Laura McLeod Shares How 99designs Connects Experienced Designers with Potential Customers

Stickers-on-the-Mic-from-StickerGiant-interviews-Laura-McLeod-from-99designs

Laura McLeod leads Partnerships Marketing at 99designs. She was a History of Art major at University College London, and she is passionate about the visual arts, design and aesthetics. Laura has over a decade’s experience of B2B & B2C marketing for global brands, and she brings that insight to partnerships at 99designs, including the partnership with StickerGiant. That's right, StickerGiant has partnered with 99designs so our customers can create beautiful, print-ready sticker and label designs, and Laura shared how 99designs works with customers in many different industries and what's next for 99designs as they add services to their product suite.

Listen in as they share how their business and life have become one and what they're planning next for their brand.

Transcript From the Show

[00:00:04] Andrew Matranga: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to Stickers on the Mic. Andrew with you again this week. Very excited to be dialing in from San Francisco. We have Laura McCleod from 99designs. She works on the Marketing and Communications team, which is focused on partnerships and the Pro Suite, and we have a very fun story to share today. Laura, welcome to the show.

[00:00:54] Laura McCleod: Hi, Andrew. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:57] Andrew: Laura, we came together, of course, around our shared interest in design and the fact that our companies are working on a partnership, which is again the seat that you hold and your expertise. And today to share with our audience and, in general, to talk more about the StickerGiant-99designs partnership, and what that looks like and how that benefits both of us, but then at the end of the day, we're really just trying to help people find a great design and print a great sticker. That's the win for both of us, is when we can get that sticker printed and we have a happy person out there sharing their story with the world.

Laura, just tell us a little bit about-- Well, start with just what 99designs is all about, and then we'll dig into a little bit more about what we're doing together.

[00:01:42] Laura: Yes, absolutely. 99designs is a global creative platform. Really, it's our mission to make it easy for designers and clients to work together to create awesome designs, like you say, with stickers and labels, but many, many categories. We've run over a million design projects since when we were founded in 2008. We've been running over a decade now and perfecting this online design process. It's a really vibrant platform and community. We have a design uploaded every two seconds from a design community that is truly global and expanding all the time. We have designers pretty much in every country.

We've served over 600,000 happy clients since then. Typically, we've initiated and grown through helping small businesses to start up and scale up. That was very much the foundation of our business. Also, agencies and brands love us too because they really love to tap into this creative richness that you get from a diverse and creative community that is everywhere. We really pride ourselves on bringing work to the design community.

Our partnerships program was very much a natural extension of that. Where we could help businesses like StickerGiant to help their clients find designers exactly the moment that they need them, exactly at that moment of inspiration, where they're looking to achieve something and actually they need someone, they need a designer that fits their exact niche, or their exact style, or their exact budget and price point as well so that they can actually seamlessly go on to build their brand and to create stickers in order to launch their business or grow their business.

We really evolved our partnerships program in the last couple of years to make sure that we're able to take our community out to platforms and communities in order to make sure that we can initiate that match and help people to get to a great design.

[00:03:57] Andrew: That's fantastic. For folks who are interested in what this looks like from our end and their end as well, if you go to 99designs.com/stickergiant, you'll see what that looks like. We're having folks referred through our customer success team and also through various points of the ordering cycle to try to get people if they're lacking that artwork. We do have folks who come to us without artwork. Even though we might feature amazing artists on our show all the time, a lot of our customers are not necessarily ready to go sometimes with high-quality, high-resolution artwork, and that's where 99designs steps in.

We have a fun example. Laura, you helped me with this awesome blog post, actually, that we bylined on our blog, where we took some of these artists-- This one I'm looking at Sandra, right now. This like llama thing for Swiftly. That was designed as an example. You are able to talk directly to some of these people to pull this inspiration. That was really fun to put together on my end, too, because I love that service content that people really require because they're searching for it.

You have a background in SEO, and you know the way people look for things is so tailored to what they already know. So, they type in, "How do I design a sticker?" And luckily, we have this amazing blog post with these examples that you were able to pull for us. I don't know, I just love that one. [chuckles] That was a fun [crosstalk]--

[00:05:25] Laura: Yes. No, that was really fun for me as well. I think it's really great to just-- We like to very much stay close to our community. Obviously, they're a really, really talented bunch. It was so nice as well with Eliza Osmo who contributed to that, and Dope Bunny as well. Like really getting in contact with them and understanding what sticker design means to them. Because again, they, along with other designers on the platform and other sticker designers on the platform, all have their own different style and approach to the work that they do. I think it's always really important for us, and really a fun part of the process, to get those tips from them and to understand how they approach sticker design because I think that also helps us to help your customers to understand their brief.

One of the key parts to getting great design is writing a really great design brief. So if there's a way that we can help and our designers can help, to bring some of that advice and help to your clients in order so that they can understand a little bit more what they would like to achieve with their stickers, we can help bring that vision to life through the platform.

Yes, creating that blog post was great. I think that also speaks to the great synergy that we have as two brands as well. There's a lot of overlap within our audience and what they're trying to do, but in terms of telling the stories of these designers and helping bring their voice to life; yes, I think it's really great to make sure that we're offering some of that more specific and technical advice and that vision from the design community to a small business who are trying to bring their brands to life.

[00:07:11] Andrew: Right, because at the end of the day, they might be the ones doing the ordering and the submitting. You use a term-- I know what it means, but I'd like for you to go into a little more detail. What is a design brief?

[00:07:22] Laura: Great question, and actually something I was thinking again on this topic the last few days about working in design and working in agencies for a really long time, it always comes down to the design brief. A design brief, to answer your question, it's the thing that you write to propose the work from the designer. It's really about making sure that you can put your vision to paper and describe what it is that you would like to achieve from the specific design project.

We have an online design brief that we continue to evolve over the years. That's how we can facilitate the work between the client and the designer online. We do a lot of work in making sure that we can help prompt the client to guide them through that process. For example, just very simply outlining what your objective is and what you're trying to achieve and describing your project, bringing it to life with things like color palettes and mood boards, and providing examples of things that you like and things that you don't like. Things like budget and things like that, which also are very key to ensuring that we can create a right match with the right person, but also giving the designer some guidance on what price they should quote for that specific work so that we can also make sure that we get the right price matching going on.

A design brief is essentially the place that the client and the designer will always revert back to, to make sure that the design can be created to the right specification that meets the client's vision.

[00:09:04] Andrew: Right, like if you're doing a label, it's got to be these proportions. If it's just a profile button for social media, they're totally different types of creative and different constraints that go into what you're even trying to execute against.

[00:09:16] Laura: Absolutely.

[00:09:18] Andrew: Thank you for explaining that. I think that's helpful. I think that's a core concept that some people might overlook, but that's where the first communication happens and that's where all the expectations and things that need to be understood, hopefully, can be because this is a transactional relationship. People are paying for this; and designers, their time is money, without question, and we want to value both ends of that relationship.

How do folks get signed up? Say you're a designer, how do you get signed up to be part of the community to design [crosstalk]--

[00:09:48] Laura: That's right. We have a designer curation team. We have a big designer team within the company. We have a submission process where you can sign-up to be a designer, and then that portfolio will be reviewed by the team and then accepted in that way. There is a designer sign-up process. The designers can submit their portfolio to be included as part of the 99designs community.

[00:10:15] Andrew: Nice. We're starting to funnel folks in to get them connected and trying to create that pipeline, but you have pipelines with a lot of brands, and you're trying to work with agencies and really generate business from all sorts of funnels. What does it look like for 99designs? Again, you're doing partnerships, but there's other divisions. You just mentioned design curation. Again, I mentioned different design styles. So each book designs might be a whole publishing arm. Like I'm working in that venue, you know?
How does the 99designs business operate? Not without too much under the hood, but what are the tendrils that you're trying to get out into the world? Because design is ubiquitous. It's germane. Everything has to be designed so you can serve all types of businesses, right?

[00:11:05] Laura: Yes.

[00:11:05] Andrew: But how do you create a niche for yourself to exploit and also be really good at and deliver on the promise of your brand?

[00:11:13] Laura: Yes, so that's a great question. I think I can talk to a couple of different strands of that. Just to reflect on the partnerships element. Like you say, we work with multiple brands across the partnerships part of the business. We've done a lot of work with Squarespace over the last year and a half, building out their Experts Marketplace. If you go to Squarespace and go to hire a designer and then top navigation, you can see the marketplace that was built out for them. That Squarespace is in Tayo design community. That was a designer community that they curated, which we onboarded onto the 99designs platform, which is [crosstalk]--

[00:11:57] Andrew: That's huge.

[00:11:58] Laura: Yes. It's been amazing [crosstalk]--

[00:11:59] Andrew: I mean, you just power so many sites.

[00:12:01] Laura: That's right, and they have an amazing brand, and an amazing community, and an amazing process and a great product. Yes, it's been wonderful working with them and powering that process and seeing that really going from strength to strength with them as partners. I think what we look to do with all of our partners, as we are with StickerGiant, is build that relationship and grow it together. Because it does take time to nurture that and, ultimately, it's about really bringing together those human relationships. That also takes a lot of time and care and nurturing for [crosstalk]--

[00:12:42] Andrew: Yes, we're a month into this [crosstalk]--

[00:12:43] Laura: -for both sides. [chuckles]

[00:12:44] Andrew: Right. Yes, and people are always pinging us up like, "Do you design?" We say, "No," and luckily, we're able to now refer to y'all. Whereas before, we're like, "Here's some examples," but this is far more trusted and a higher level of execution than perhaps what we were doing in the past.

[00:13:00] Laura: Yes, and you're right. Going back to a question on the brief as well, I think having experts who are there and able to help clients with their website and actually be able to create that on their behalf. We've advanced that marketplace now to include a lot of other services like SEO and design reviews and things like that.

[00:13:23] Andrew: Oh, wow.

[00:13:24] Laura: There's a lot of different facets to building that out, but it's really wonderful to be able to enable Squarespace's expert community to broaden out the different kinds of things that they can help other people to do. I think that's a really exciting part of that process is seeing that come to life. Yes, that's an ongoing piece that's really exciting. I think that there's a lot of different types of partnerships that we've been involved in.

We also have a partnership with Packlane, so another style of partnership which provides packaging design as well. It's been great for us to build out partnerships in different segments of design, in different types of design and different categories for us. Obviously, web is a very big piece [crosstalk]--

[00:14:21] Andrew: You do mascots. [chuckles]

[00:14:23] Laura: We do. [crosstalk] Yes, we do van wraps [crosstalk]--

[00:14:25] Andrew: There's so many different executions here of different creative. It's fun.

[00:14:30] Laura: Oh, completely. We do a lot of poster design on the platform as well, which is just amazing. I think there's so much incredible work that's coming through. I think that it's been really exciting for us to be able to apply-- Especially, stickers and labels is a really great niche for us because there's a lot of creativity and a lot of different styles that are available. Packaging the same. We have a really strong community of designers who are packaging experts. It's been really nice to help expose some of that to companies who, like you explained with your own customer base, have really needed that help when [crosstalk]--

[00:15:11] Andrew: I can't wait to talk about packaging and labels on our next blog post. [crosstalk] Sneak preview, everybody. [crosstalk] We're probably a couple months out, but I'm just looking at your product packaging page. It's one thing to be like, "I want a logo," but then that just really gets you started, right? Depending on if you're a consumer packaged good, or if you're a digital product or e-commerce or whatever, there's so many parts of the customer journey that require branding and logoing that it's not enough to just be like, "Take my little idea. I got this grape company, I grow grapes. Just grapes." Okay, fine, but then you have to do more than just a little button for a Facebook icon.

Clearly, y'all are really hitting all of those across the board with these categories [crosstalk]--

[00:15:55] Laura: Yes, absolutely. I think it's great to-- I think the label topic is a really interesting one and I think a lot of businesses are looking to explore different ways of expressing their brand, but also executing that. We're seeing a lot of-- Beer and wine labels are also a really traditionally strong category for us as well and some of the creativity in that category is just amazing. I think we're seeing a lot of designers really bring in these retro abstract styles.

There's a designer on the platform called Erin Wallace Print. I came across her the other day, and she's doing these really amazing wine bottles that are-- They're stick-on labels and they're super bold and gorgeous and really high-quality and the color palettes are really on-trend. I think there's going to be a lot of really great design to surface in that respect, so I think, yes, I agree. 

[laughter]

[00:16:53] Andrew: Nice. To rewind a little bit, we jumped right into it, but what not only brought you to 99designs, but why has design-- Obviously, you're very passionate about it, just by the way you talk and in your background. For folks, if you head to LinkedIn, you can find her name. She's Laura Eve McLeod on the platform there. You have obviously a lot of background in your company. You've been there for a few years and you've probably grown in your role.

Prior to that, what were those skills that you kept cultivating that have allowed you to excel in your position? To talk more personally about your journey as opposed to just your company for the moment.

[00:17:34] Laura: Yes, sure. I joined the company back in 2016. I actually originally joined 99designs in the Berlin office. I live in San Francisco now, but you can tell I'm an implant. [chuckles] I'm a transplant from the UK, which is my home country. Before that, I spent 10 years working in agencies before I made the jump to working to market a product. That was really my reason for making that jump; is that I think I loved my time in agencies and some of my best friends are from those years. I learned a lot, but I think the reason I wanted to make that switch from agency side was actually to take that knowledge and market a product.

Jumping ahead to the last four or so years within the team here in 99designs is what's really special about that is you can actually get deep into a product and deep into the business strategy and really understand that and grow that. I think that's been a really exciting journey, and ending up on the partnerships and growing this Pro Suite, which would be great to touch upon as well.

[00:18:46] Andrew: Yes, just really quick, what's the Pro Suite? Talk about that [crosstalk]--

[00:18:48] Laura: Yes, so just to talk a little bit about that. I mentioned that obviously we find a lot of agencies and bigger brands have loved to use us because we have this really-- We can enable this kind of turning on of the tap of creativity. You can have this creative boost whenever you need it because you can actually ask a community of designers from everywhere to work on your brief. Which is a really amazing facet and something that has been really wonderful to a lot of agencies and brands to help them define campaign ideas and product launches.

Over the years, we've tried to figure out the best ways for us to be able to create a product or a service that actually speaks to that group better. How can we help onboard some of these clients and service them in a way that suits the way in which they work within their business and perhaps sometimes with their clients of they're an agency?

Our Pro Suite now, we've just launched two new products just in the last couple of weeks. One is called 99designs Select and one is called 99designs Studio. They're kind of sibling products. 99designs Select is really about production design; your day-to-day design needs that you might have on your marketing team. This could be white papers, it could be emails, it could be banners, it could be web illustrations, et cetera. It's really when you and your team understand the strategy of what you're doing, but actually you would like to expand your in-house creative resource in some way and in a consistent way.

We're able to provide, through project management, a way in which we can actually find the design group from our platform and from our community of designers that matches your requirements and sort of help train those up on your brands, educate them on your brand guidelines so that you can have a consistent group of designers around your brand ongoing that you could reach out to every time you need something. We also have a project management layer on top of that to help services, so you always have someone to reach out to on our team that can help you with your design needs.

It's a lot more of a specialized service around helping you deliver against your brand because it is challenging. This is how I use the platform in my own role; is sometimes you need to work through things last minute or there's some additional things that you need to get done. So it's really great to have some trusted designers by your side that you can reach out to, who know the brand, to help you achieve what you're looking to do. That's 99designs Select.

Then the sister product to that is a little bit more of a-- I sort of like to call it 99designs Select's radical sister. It's much more of a creative, innovation ideation experience. We have in-house creative directors who also have a lot of brand and agency experience, and also a lot of experience of using our own platform, who can help understand what it is that you're trying to do for your campaign or your product innovation launch, or whatever it may be.

If you're a brand manager looking to launch a new test product, you can come to us at 99designs Studio to really sort of brainstorm with the world. We will take that brief, we will write that up, we will get that approved by the client. Then we will work with our design community around the world to ideate at scale so that we can then present five concepts and bring in some rounds of iteration, and then eventually present back to the client the final idea. It's really this, what we call state of the art ideation, that really is-- Brands love it because it's such a powerful way to bring this global brainstorming element into your work.

New perspectives are where the brainstorming piece comes to light. Our design community are just amazing. When you give them that sandbox in which to work and just say, "Hey, design. Just be as radical in your thinking as you can," and the ideas that come back are just amazing. It's really inspirational.

[00:23:14] Andrew: That's fantastic. That's exciting. I remember you mentioning it like, "I got a thing going on."
[laughter]

I was wondering what it was and I was going ask you, so you answered the question for me. On top of the Pro program you have, you have now this Select and this Studio. That's exciting to keep designing around your brand, too, which is pretty rad. What was I going to say? We were talking before we got started about how you're excited to get on your bike. When you're not designing, what do you like to do and how do you-- Especially these days with all the Zoom calls and everything, how do you find inspiration and creativity? Because that's honestly your job, but at the same time, you're not going to find a ton of creativity just sitting in front of your computer all the time [crosstalk]--

[00:24:00] Laura: That's right. Yes, I agree with you. I think for a lot of us who are now spending a lot of time online, it's important to get that sort of back-to-nature experience where you can really just think about something different. I would say lockdown has been full of surprises. Before this all came into effect, I wasn't riding at all. Now, I'm-- For some of the pro riders who I speak to, this is nothing but it's a lot for me. I'm doing around 100 miles a week-

[00:24:32] Andrew: That's fantastic.

[00:24:33] Laura: -which is great. It really has just changed everything. I'm really nerding out on my road biking at the minute, and getting into a lot of Global Cycling Network videos, and got totally hooked on the Lance Armstrong [chuckles] documentary at the weekend. I think it's a great inspiration because the bike is really exploratory, and it's transport, and it's my gym, and it's social because you can socially-distance on a bike to a large degree.

I think that it's really been an amazing game-changer and that's been a great source of inspiration. I look forward to it at the end of the day because I don't know if you guys have found this as well, but I think that certainly for us, and I know that this seems to be something that is- remote workers are working-- It's harder to switch off at the end of the day. I think if you can kind of bookend it with an activity where you can just get out into the forest quite easily on your bike, it is so inspiring to be able to do that and just switch off.
It's a bit more to think about because it is a bit more technical, and it's a very active process being on your bike.

[00:25:49] Andrew: Yes, especially with city traffic

[00:25:51] Laura: Especially in the city, exactly. Which is kind of irritating and fun at the same time, but I think that is inspirational in and of itself because your mind goes to somewhere very different, and I really enjoy that element of it. I'm trying not to get too into the stats and just enjoy the riding. I think that's been very fun.

I'm trying to balance that with the desire to read because I'm very behind on my reading. Yes, I think the cycling has been a really good one. Just being outside and taking some time to just be in nature, I think, is really important when you spend a lot of your time thinking and talking about a lot of very conceptual things. [chuckles]

[00:26:43] Andrew: Right, especially in this format, too. That's really cool. I always want to make sure we get to the human-- We might talk about business growth and marketing, but there's a little bit of humanity in this. I already gave a little bit of a sneak peek what I'm excited about with what we're doing. That's, to talk about labels, we've talked a little bit about stickers already in our collaboration. Labels and packaging for me are definitely on the horizon as the curator of that kind of content for our blog.

Other than the brand new launches that you just got going, what are you excited about from where 99designs is headed?

[00:27:20] Laura: I'm really excited in how we are bringing our designer voice to the rest of the world. I think that's really important for us. I think that the more and more-- Everyday, I experience new and amazing design that's coming from the community, so I think that's really exciting. We're currently running-- Every year, we run a freelance designer survey.

The 2019 one was our inaugural one. It was fantastic. We had over 11,000 responses from the freelance creative community. So, I'm really excited about the work that my colleagues over on the designer team are doing at the minute with the 2020 survey. That's out at the moment. We're collecting responses, and we'll be looking at what that community are telling us and publishing that later in the year. I think [crosstalk]--

[00:28:20] Andrew: That will be for public consumption.

[00:28:21] Laura: That's right. The 2019 survey is available. It's called Design Without Borders. I'm happy to share the link. You can find that on the 99designs blog as well. Yes, excited to see what comes from that in 2020 because it's also so nice to hear the stories that come from our community.

We also have the 99awards as well. We ran that back in February. That was really inspiring to see the progression of design throughout the years and see some of the amazing newcomers that are coming through. That's really exciting. I always love as well-- Every year, we do a bit of a look forward to what trends are coming up in design. The 2020 trends were really inspiring.

One of the things that I personally love from design that I'm interested in by design is, currently, is that we're seeing a lot of these mixing and matching of styles. You see a lot of these very retrospective, retro styles mixed with these futuristic, cyber-punky kind of styles. I really love this mix of constructivist with future splashes brought through with 3D elements and neon color pops and things like that. We've seen a lot of these these trends, and our writers and our designers are amazing at bringing this to life.

So, I'll be interested to see what we're looking toward in design trends in 2021. Especially after such a tumultuous year, I think that design often shows- [crosstalk] it's a product of culture. I think it's going to be interesting to see what styles and how people are expressing this as we head into 2021. I always look forward to our trends pieces and that will definitely be one to watch for later in the year.

[00:30:35] Andrew: Nice. Yes, it has been quite a year and it has impacts in ways that we have yet to totally wrap our heads around that. Our business has been okay, pretty good, we can't complain, and it seems as though 99designs are still innovating and again, serving where there's a need. For both of our businesses, we are fortunate that labels are so important to so many businesses and we're sort of insulated in some part to this catastrophe, but at the same time, nobody is immune to the effects. Design budgets are smaller, sure. Marketing budgets might not look like what they did last year, and next year they might not look like what it was.

I'm curious to see how those trends that were highlighted evolve because that is always, to me as someone who follows and teaches design as well and writes about it, it really is- like you said, it's a great quote- it's a product of the culture, reflects it, then it tries to also push it, too. Maybe we're going to see some austerity, but hopefully, then maybe the designs will push against that emotion and they'll be- [chuckles] they'll be better than we've ever imagined. That's something that obviously I think we can all look forward to.

[00:31:48] Laura: Yes, absolutely. You make a good point. I think something that we've certainly seen, and perhaps you have at StickerGiant as well, there's just a big push. Everyone is getting online so in whatever facet, businesses need help with that. Whether that be continuing to build out their brand online through their web and their web assets, or with this, perhaps, push more into direct-to-consumer model as well through packaging and labels, et cetera. Because people are needing to send directly based on orders that are coming direct.

So, yes, I certainly think that is really-- We saw that big change and that big shift happen in March. I think that's just going to continue to expand and morph and grow. I think that we're all having to adapt in ways and evolve in ways that has just been expedited by the situation that we're in.

[00:32:55] Andrew: Indeed. Well, Laura, it's been a pleasure, it's been fun. Have a great bike ride today after all this. You've got a couple of hours left on the clock, I'm sure. Oh, I also wanted to say, when you were talking about how you're doing trends and stuff, I like this whole blog and seat that you have, like the monthly nine best designs on 99designs. That's a nice way to also showcase, and how y'all are constantly trying to showcase your various communities and designs, is such a broad umbrella term that it's almost not fair. That's why it's cool your called 99designs because you have so many different products to serve design types that you serve customers.

That's one last little content piece I wanted to hit on. I thought that was fun. It's been a pleasure. Like I said, everybody, look for another blog from Laura. She's already got one up on our site now about sticker design, and super thankful to her for that and very excited about this partnership between 99designs and StickerGiant. Looking forward to it. Thank you for joining us today.

[00:33:59] Laura: Likewise. Thank you, Andrew. That was a pleasure as well, I enjoyed speaking to you, and I'm excited to continue growing our partnerships together in the future.

[00:34:08] Andrew: Like we say on the show at the end always, we always say every sticker has a story. But today's story is sticker design and how amazing it can be to hire a designer from 99designs to help bring your vision to life. We're thankful to the team in 99designs and, of course, for Laura for joining us on the show.

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