • Exactly! I do the same thing. I have multiple Evernote files full of inspiration.

  • Shane Hopkins

    Re: worrying or being uncomfortable about copying something … Chances are, whatever masterpiece video you are marveling at, is also a copy itself in many respects, very few ideas are original. Action is our key differentiating, and beloved factor.

  • There was only one good idea anyway.

  • Sakari Turunen

    Looks like the Signup in the end doesn’t work…