The idea of competitively crowdsourcing creative work has found its legs where it comes to fields like graphic design and programming. But could it work with architecture and interior design? It’s been a winding road, but Jad Joulji and Justin Picone, a pair of architecture graduates of Ryerson University now working with the school’s Digital Media Zone incubator, have launched HouseIt.com, a site promising competitive interior design work.
Taking its cue from competitive sites like 99designs, where clients post briefs and designers compete for contracts by submitting spec work, the pair originally set out to create a site where prospective home-builders and renovators could interactively create a brief, and architects could submit proposals.
But when they first flipped the switch on their creation this turned out to be a tall order. For one thing, there was more interest in renovations and additions, but anyone offering to design such a thing would first need detailed plans for the existing building.
“All the houses we were asked to do were old houses, and nobody has any documentation of those houses,” says Joulji. “We had to go out and measure the houses.”
What’s more, their original service could only deal in the conceptual design of these renovations, and not the nuts and bolts of detail designs, and engineering, to say nothing of permits and zoning applications.
So after an initial trial period, the pair backed away from the architectural market, and are relaunching with a newer, more manageable target: Interior design and furniture selection for freshly-built condo units.
The same competitive model applies: A client uses a simple interface to create a project brief, and designers submit concept packages – a design concept and renderings of the space. The winning designer gets commissioned to do a full design, including accurate floorplans, and specifications for the materials and furniture they select, that can be used as a shopping list.
This model brought its own challenges – specifically, finding condo-buyers before they move in, by which point they’ve likely already invested in furniture and a design. (“You don’t actually know who’s living in the condo until the condo’s handed over to the client,” notes Joulji.)
So Joulji and Picone moved away from selling their service directly to consumers, and are now in talks with condo developers themselves, in the hopes of offering the service as a value-add to buyers in the sales phase, at the same time as they’re considering things like finishes. Joulji says negotiations are ongoing, but the platform is ready to go if and when developers sign on.
“We have this mission to have young and upcoming designers come into the markets,” says Joulji. “We’re trying to support the culture of freelance and work for yourself.”