Out of the Blue
Most of the top design choices were predictable. But there was a wild card in the mix: Minga Berlin. Minga Berlin is website that sells socks, and only socks. It’s an e-commerce website, but it looked like an art portfolio. Despite being aesthetically pleasing, it was also easy to navigate and effective. Even the socks looked cool. Ok, so who made it? On the bottom of one of the pages was a little strip of text: “Design Bureau Alexander Munk”.
I researched the Design Bureau. He was based out of Berlin (predictably), and it appeared he had handled numerous corporate designs. When I first called Alex it was early in the morning in the States, so mid-afternoon in Germany. It was out of the blue, and either I woke him up or startled him by speaking English. Our conversation was scatterbrained, but by the end we had agreed to meet the following week in Berlin.
Andreas, one of the Wishlist founders, and I planned to meet and spend one night in the city. Our time in Berlin, and meeting Alexander, is a story in itself and will be covered in another post.
By the end of Berlin we had two valid, professional proposals on the table (the design firm out of Münster being the other). Although the price was relatively close, it was clear the firms were radically different. What we had was a safe, professional, traditional design firm vs. a dynamic, creative, but potentially unpredictable single designer.
We took our time with the decision. Andreas laid out specific questions for the follow-up phone calls, something we should have done better from the very beginning. This helped clarify much of the uncertainty, and brought reassurance to working with a single designer. But still the duality existed. We knew with Alex that what we would end up with was either an original world-class design, or a messy three-month setback. Being that we’re a startup, it seemed worth the risk.
Today, we all agree that hiring Alexander was one of the single best early-stage decisions we made. It wasn’t without its difficulties, geography being the brunt of it. But constant Skype communication helped, as well as a few trips to Berlin (even if not that much work gets done, it’s good for team dynamics and for just getting to know each other). It’s an ongoing process with a designer. You need to find someone that you can work with for years.
I’ve come to believe that no matter what we had chosen in those early months we would have been unhappy with the results. There’s informality to traditional outsourcing that standardizes (or perhaps even trivializes) whatever you ship abroad. It makes it nearly impossible to outsource the things you value most, like design…unless of course that offshore is a bohemian in Berlin who also designs socks. Then you’re ok.