Stunning architecture, sleek furniture, and
bold recycled art fill the pages of “YourPages,”
a new quarterly print and digital magazine released by Kuwait-based
design marketplace yourAOK (which
previously stood for Architecture of Kuwait but has taken the new
meaning "you are a-ok"). Immediately, its attention to detail
stands out, signaling that AOK is not just your average job listing
site. With four architects as founders, AOK is a powerful new
platform targeting the Gulf market.
The idea is simple: designers (listed as "talent") can post their portfolios online and look to connect with "firms," who can specify available jobs in design, architecture, animation, or other creative freelance work. YourPages then pulls from their portfolios to showcase their best, most original work to potential clients in an offline print format. Its second issue, due in October, will be distributed to galleries, design and architecture firms, and real estate agencies in Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain.
It's all designed to empower the next generation of talent, says cofounder Ruba AlSaleh. “These days there are a lot of platforms targeting freelancers, but we’re seeing in the current market that there’s more of a need for design entrepreneurs. They know what their design methodologies are, but they don’t know how to get their startup going.”
While several other sites- Lebanon’s DesignHub, and Jordan’s tasmeemME, not to mention sections of skills community nabbesh- offer freelance designers a chance to post their portfolio and seek work, AOK have one of the smoothest and most visually-appealing layouts I’ve seen from a hiring platform.
That's probably also because it's much more
than a job site. AOK also offers a collaborative section, where
talent can come together to work jointly on a project, and it
even features a materials marketplace where manufacturers can
sell high quality design products to clients.
“We have yet to see any form of database for quality products in the Middle East and North Africa,” says AlSaleh.
This allows AOK to make revenue, by charging sellers a subscription free, in addition to the fees it charges firms for listing job postings and unlocking talent CVs. Right now, signing up is free for talent, but in the future, the startup may offer bespoke consulting services for designers looking for specific work.
Building a niche portal
The four founders first developed the idea
for a designer’s marketplace in 2011, promptly winning the
Qatar Design Entrepreneurship Challenge. Yet,
not a team to take an award as market validation, they began
testing the need in the Gulf market, soon discovering that
designers in Kuwait had a clear lack of networking
The founders- who have all kept their day jobs- then took their time to build the AOK concept around a sense of authentic connection, says AlSaleh. "[We focused on] real networking, where you look at other people’s work, rate their work, and where you have a way to see and access other people’s digital portfolios.”
With over 400 signups in under two months,
the site is now going regional, seeing interest come not just from
Kuwait but also from Lebanon, Algeria, and Jordan. Their team of
seven is now introducing video portfolio capability for
animators and film makers, although most of their users are
illustrators and graphic designers.
The startup is also in talks with universities such as Kuwait University to provide the platform to students as part of their coursework, hoping to attracting new talent while they’re still in school.
As a startup, their model will have to
shift; after funding the project with their own money, the founders
are now hoping to find investment to support their expansion, and
increase distribution of their magazine. Yet as the platform takes
off, one of the cofounders is leaving his architecture job to
work on yourAOK full time.
Whether a larger scale print publication will eventually take more in revenues than it adds remains to be seen, but for now, its unique visual content and contact with clients will likely only help the site continue to stand out.