Colourlovers Buys Forrst to Build an Etsy for Digital Bling

By Sarah Lacy , written on March 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Creative community Colourlovers has acquired another creative community called Forrst in a bid to create the preeminent place on the Web where creative types can come together, make pretty things, help each other get better at making pretty things, share pretty things, and ultimately monetize them. The combined site wants to make great design simple and accessible and create a lucrative business doing that.

As someone who works with words, and usually words that are just black on white, the concept was all a bit esoteric to me, until I went on Colourlovers to check out what the site actually does. Hours flew by as I got consumed in what I could only call "playing" with color and patterns in a way I never had before.

I mean that as a huge compliment to the site. Colourlovers makes the art of creating colors and patterns come alive, even for non-designers like me, who'd never had the urge to "create" a color in a world where there are already millions of them. No matter how intimidated by design you are, you can quickly find yourself creating colors, pallattes, patterns, and shapes on Colourlovers and start looking at design in a completely different way. Imagine what people with actual talent can do with these tools.

I'm clearly not alone getting sucked into the site: Nearly 1.5 million registered users have shared more than five million colors, two million palettes, two million patterns, and nearly 160,000 templates. "It helps people discover their inner designers," says CEO Darius "Bubs" Monsef IV. "We want to give you the tools to go from inspiration to execution and eventually monetization." (I originally linked "Bubs" to the lovable, addled crack-head from The Wire, who is the only other "Bubs" I know. Monsef didn't find it funny, so I linked to his Twitter account instead.)

Colourlovers has been around for seven years. Forrst is also a designer and developer community but is younger, smaller, and somewhat different. It is more focused on professional and career development and less on tools. The original concept was something like Tumblr, where developers and designers could share cool UIs and interesting libraries of fonts and design experiences, says founder Kyle Bragger.

Bragger hacked it together as a side project, while he was working on a wine social network with the infamous Gary Vaynerchuk. It started to take off, and Bragger wanted to devote more time to it, so Vaynerchuk invested along with a round from 500Startups. The total raised was about $205,000. Forrst was always sort of a kindred spirit to Colourlovers, and Bragger is happy to have more resources to help connect and inspire designers around the world.

Beyond all the feel-good prettiness of the site is a potentially disruptive vision of a Creative Market, which has the tongue-in-cheek tagline, "Handcrafted, mouse made." The vision is an Etsy of individual made digital goods where people can browse and find all the different creative elements they need to build a site, whether it's art, fonts, icons, templates, shapes -- you name it. It takes the idea of stock art and applies to all aspects of designs. It hasn't launched yet, but there are about 30,000 people on the list, waiting to see what it looks like, Monsef says. (Add your name to the list here.)

Colourlovers demystifies a lot of the design process, and whenever something is demystifying a process there are people who love it and hate it. But my guess is a lot of the community will love where Colourlovers and Forrst are taking them, because it's a path towards making more money off of their creations the same way platforms like Facebook and the various app stores opened up the market for individual developers.

It's a somewhat amorphous vision. At some level how do you "sell" a color or a shape? But it's also an idea whose time has come nonetheless. Design has long been the unsung hero of the Web. Sure, it's the first thing to get blamed if a site sucks. And in rare cases, the design is so great that it's a site's main differentiator. But usually design does its best work when it goes unnoticed: When it's so pleasing that you focus on the site or app itself. It's like a day with clean air or a beautiful blue sky.

Good design is simply table stakes for a site being successful these days, that means even basic sites without a top designer on staff need to up their design game. Colourlovers is seeking to build a business around making that simple. Expect more details on this ambitious vision in the future.

(I found that adorable "egghead" pattern on Colourlovers by Mariette. Seriously, there's some awesome stuff on there.)