How An Ingenious App Hooks You On Drawing Pics Of Strangers

Upload your photo to French Girls, and strangers will draw you. Why? The iPhone app nails no-risk engagement.

I have a plan. I’m going to download French Girls, an app where a crowd draws your portrait. I’m going to take a funny photo of myself, upload it, and let the hive mind go nuts. But not being an artist myself, I’d, of course, refrain from joining in.


French Girls had a different plan. Upon loading the app for the first time, I was offered one option: A big old pencil. The app’s tacit message couldn’t be clearer. If I wanted to join in the fun, first I’d have to join in the work.

So I did what was expected of me and got drawing.

French Girls is a new, free iOS app based on the meme “draw me like one of your French girls”–which you may recognize from Titanic. Its premise is simple. You upload your photo. People draw it. But what makes it so brilliant–and the content you receive generally amusing–is its simple, well-planned interactions.

Getting me to draw right away was a behavioral design coup, not only because it immediately forced me to create content to sustain the community, but also because it made me understand the constraints my fellow artists would be working with–namely, that the crude nature of a finger drawing on the iPhone’s touchscreen was so unforgiving that even the best artist’s work could resemble a kindergartner’s finger painting.

If it weren’t for that lesson in empathy, I may have quit before I really got started.

Because after my first sketch, when French Girls offered me a camera icon alongside the pencil, someone drew me as an apparently careless smiley face. At first I was disappointed, but then I remembered my own experience–someone else was probably shocked to discover they’d need to draw in order to post, too, and they were struggling with the controls.


Then…nothing else. No results were coming in. This was stupid, and I was growing impatient! I wanted to see the hilarity my friend had experienced on the app.

So I decided to kill some time. I started drawing more portraits–a step I’d never have taken, most probably, if I hadn’t been forced to try it a few minutes ago. The next thing I know, I’m flipping through the community’s portraits, frantically looking for my next victim-subject. Knowing that my artistic skills are lacking, I put more effort into being clever, into creating things that won’t disappoint me, like that first smiley face I’d received, but might elicit a chuckle.

In a close-up of someone’s eye, I place an iris wearing sunglasses. Over a bearded person’s portrait, I place a bunch of musical notes (because who’s ever known someone with a mighty beard who didn’t also have a mighty record collection?). My submissions are anonymous and I receive no feedback. No matter, it just emboldens me to experiment.

The next thing I know, I check my own inbox again. The karma has paid off. I’m met by two earnest portraits (both of which do far too much justice to my soft jawline) and a simple, charming message of artistic defeat: “I like ur beard.”

Maybe it’s Ke$ha. But I’ll never know.

Try French Girls here.


[Hat tip: John Brownlee]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach