Tech That Helps Humans Win

Mariam Naficy

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a serial entrepreneur, co-founding in 1998, and then founding Minted in 2007.

Much of the dominant narrative over the past few years has been about technology’s negative effects. From the massive shift in the nature of advertising and what it means for traditional media, to the much more menacing visions of AI’s dominance in a vast array of fields, the underlying theme is often centered around the potential for technology to usurp human capabilities and livelihoods.

But technology can also help humans win. And not in the traditional ways people have thought about it: not by giving them better tools that drive their efficiency, or by giving them access to data. Rather, technology can gather individual human intelligence into a greater meta-intelligence that greatly elevates what humans can do and how fast they can learn.

Minted is a design marketplace and a pioneer in crowdsourcing. Artists from around the world come to Minted to collaborate, learn, and submit work into our design competitions and you, the consumer, votes to tell us what to sell. We then pay winning artists a cash prize (it’s theirs to keep regardless of whether their work generates any consumer interest on our site). We launch the winning artwork as framed wall art, holiday cards, wedding invitations, fabrics, home decor and more. When you place an order with us, we make the product on demand for you and we pay the designer an additional percentage of sales we generate.

Let’s examine at one of Minted’s key business processes, the creation of high-quality, covetable design that is key to winning in a variety of markets. Minted community members not only submit their work for selection, but also collaborate with each other to improve themselves and the designs that they are submitting. One of the many ways they can do that is to comment and solicit comments on each others’ work during the submission process and prior to the start of the voting process.

We have found that over the years that the designs created by the network (multiple designers working together, as evidenced by the number of comments and feedback that are sent back and forth between artists on a particular design) always do better than those without (see the chart below). In reviewing all of the design submissions we have received over the past four years in all of our competitions, the designs that had the most comments tended to achieve much higher design ratings in our competitions than those that did not. These ratings, it is important to note, are made by consumers, a completely different audience than the designers who left the comments. So in essence, a group of designers are able to provide each other with significant enough feedback and collaboration to improve their chances of solving design and art problems.

This is one of our most simple processes, but we have found that in any category to which we apply this construct — that the collective mind connected through technology can do better than the best individual mind — the output and the quality improve.

The technology we have built doesn’t just give designers access to markets. It doesn’t just provide them with supportive social connections. It doesn’t just give them a manufacturing platform. It does all of those things, but — much more importantly — it is an example of how to generate human meta-intelligence by connecting individuals together in a network to tackle very difficult tasks: creating original, excellent design and turning it into assortments of goods that other humans covet and want to buy.

I’ll end by zooming in on how the network affects the life of a single designer, who — by being part of the connected network of designers in the minted community — dramatically changes the quality and marketability of her work and creates a new profession for herself.

Her name is Susan Moyal, of Ontario, Canada. Susan started entering competitions in January 18, 2014 with no prior experience in graphic design. An interior decorator, Susan struggled with infertility for 8 years, and once she had her daughter, she did not want to go back to work full-time. Susan knew how to use only one design tool, CorelDRAW, at the time. She taught herself Adobe Illustrator for two years and when her niece told her about Minted, decided to enter her first Minted Design Challenge. With frequent and growing comments and collaboration on her work from other designers, Susan progressed from a designer who received poor scores from consumers to one who received high scores from consumers — in effect, using Minted as a design school that transformed her “design intelligence”, or her ability to design what consumers felt were meeting their needs. In 2016, she won Minted’s highly competitive holiday card challenge and she has been a highly successful stationery designer in the Minted community ever since.

(in the chart above, the green bar represents comments received and the grey bar represents Susan’s median score for the year)

In founding Minted, I wanted to enable consumers to express their unique selves — to buy great design that would likely be created by independent artists, which in turn would reward these artists for pursuing their unique, individual vision. We have largely succeeded on that front, forming a global network of the best independent artists, graphic designers, and other creatives, and in the process entering multiple markets where design and originality are highly valued.

What’s most surprising is what we’ve learned. We entered this business thinking that we were gathering artists with unique individual perspectives. We have instead formed a network of artists who collaborate together, and therefore formed a platform for design creation.

Today, we’ve announced that Minted has raised $208 million in funding from Permira and T. Rowe Price. Our funding will help us create opportunities for more Susan Moyals. We’ll apply our design creation platform to more categories, help artists reach consumers through more channels, and help other retailers source unique, data-backed design that will allow them to compete. Best of all, we will keep experimenting to see what creative problems the networked human mind can solve.

Mariam Naficy

Written by

Founder & CEO, Minted; Co-Founder,

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