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New Site Design

Journal Entry: Sat Jan 14, 2017, 12:26 AM

Wasn't there a new site design for dA coming ~ 2.5 years ago? What happened?

7 Notes On Deviantart's New Branding.

Journal Entry: Thu Dec 4, 2014, 8:29 PM

A few people have asked me my thoughts on the new branding. I'm sure people are expecting scathing commentary or something sinister, but I'm not about that. The people working here are great folks, but I'd be remiss not to offer some constructive criticism about a subject I've practiced and studied for well over a decade (logo design and branding) on a site I've been a member of for equally as long. What better place to do it than right on the site itself?

Here we go:

1. This site is LONG overdue for a reimagining of its brand. It took balls to undertake it.

2. It took balls because the community at large will hate it. Not because it's bad, but because it's new, and different. Also, regardless, the community will come to accept it, good or bad.

3. For the most part, the new branding is nice. It's bold and art-centric. That's good. It's also nice to see a bit more color to the palette. That's been lacking for a while. Kind of odd they didn't do a larger overhaul of the site as part of the announcement, though. That would've made it feel "real."

4. The logotype is nice. I like it, generally-speaking. The part where they talk about it being a custom typeface is interesting, though, because it's both smart and ignorant.

It's smart because it presents the company with a letterset that can be reused that inherently feels like the brand. In other words, every time they use that font, it's reinforcing their branding in a subtle manner.

It's ignorant because it means the typeface always has to be rendered as an image, just like in their launch article, which is a huge pain in the ass to make. Web designers generally frown on this practice, as well. Had they chosen a webfont for their typeface of choice, they could have carried it out on the site overall. There is still opportunity to do this, assuming somebody working there knows how to build a webfont with kerning pairs, etc.

My personal opinion with logos and fonts is that the logo should never use the same font as the remainder of its branding. By reusing the same font, it makes the logo feel somebody just typed it out real quick. I've always preferred to find a secondary, complementary typeface that shares characteristics of the logotype without matching it exactly. This way it feels related without being so matchy-matchy, you know?

5. About the mark. You know, the green slash.

The mark is generic. I know it's intended to be avant-garde, but let's be honest, here. It's a forward-slash with pegs. It's not bad because it's simple, and it's not really "bad," necessarily. What it is, is forgettable. This matters because marks are supposed to be able to live on their own—without a name nearby. For a mark to do that, it has to be remarkable in some way. It has to be one-of-a-kind. The original deviantart logo did this.

Now, the original (da) logo wasn't gorgeous, but it was functional and it had history behind it. Things with history behind them can get away with being less-than-beautiful. This new mark, though, isn't functional. If it becomes separated from its name, it ceases to be recognizable. If it gets made into a sticker, and you put it on your back window, do you think a passerby will recognize it as anything but a funny-looking math symbol? Insiders might, and in a way I suspect that will be part of its appeal—that it's subversive and uncommon, and that to "get it" you have to be "in the know." That's cool, but kind of disingenuous, right? Isn't this site one of the top 50 in the world? That's far from subversive. Not to say the logo should look like a Fortune 500 company, though. That'd be silly, guys. Come on.

Combined with the name, which originates from the concept of "deviating from the norm," I imagine the whole logo lockup is focused on communicating just how deviant they are (but not sexually deviant...just deviant in the fun way). This is a mantra that I personally put on the walls inside the company offices, and it's a good one to have, but when a site has 38,000,000 people visiting it every month, it's not really "deviant" anymore, and I think the company knows it. So, they've got to put everything they've got behind re-emphasizing their different-ness, so to speak. And can you blame them? The audience of the site is young, and they're fickle, and they want to feel underground and special.

6. There is an overall heavy emphasis on strong angles, solid lines, and hard edges. This strikes me as very cool, but very much the antithesis of artfulness. In my view, and my experience, artistry is an organic practice. Art flows through the veins of its creator, much like blood. Artists create their work in a flurry of movements and processes which are the same which define us as human beings: frustration, sweat, blood, imagination, sparks of creativity, anger, sadness, and more. The way we artists build our work is innately human—we use incredible tools to visualize our thoughts. Other animals can "paint" but they don't generate art. Only human beings generate art. So, to put it simply, art is about emotion and the organic, not the technical. Technicality enables us to create the art, but it's our minds and our bodies which actually do the creating.

Are you with me so far? Good.

Now think about lines and shapes that are organic. The human body. Leaves. Rivers. Clouds. Tears. How many of these things are made up of solid angles and perfectly straight lines? None. Mother nature doesn't make straight lines; mother natures makes curves. So to look at the new logo and compare it with artfulness, you can see how they don't "mesh together," so to speak. They're quite the opposites. The new logo is emphasizing technology, not artistry. Sure, this is a website...BUILT with technology. But people don't come here for the tech. No, they're here for humanity—the art and the socializing, AKA uploads and comments.

7. To hop back to the positive, the new branding emphasizes the art that members have created, which is awesome. I love seeing that. The juxtaposition of the logotype/lettering atop really incredible artwork is very nice. That is a positive touch, for sure.

In Summary: The new branding is overall very nice and a welcome change that the community will surely come to enjoy, but the logo misses some marks that could've made it truly shine.

Happy Birthday to deviantART!

Journal Entry: Wed Aug 7, 2013, 9:24 AM

Hard to believe this hole-in-the-wall is 13 years old...and not a hole-in-the-wall anymore.
It's safe to say my life and career would in no way resemble what they do today had I not popped over to deviantART 13 years ago and started uploading my art.
Thanks for the memories, the growth, and the education, dA!

The new and the success of critiques

Journal Entry: Sun Dec 16, 2012, 12:19 PM

Hi there.
It's been a long while since I've written much of anything of length. Although I intended, at one point, to write my thoughts down in a journal/blog post on a frequent basis, time has a way of becoming packed and one day you wake up and realize you haven't put words to pixels in far too long.

That all said, I wanted to touch on something that a good friend has been working on. In part, because he's a good friend and deserves to be written about. In another part, because I'd like you to try out what he's been building.

Before we get into the new, let's touch upon the notion of critique. A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, deviantART built and launched a feature called, quite simply, "Critique," which was a toolset designed to encourage and enable thoughtful critique. I was a small part of the team that put it together, and our intention was to help elevate the community of deviantART into a more thoughtful and helpful one. Certainly it always was, in many ways, a helpful community. Why, just look at the evolution of artists on this site and you'll see a history of growth that few other sites can boast.

That said, in-depth critique was never commonplace on deviantART, and we aimed to change it. So, we built this critiquing system that was, in my view at the time, pretty good: it allowed users to rate certain aspects of work via a simple star system, and required a minimum word count to ensure that people didn't get comments as mindless as "cool" or "this sucks."

Initially, it was working well. People were excited about the new feature, and critiques were happening left and right. We on staff made it a point to write as many critiques as possible, to help show off the feature and encourage further use amongst the community. But, if you look at the landscape of deviantART on the whole, the Critique feature has failed. It's still not a bad tool, but it never had the impact we wanted it to have, and I think I know why:
  1. On the whole, the deviantART community is not mostly professionals with experienced feedback to give.

  2. It was castrated at launch by being bundled in with Premium Memberships.

  3. The community had existed for a decade without this feature, and so its introduction did little to change existing behavioral paradigms.

  4. People were not required to write critiques, nor were they rewarded for doing so.

You see, the deviantART community is mostly populated by amateurs. These are people who may be talented in their own ways, but are not working professionals in their fields. Certainly there are professionals here, but very few by comparison to the total population. The critiques written by amateurs are far less valuable, plus amateurs are less motivated to write critiques (either out of lack of experience or a simple fear of standing on a soapbox and giving commentary). Then, by launching the feature as a part of Premium Memberships, the potential population using this feature was cut down to less than 1% of the whole of deviantART. Plus, because dA had an overall legacy of basic (shorter, anything goes) comments, people wondered why the critique feature was necessary, and because the system didn't reward people for thoughtful critique, there was ultimately no reason for it to be used.

That brings me to the new

If you're a designer (like me) and you like to give and receive thoughtful critiques (again, like me), then the new is built for you. Allow me to explain why.

When Damian Madray approached me some months ago with the idea of repositioning his old designerscouch community into a more professional, more useful tool for designers, of course I liked the idea. When he looked at the landscape of design communities, there were really only three noteworthy ones: dribbble, behance, and forrst. All three of these suffered from the same problem—they are nice for showing off completed work, but none of them encourage growth and betterment.

In short, there was no place for good design critique. Enter the new

The new is built to solve the matter of receiving and giving good critique on design, and it does so by addressing the very issues that caused deviantART's critique feature to flounder:
  1. The system is currently invitation-only, meaning that the only people there are talented professionals who have been invited by other talented professionals.

  2. The critique functionality isn't a special feature; it's the whole purpose to the site, and always will be.

  3. Critiques are rewarded via a (non-monetary) points system that elevates the status of frequent critics. Other members can up-vote (like reddit) critiques that are good, further rewarding people for their thoughtful writings. Thus, the most important people on the site are not just the ones who make the best work, nor are they the ones who write the most, but are the ones who write the most valuable stuff.

But why are critiques important to designers?
All artists, and especially designers, benefit greatly from pointed, thoughtful critique. The entire profession of design is wrapped up in useful critique. This is why a good design team/agency/company isn't built up of workhorses, but is instead a combination of people from different design backgrounds who can give and receive knowledgable, useful commentary about how to improve aspects of their designs (eg, this font should be larger for legibility, this icon isn't as clear as it could be, this texture seems counterintuitive to the greater purpose of the design, this orange could be warmer, etc.). What's more, a good critique increases the clarity, usefulness, and functionality of a design...and that's the whole point of design, really—for it to serve its purpose well. The new helps that happen.

So let's use the thing!
Right now, the new is entering private beta, where further modifications will be made to the system based upon user behavior and feedback. If you're a designer, I encourage you to give it a look. I believe it will be very impactful and beneficial for the greater online design community, and I'm excited to see where it takes us. In a nutshell, the new Hunie will change the face of design communities online.

Let me know if you'd like an invitation.

What's Going On.

Journal Entry: Mon Aug 27, 2012, 2:44 PM

As promised in my prior journal update (roughly 4 months ago), I'm letting you know what I'm up to. Or, in the titular sense, "what's going on."

I've joined a company called Pivotshare as the "design everything" guy. We're a tiny team making a huge product, and it's going incredibly well. We're already making waves, making deals, and making dinner. If you google us, you'll probably find the numerous articles written about our platform.

Aside from that, I've been designing other things. Of course I am, how could I not be? I tend to put the majority of my design work on Dribbble, Hunie, and Behance, though, as they've grown into more appropriate platforms for design. They are where I get the most attention, useful feedback, and professional freelance clientele.

Due to my busy schedule, I've become very bad at replying to things and reading things. My email inbox is a mess, and likewise my deviantart message center is a mile-high stack of papers (figuratively speaking). If you're sending me messages that you hope to get a response to, please do visit my site and email me directly using the contact form. You'll get a faster response.

Thanks for the continued support.

My Next Great Adventure

Journal Entry: Tue May 15, 2012, 10:55 AM

For the past twelve years, I have been what some consider an integral part of the deviantART Community. I joined deviantART when it was a brand new infant of a community, and I've been with it ever since. In February of 2008, I joined the company full-time as its Creative Director, and in that time I somehow managed to build a team of seven incredibly talented and brilliant people. Along the way, I helped take a community of 3 million and turn it into a community of over 22 million.

Now, I may have been paid by deviantART, Inc, but I've always known that I was actually an employee of its community. Everybody who works here is. The community is of the utmost importance, and so every decision is made with the community in mind (even if it doesn't seem like it, sometimes). This is why I felt it appropriate to announce my departure in my journal, here. Of course I've let my coworkers know, but I should also let you (the community, my boss) know. My last official day will be in a couple weeks.

So yes, indeed, I have elected to leave my post at deviantART.

The decision was not easy, and it didn't come quickly. Because I live a reasonable distance away from deviantART HQ, I was given the ability to telecommute on some days of the week. However, it became clear that the company is growing at an incredible rate, and with its growth comes an increased need for a creative director who is present in HQ all five days. Because I am a father, driving into HQ five days in a row would mean I'd almost never be able to spend time with my daughter. I realized I couldn't make the commitment to drive up five days a week, and so I had to make this difficult decision.

Some staff members, in the past, have left the company atmosphere in an angry fit, cursing the names of their former coworkers. In contrast, I couldn't possibly have more admiration for my coworkers. The staff of deviantART, from its CEO to its Help Desk, and especially the Creative Team, is made up of some of the most caring, intelligent, and talented people I've ever had the fortune to work with. Perhaps it goes without saying, though—you don't build a community that lasts for twelve years by staffing it with evil morons. No, the staff here deeply cares about the mission of deviantART and also cares for its community. There are many many more projects on the horizon that will directly benefit the creators housed in this unique website, and I regret not being a closer part of those.

Of course, you can't get rid of me that easily. I'll still be around, causing trouble. And hey, don't worry about my future. I've got some prospects, and I'll let you know what I'm up to later down the road.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to shoot them over.

Fear of Creativity

Journal Entry: Tue Apr 24, 2012, 12:05 PM

A rather unfortunate, yet commonplace problem amongst creative minds is one of fear: fear of being creative, fear of making something that could be terrible, fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of failure. This root fear seems driven by every artist's desire to make great work. After all, that is why creative people create—to build or define beauty as they see fit. So when inspiration strikes, there is both a drive to create and an element of fear holding back. The apparent duality of this situation is actually multifaceted.

First, there is the general fear of failure. Nobody wants to fail, creatively or otherwise, even though great minds have shown us that failure is necessary for improvement. This fear of failure manifests itself as hesitation and self-doubt, ultimately causing procrastination or just a delayed start, or even destroying the urge to create altogether.

Secondly, the fear of judgment. Fearing what others might think of the work, fearing comments of negativity, generally less-than-glowing reviews, and perhaps even rejection. Much like fear of failure, the fear of judgment also manifests itself as delay.

In the creative process, it is important to come to terms with one's strengths as well as weaknesses. Not just for a healthy psyche, but for forgiveness. Creative minds, before ever embarking on a creative project, must forgive themselves for being terrible, and must give themselves permission to fail, to mess up, to create bad work, and to experience rejection when it comes. Somewhat ironically, accepting terribleness is key to achieving greatness.

So when the next creative project comes along, throw aside self-doubt. Ignore the voice in the back of your head telling you you'll mess up. No, embrace it. Accept that you might make something awful, and dive in head first. The creative process is not one of immediate perfection, but rather one of constant adjustment. No project is perfect at first, and this is entirely okay.

Go forth and make terrible work, for the sake of greatness!

Website Upgrade

Journal Entry: Thu Apr 5, 2012, 9:49 AM

My website hath been upgraded. It's now responsive and far more enjoyable, and my work is presented far larger.

Please do check it out. I'm still adding in work and content, but for the most part it's there.

On Motivation and Leadership

Journal Entry: Sat Mar 24, 2012, 1:57 PM

As the leader of a team, I often read books and articles about subjects related to my role: leadership, management, in-house design, etc. I feel it is my responsibility to improve upon my abilities as a leader—to understand how to do my job better, to avoid and/or remedy problems, to be a source of inspiration, and of course to keep my team happy and motivated. While I don't consider myself the best leader ever, I hope I'm doing a good job, and I certainly do make a concerted effort rather than lackadaisically resting on my laurels.

The topic of motivation in the workplace is hot right now. The world at large is trying to reform how it does business in the interest of efficiency and better productivity. In my view, proper motivation is not about more frequent output, but about more effective output. I think this is where a lot of the authors and thinkers and bloggers and drinkers are off course, actually—they think a motivated workforce will produce more, whereas I believe a motivated workforce will produce better, and it's not only about keeping people happy. It's actually just good business.

There are some elements that I believe go into a good leader which I strive to achieve, and I think the best leaders I've had the pleasure of working with or knowing have also exhibited many of these traits. In typical internet fashion, the following serves as your easily-digested list, ripe for retweeting:

1. A Good Leader is Understanding
Understanding, empathy, sympathy, easy-going—these are some words that all basically mean the same thing: you trust your team. One of the worst things a leader can do is distrust his team. When a leader hires somebody, he has decided that this person will be a good fit, and in that way they deserve immediate trust. They have earned it by getting the job. Yes, they can destroy the trust through their actions as sometimes happens, but I don't believe that trust should take a particular period of time to acquire.

Trust in the workplace should be automatic.

That means that when one of my team members is running late, I trust they're actually running late and will be to work as soon as they can. When a team member isn't feeling well, I trust that they're actually not feeling well. When a team member is assigned a project, I trust they will do their best on that project. Team members do not require hand-holding and do not require somebody looking over their shoulders. They are adults, and they are here because they want to do great work.

It also means I trust in their skillsets. More on that next.

2. A Good Leader Hires People Better Than Him
Everybody on my team is better than me in some way. It sounds foolish that a person would want to hire lesser-skilled employees than him, doesn't it? Yet, this happens all the time. I want my team and I to do great work, and they can't do that if they're not great at what they do. On that note, trusting that they are great at what they do, and that they know what they are doing, is also important.

3. A Good Leader is Experienced and Educated in What They Lead
In other words, as a leader one should be well-versed in that which they lead. It is difficult for a team to trust and respect its leader if that leader doesn't understand what they do on a deep level.

4. A Good Leader Plays to Strengths, yet Diversifies
Like I've stated, every person on my team is well-versed in some area. I think a good leader understands those strengths and assigns work and projects which suit those strengths. I also think a good leader understands each member's weaknesses and looks for opportunities to turn those weaknesses into strengths. It is certainly true that we can't always do exactly what we want to do all the time, but it's worth trying.

5. A Good Leader is Emotionally Stable
Yelling, losing one's temper, demeaning others, crying over small matters, calling names, walking out in anger and slamming doors—these are some actions that I and many others have experienced or heard about. It's difficult to respect a leader that isn't cool-headed. It's also difficult to know where you stand with a leader who rides an emotional roller coaster day in and day out.

How will he come to work today? Will he be angry or will he be happy? Is it okay if I talk to him today or should I wait? Maybe I should wait. Oh what's that? He's happy? Oh, so I can talk to him?
This type of behavior is nothing short of damaging to a team. It damages morale, it damages productivity, and it damages trust.

I've actually worked for somebody who was emotionally unstable. It was years and years ago, but his actions stuck with me. I remember him calling over a co-worker and literally yelling in her face. He told her how dumb she was, he told her what a horrible job she was doing, he told her a child could do better work. That was the second I knew I didn't want to work there anymore. I lost all interest in the work, and it showed.

A leader might be stressed out, under enormous pressure, with too many things to do, but he shouldn't take it out on his employees.

6. A Good Leader Fights for His Team
I don't believe a good leader necessarily agrees with everything his team does or says, nor do I believe a good leader aquiesces to the whims of others outside of his team. Certainly there is a balance one must strike, but as often as possible a good leader should back up his team and support them—in their opinions, in their personal endeavors, in their struggles, in their dreams.

7. A Good Leader is Not Above His Team
I've written about this topic before and I think it still rings true. While a leader may be the leader, it does not mean he is above doing grunt work. A good leader does both the glamorous and the unglamorous work. Equality is important. If you're the leader of a team of telemarketers, you should also be making calls like the rest of them. If you are the principal of a school, you should scrub the toilets with the janitors. If you manage a design team, you should do the small and boring projects too.

8. A Good Leader Knows that Interesting Work Equals Better Work
If one cannot make a project interesting, one should find ways of changing or improving the project to make it interesting. If a designer is interested in the project, if he has enthusiasm and big ideas for the project, then he will do better work and be proud of what he has done. Focusing on frequent output over quality output has proven to be the wrong way of doing things.

9. A Good Leader Gives Credit Where it's Due
I have worked with people who take all the credit for themselves when I was the one who did the work. Do you know how that made me feel? It made me feel like somebody had stolen something from me. I don't know if they stole my glory, necessarily, but they certainly killed my spirit. For this reason I try to properly bestow credit whenever I can and I think others should do the same.

10. A Good Leader is a Human Being
Putting leaders on a pedestal is dangerous because leaders are only human. Leaders make mistakes just like everybody else. Most people understand this, of course. Yet, when a leader acts like he is infallible, when he pretends that his mistakes were intentional or that his actions should not be questioned, he is damaging his team's respect and morale.

In my view, a leader should not pretend he is deserving of leadership, but rather that his position as leader has to be earned from his employees.

11. A Good Leader Trumpets the Positive, Privately Handles the Negative
When an employee does great work, a good leader lets that person know. But it doesn't stop there. A good leader also tells others how great the work was. When an employee messes up, a good leader handles it privately and does not share the failure with others.

Where is This Going? Seriously.
The aspects of leadership which I have described above are, as mentioned, something I strive to achieve. A good leader builds good teams—teams that are happy, healthy, and enthused. Happy teams produce better work, and happy employees have far less desire to leave. When work is great and employee turnover is drastically low, businesses thrive. After all, it is not only our duty as fellow human beings to make one another happy, it saves money when employees remain on board because finding and training new employees costs a lot—in time, in money, and in lost productivity.

In my view, it's just good business to lead well.

The Assumptions of Theft

Journal Entry: Fri Mar 16, 2012, 10:16 AM

One of the biggest issues facing creative minds in the age of the internet is that of theft—of art, of ideas, of design work, even of code.

When we creative types come upon an instance where our work or the work of friends has been repurposed/stolen/ripped, we naturally are upset. We rally our fellow artists to build an army of good against those who would steal that which we painstakingly created from scratch. We send emails, tweets, facebook posts, blog posts, journal posts, and even send snail mail in an attempt to discourage the thieves. We will insult them, threaten them with lawsuits, and make their lives so difficult that they will naturally have no choice but to take down the stolen work.

I have also had my work stolen in many ways. Logos I have created have appeared on websites where the thieves are attempting to actually re-sell the work, artwork I've made has appeared on other websites as both decoration and downloadable/purchasable products, and in one instance some of my work was included as a wallpaper option on cell phones sold in Israel (true story). In my work for deviantART, I have also witnessed my team's work stolen and repurposed in many unauthorized ways: official logos have been placed on inexplicable things, Fella has been repurposed in inexplicable ways (I once saw him on a truck advertisement), and even promotional designs/articles we've built have been repurposed on other websites. In short, I am no stranger to theft.

That said, the creative community at large makes assumptions when it encounters theft. It assumes that the thieves are stealing the work knowingly, and that the thieves are making loads of cash as a result. In my experience, these assumptions are rarely true.

Allow me to elaborate.

Many so-called thieves who take our work and put it on their websites are often under the assumption that they are doing us a favor. They believe they are sharing our work and showing it off to the world. Who wouldn't want to see their work displayed by countless others? These individuals typically have no understanding of copyright or fair use, and when they are accused of theft they are typically surprised and insulted. Again, they thought they were doing something nice! In the modern age of social sharing, one can understand how relocating artwork might be viewed as acceptable.

There are also the so-called thieves who incorporate other people's work into their own. Much like the individuals who thought they were helping us out by sharing our work, these people have no grasp on copyright, and in fact they assume that pictures on the internet are free to use. They are not knowingly stealing the work, but rather they thought the work was so wonderful that they wanted to incorporate it into something they were making. When I was a teacher, I would catch some of my students digging through Google Images, looking for pictures to use in their designs. Naturally I put a stop to this and educated them on the err of their ways, but I've only personally affected a handful of people. On the whole, many students and adults have the assumption that internet = free and nobody is really teaching them how wrong they are.

Lastly, there are those folks who knowingly steal our work and try to re-sell it. Logos, artwork, etc. When we see this work up for sale, we assume they are raking in boatloads of mullah. In actuality, this is almost never the case. Granted, they are positioning the stolen work so that it could generate revenue, but typically the thieves are not very good at promotion, distribution, or business. So, the work almost never sells.

This is not to say we should forgive those who knowingly or unknowingly steal our work. Not at all. But I do think we should be more aware of the reality surrounding perceived theft so that we are not so quick to jump to conclusions about our would-be thieves. When you encounter something you perceive as theft, take a moment and think through the possibilities. Did they knowingly steal it, or did they just make a mistake of ignorance?

Front-End Developer and Designer Wanted

Journal Entry: Thu Feb 16, 2012, 5:40 PM

Hey guys!
I'm hiring a new team member to join my design team (aka the Creative Team). If you're a person and you know how to build incredible things with code and design, check it out and apply! Or, at the very least, share it!

Front-End Developer & Designer Job Opening

The Social Currency of Opinion

Journal Entry: Mon Feb 6, 2012, 1:55 PM

Social networks, of which I count deviantART to be one for the sake of this journal, basically operate on personal opinion.

In the case of deviantART, opinion is most easily conveyed by the use of clicking on the giant, green +Favourites button on any given page of content. Recently we expanded +Favourites out to affect things like Journals, and this has been a sensible and positive change, although it met with a bit of criticism from some at first. In the case of Twitter, opinion is shared at its simplest level through Retweeting something, thereby letting all of your Followers know about what somebody said (somebody you likely agree with in a particular instance). In the case of Facebook, opinion is quickly shared by the famous :thumbsup:Like button.

In all of these cases, users are presented the ability to quickly let their opinions be known, in some manner, without having to actually say anything in particular. The function says for itself "I approve of this," and while generally we might like to pretend we don't care what the world thinks, deep down most of us get a little smirk from the positive feedback, however minor it may be.

Social networks, it turns out, thrive on this currency. It keeps things functioning. It keeps the wheels turning. It keeps people coming back to express their opinions even more. Without these core, albeit simple, functions, social networks that thrive would, in fact, not thrive.

It's funny to think about the +Favourite-style buttons that exist across many different social networks and how we feel about them. For example, on Twitter I love being Retweeted. On Facebook I mildly appreciate a "like," and on deviantART I love a +Favourite. I also love the "like" function on Dribbble a lot, too. But then on LinkedIn I don't really care if somebody "likes" something I put on there (hey I updated my resume...awesome...I guess). And then on Google+, if somebody +1's something I've written, I couldn't care less. It's practically meaningless to me.

So, interestingly, in my case the value of a social opinion function is directly dependent on the value I assign to the social network itself. I love dA and Twitter and Dribbble, mildly care about Facebook, and don't really care much about LinkedIn and Google+. I suspect people are similar in how they assign value to the opinions shared on their social networks as well.

In the case of deviantART, +Favourites have seen constantly-growing use. To date we have 1,751,058,461 Favourites. That's a lot. Obviously it will continue to go up as people become more familiar with the concept of the quick sharing of opinion on dA and beyond, but I think for it to have even stronger impact we might need to broaden its function.

I'm wondering how we would all feel, collectively, if we were informed of one another's +Favourite activities. Right now +Favourites are somewhat private; if I +Favourite a deviation, only the artist is informed. What if all of you Watchers of mine got a notification when I +Favourited something? Would you like that or hate it? I'd honestly like to know.

ASAP is Never

Journal Entry: Thu Feb 2, 2012, 4:47 PM

When the New Year festivities died down and all of the Creative Team was back in town, we had a small outing to discuss our goals for 2012. Among them was a simple proposition: avoid "ASAP." I'm not unique in my disdain for the term, recognizing that it is one of the worst but most commonly used abbreviation-turned-words in the history of English.

Let's consider the root of "ASAP" and why it's not only nonsense, but it's not at all helpful. ASAP literally means "as soon as possible." This understanding implies urgency, and to its recipient it causes the adrenaline to start pumping. "As soon as possible?!" you think, "that must mean it's super important and I'd better do it right now!" The true problem dwells in the person from whom the word originates. To different people, ASAP means different things. To me it might mean "please do the project in the next hour," but to you it might mean "the next couple days" or even "I need it by Tuesday of next week." ASAP's meaning has been watered down over time to the point that it has, in fact, lost all meaning apart from its false sense of urgency.

Because "ASAP" is utterly meaningless, we're taking a new approach: ask for specificity and give it to others. Stop saying "ASAP" and start saying "in an hour" or "by tomorrow at 5" so people can plan accordingly. Have respect for the adrenaline reserves of others and ask that they have respect for your own, and perhaps our workflows will be that much easier.

SOPA stamps

Journal Entry: Tue Jan 17, 2012, 10:11 PM

Hey guys, I've made a few stamps at Heidi's request to support an upcoming hq journal where we clarify, discuss, and debate the issue with the community. It should be clarified, on my part, that while I made a "pro-SOPA" stamp, I don't support that piece of shit legislation. A few people seem confused on this point.

Let me clarify again in a different way: these stamps were made for debate purposes, so the community could use them to let their opinions be known. A lot of those opinions are against SOPA, and rightfully so, but please don't assume that the existence of a stamp implies support for the legislation being discussed.

SOPA would, without a doubt, destroy the Internet. That's not something I nor this company nor anyone who uses the Internet could reasonably support.

Why are most designers male?

Journal Entry: Tue Jan 10, 2012, 3:09 PM

As a foreword I should note that the following is unresearched opinion.

Recently I've thought a bit about my particular industry (design, visual communication, branding, etc) and why it is the way it is. One of the aspects I've been hung-up on for a while has been the strangely overwhelming quantity of male designers vs female designers. Why are most of them male?

It's not a talent issue
My first thought was, are males simply more artistically inclined than females? Because design is so much about the visually communicative element, one might assume that if males tend to be more artistically inclined than females, then it would make sense that more males tend to naturally want to design things. But I don't think that's it at all. If you simply look at a statistic from deviantART itself, you'll find that we have an almost even split of males and females as active members.

It's not organizational
Much of design is actually just organizing information. When people ask a designer "what specifically do you do" it's a hard question to answer, but ultimately it comes down to placement of information. We usually don't make the fonts, we don't write the copy, and we don't take the pictures, but we figure out the best way of organizing it all so it conveys the emotion and ideas we wish. But it can't be an organizationally-inclined issue, because (in my experience) women are usually more organized. Well, at least the women I know are.

It's emotional
My final conclusion was that perhaps males dominate design because design is a problem-solving endeavor. All designers are naturally problem-solvers, and have an innate desire to seek out problems and devise solutions. This is coincidentally also why designers should be placed in higher positions of leadership, but I digress. If you look at the tendencies of males vs females, you'll often find that the "mars vs venus" approach of the two sexes dictates that men like to think in terms of problems that can be solved, while women tend to think about the emotional implications of things. It's a "here's how you fix it" vs "this is how it made me feel" situation. Much to the chagrin of anybody in a heterosexual relationship, men will very often try to solve the problems of their women while women don't want their problems solved, instead preferring to discuss the problem and how it made them feel.

So, perhaps, males dominate this industry because of this problem-solving desire. Am I onto something? I'd love to know your thoughts!

SOPA is bad for deviantART and You

Journal Entry: Wed Dec 21, 2011, 5:35 PM

If you spend any sort of time on the internet you may have heard about the SOPA bill being debated around Congress. SOPA, for those not in the know, stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, and in a nutshell it exists in the interest of making it easier for the holders of intellectual property (aka copyrighted materials) to get "theft" of their materials removed.

Sounds fair, at first, right? Well the problem lies not necessarily in the intent (protecting one's property) and more in how broad the bill is and how much power it gives law enforcement and the holders of intellectual property.

Again, simplifying things down beyond compare, SOPA would allow a company like Nintendo (who supports the bill) to come upon a site like deviantART and decide that it doesn't care for all of the images of its famed character Mario. So it might say "hey, you guys are harboring theft of our content" and would take quick and easy steps to literally shut us down. All because you uploaded an image of Mario. But not just any image of Mario. It could have been any number of images of Mario, starting with the obvious screengrabs from games and extending all the way into personal interpretations of the character as originally drawn by you artists out there.

While proponents of the bill claim that it protects their property from piracy (aka the downloading of illegal copies of music or movies) what it is actually doing is directly controlling the types of content you are allowed to share and enjoy on the web. Websites that were built around the notion of sharing ideas and communications could be shut down at whim, all because users may have referenced something a company thought it owned (even quoted lyrics may not be safe).

The very livelihoods of websites you love, like deviantART, Reddit, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, even Google, depend upon the ability of its users to share content. These websites already comply with copyright laws, so it's not as though they're doing anything illegal. The big (and old) media companies simply wish to exert more control over what you are allowed to do online, and that is unacceptable and a dangerous precedent to set.

If you've not contacted your local Congressperson, please do so.
You can visit this website and dig down to find your local representative and tell them how you feel.


Journal Entry: Wed Dec 7, 2011, 12:18 PM

I was asked by Heidi to put together a "year in review" of what my team did in 2011. In doing so I compiled some stats which I thought were interesting:

  1. In 2011 my team alone worked on roughly 385 total projects. For comparison there are 365 days in a year.

  2. Our busiest month was November. Our least busy month was January.

  3. Our most time-consuming project was Gears of War 3, which took roughly 75 total tracked hours to complete. marioluevanos did the bulk of it.

  4. The team has worked an estimated 7,412 project-hours in 2011. For comparison there are 8,765 hours in a year. This means we have worked 10.2 months of time on projects.

  5. The majority of the project requests we receive come from team members in the US, however one came from Croatia.

This is all with a team of 7 designers, including myself, and 1 project manager.

These stats were able to be compiled because we track nearly everything we can. Not because I judge my team based upon numbers (I don't, at all) but because I like knowing where improvements can be made and where pitfalls occur. The result, of course, is thousands of tracked hours and hundreds of well-detailed projects.

Fun times!


Journal Entry: Fri Dec 2, 2011, 5:27 PM

Around here one may encounter frequent debate as to the validity of photography as an artform. Some imply that the ease of taking a photograph voids any value the medium has as an artform. Beside the simple fact that I disagree with that notion, I would like to present one simple truth about photography that I believe qualifies it as an artform—one that is perhaps truer to the notion of art than many others:

Beyond the creative cropping, beyond the technical mastery of a camera, beyond having a grand vision, photography in its simplest form is art because photography captures life, and life is the greatest art we will ever know.

iOS5 Facebook's Failure

Journal Entry: Thu Oct 13, 2011, 10:52 AM

With the latest release of Apple's coveted iOS operating system (for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) an interesting new feature was released: Twitter integration. It may seem minor that a social service was integrated into the core of a mobile operating system, but the importance lies in what wasn't included: Facebook.

If you compare Facebook and Twitter, we already know that the two are similar but different. Facebook is a very robust social platform, whereas Twitter is a quick and simple sharing platform. On Facebook one can manage and socialize around nearly every aspect of their lives: status updates, conversations, photo albums, events, instant messaging, and games. In a way Facebook may rival some of Apple's own desires for complete ownership of a person's lifestream (so to speak), but if Apple wanted a gigantic adoption rate and a more robust iOS platform, Facebook would have been a no-brainer. Yet, they didn't integrate Facebook, they integrated Twitter.

So, now that Twitter is all up in our eye-oh-esses, there is a curious realization to be had: Twitter now has more potential for a higher adoption rate than Facebook currently does.

Many have stated that Facebook's rapid and monumental growth has been nothing short of incredible, and in the same breath have stated that Facebook's growth is sure to slow over time as it pulls in pretty much everybody who is going to be interested in it. Twitter now has the potential to take some of that userbase chunk away from Facebook thanks to Apple.

Surely Facebook saw this, which is why they conveniently launched a new version of their mobile app for iPhone and iPod Touch, and released a brand new iPad version as well. They're trying to pull some of Twitter's thunder away, and you can't blame them. I wouldn't say they're scared, because even if Twitter sucked 100 million users away, Facebook would remain the dominant social platform. I think it's more that they're simply being clever, but cleverness doesn't beat a direct integration into one of the world's most widely-adopted mobile operating systems.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter grows in the coming months after the release of iOS5.

Netflix and Qwikster, a New Business Built to Fail

Journal Entry: Mon Sep 26, 2011, 2:40 PM

Originally posted on my blog

The internet, recently, has been ablaze with commentary, distain, frustration, and mockery of the somewhat haphazardly launch of Netflix' new company (or sub-company) oddly titled Qwikster. The new company isn't really new, per se, since it is comprised of what Netflix had originally built its name doing: DVDs by mail, supposedly leaving Netflix and its well-known name free to focus on what it knows the future of its business is: streaming video. It also leaves Qwikster to do what it was built to do: fail miserably.

Mashable quickly lampooned the launch of Qwikster, naming it "the worst product launch since New Coke," and in many ways they're correct. Qwikster hardly seems like a well thought-out product launch, at first glance, and the many confusing and unprofessional things the immediately-new company did certainly support the notion Mashable purports. In blogger Chris Taylor's own words:
1. The name. One sign of poor branding is how many ways there are to misspell what you're looking for. Expect a surge of Google searches for Quickster, Quikster and Qwickster — none of which are currently redirected to the correct website. Nor does the name seem to have anything to do with the product. "Qwik" suggests a discount supermarket or photocopy shop, while the generic "-ster" ending was all the rage for startups … in 2000. Now it's primarily associated with companies that get sold off in a fire sale and become shadows of their former selves: see Napster, Friendster and Dogster. You'd be better off calling the new company "Qwik 'n' Save".

2. Customer confusion. 
Will my DVD queue port over to Qwikster intact? Will the user interface look the same? Currently, Netflix tells you if the movie you're searching for is available on disc or on streaming, and you can click on either button — will that go away? Nobody knows, and that's likely to cause customers to throw up their hands and leave. If Netflix had been smart about this launch, it would have prepared an FAQ at launch — not to mention secured the appropriate Twitter handle so it could respond to customers directly.

3. Fixes a problem no one needed fixing. Have you ever longed for a rebranding of Netflix's DVD envelopes? Or thought to yourself, "I'd pay for both disc and streaming services if only they had separate names and separate websites?" Me neither, and that's what makes the move such a head-scratcher. We're told that Qwikster will also offer video games for rental. That's great: Competitor Redbox rolled out the same service this summer. But Redbox didn't feel the need to rebrand itself in the process. Quite the opposite — we'd rather try out a new kind of rental if it's from a known entity.

4. Broken trust.
 Tin-eared product roll-outs are one thing. But a tin-eared product roll-out at the end of an email apologizing for a previous tin-eared product roll-out? It's hard not to feel like you're being taken for a ride at that point. Think of that moment in an argument between lovers or family members when an apology suddenly (and often unintentionally) transmutes into an offense even more outrageous than the one being apologized for.

It's hard to argue with well-formatted points like that. Qwikster has fumbled out the gate, and almost hilariously so, but in my opinion much of the fumble is intentional. Not all of it, but much of it. Let's look at some actualities here:

  • Netflix was founded with the future in mind, naming itself as such because founder and CEO Reed Hastings knew that it was headed to streaming from the get-go. DVD-by-mail was just the business plan until streaming was something the nation's bandwidth could handle
  • Earlier this year, Netflix infamously raised prices on its DVD-by-mail service, citing, among other things, an intent to reduce its by-mail subscribers.
  • Just last week, Netflix chopped its expected DVD-by-mail subscriber base by another 1 million.
  • Netflix has said that postage is its biggest cost, and it continues to rise.

In my view, based in part on the above points, the separation of DVD-by-mail and streaming is an intentional action aimed at letting its by-mail service pass or fail without harming the core of the Netflix brand, but the ultimate goal is to actually let Qwikster die entirely.

You see, as mentioned, Netflix knows that its future lies in the web-based streaming. It knows its DVD-by-mail service is holding it back, but that service still retains a huge fan base. A fan base it may not actually want. So it has elected to inconvenience them, in part, so that the notion of by-mail products can slowly antiquate itself to the point of obsolescence, all the while the streaming-only Netflix brand continues its rise to dominance (and hopefully unharmed stock price) without the need to internally support a dying by-mail system.

So, while the notion of Qwikster is that it lives to die, what still baffles me is the poor execution of some of its other branding elements. For instance, the initial "coming soon" page for Qwikster was a poorly Photoshopped combination of stock photography, all of it involving vastly differing optical perspectives, clearly drawn in a rush. They've since fixed it, but it's still not fantastic.

The staff at Qwikster also failed to grab an associated twitter account, meaning a guy whose avatar is literally Elmo smoking weed is likely to gain accidental traffic in the hustle and bustle of consumers bitching about how separating Qwikster from Netflix was a bad idea (although later today they did manage to snag @QwiksterTweets, a name unlikely to quickly be remembered by its customers much in the same way I constantly forget that Pandora isn't pandora, but is instead pandora_radio).

Furthermore, their name is confusing. The idea of "quick" isn't something one associates with the postal service. Mail is slow. If I mail something out today, even if its going to somebody in the same city they won't get it for at least 1-2 days. Back when I had "classic" Netflix, I'd get DVDs in about 5 days time. That's not quick. I can't imagine Qwikster will be any different.

Lastly, in true Ryan Ford fashion, I don't know what is happening with the logotype. Surely in an attempt to reinforce the idea of "quick," the typography became oblique and somewhat blurry, and somehow the tittle received a little vapor trail of sorts to imply that "boy is this logo moving quickly." This is like branding snails as quick. It's a false implication meant to plant the idea of speed without actually following through. Burger King is planting false implications with its commercials that its food is fresh, and now Qwikster is pretending that DVDs-by-mail are quick.

To conclude a somewhat long and certainly drawn-out point, we should all sit with baited breath and watch what happens to Qwikster over the coming months and years. They may have had a rough launch with quite a few bumps in the road, but like any brand professional will tell you, brands are not built from names but from stories. If Qwikster can figure itself out and tell the right stories, it has a chance at survival. With any luck, they'll stick around and do great, but odds are they won't, because after all they were built to fail.