How We Got 100M Views UnSplash By Accident.
The truth is - I have no idea.
What I can tell you, is how we got here.
A New Agency Website Calls
It was early 2019 and we were doing what all design agencies do at the beginning of the year: loathing last years website and gearing for a major overhaul. We used UnSplash all the time for stock photos, but noticed there weren't a lot of authentic photos within the realm of design. There were a lot of long beards, sticky notes and shots of developers working on really slick looking code, but that was about it.
Real Photos Would Be Nice
As a small and principled studio, we'd united around the idea of building an agency that held individuality and a sense of togetherness above and beyond everything we do. We cemented that sentiment within our manifesto/motto: People > Pixels and we took that really seriously.
When we work together, we're acutely aware of the fact that at all times, we are not only welcomed to be ourselves, but that we need to foster a reality where that ongoing exploration to figure out who we are is one of the greatest journeys we can take. We accept one another wholeheartedly and always maintain that respect whether deep into a debate, disagreement or conflict.
I'd been a part of a lot of teams in my life and I knew that this one was particularly special. We all knew how hard it was to create a culture & space where these virtues were real, but in the Spring of 2019 - we believed that we'd cracked that code.
This is what we wanted to capture for our website shots and thought, based on seeing a lack of authentic photos on UnSplash at the time - that we'd share them if we felt they were any good.
So - we set out to get some nice shots for our website hoping to share our identity through some candid photography.
Is There a Photographer in The House?
Funnily enough, almost everyone in the company at the time was an exceptional photographer in their own right (except for me) but we knew that we all needed to be in the shots. It was at that time that Doug (our CTO) mentioned that his significant other could do the shoot.
Little did we know that Naomi Peters was about to catapult us all into anonymous fame.
With a photographer in place, I put the following invite into our calendars.
(and yes ... I was joking)
You can't make this stuff up.
The Naomi Effect
The day of the shoot, Naomi came into the office and it was like she was already a part of the team. I'd like to say that had anything to do with how welcoming we were, but the truth is: it was just Naomi being Naomi.
She disarmed us all effortlessly with her presence. She knew just how to integrate into a moment without calling attention to it. She would lurk, hide, hang and sometimes just disappear altogether (or so it seemed). When the day came to an end, we had no idea how the shots would come up, but we enjoyed every moment of it.
Say That Again?
We posted the photos to Unsplash and yes - launched our new website. (our latest update really leans into our photos a bit more whereas before - we only used a few on the team & contact page).
In the early days, Maryam would call out from her desk something like:
"Hey guys, we just reached 1000 views!"
"Awesome". we'd say - and think nothing of it.
Then the numbers started to grow and so did Maryam's smile when sharing the latest.
"Hey guys ... we just reach 1M views and some of our shots were featured in their newsletter".
"What!" and "No Way!" we'd say, but still not thinking much of it.
Soon, the numbers grew and we'd start getting texts, e-mails and phone calls from friends mostly saying that they'd seen us on some website. It was comical at first and we were definitely glad that the photos were being used, but in truth - we had absolutely no idea that they would gain in popularity across the globe as rapidly as they did.
It was clear that we struck a nerve and that thanks to Naomi, we were able to add some honesty and realness into a domain like stock photography that was filled with a lot of the opposite.
Once the numbers got high enough, I'd get to act like a proud Dad and say:
I told you we'd be famous.
The Message Is Mightier Than The Moment
It's been a happy & humbling experience to see just how useful our photos have been to the global community, but in hindsight, its clear to me that the reason the photos became as popular as they were had less to do with capturing the honesty of our culture (although that was a key ingredient) but rather - it was the deeper contexts and stories that our photos were sharing that were simply not being shared in the world of Stock Photography:
Diversity in the workplace
Opportunity for woman leaders in the workplace
Mental health & workplace joy
and of course:
The Spirit of Designers.
Perhaps the funniest by-product of the shoot was that our own website looks like we ripped off a bunch of stock photos.
You Gotta love it.
Jason Goodman, Founder & Managing Director.
Here's a collection of a few shots we screen-grabbed from the web when creating this post. Enjoy and continue to enjoy our free photos forever! We hope they help you in some small way with your own creative ventures and storytelling.
That's our story and we're sticking to it!
To view and of course - use all of our photos visit our pages at www.unsplash.com/youxventures