Blog Post

Why designers and developers need to be medium-agnostic

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Transcription details:
Date:
06-Nov-2013
Input sound file:
1003.MP3

Transcription results:
Session Name: The Rising Influence of the Digital Creative Community
Chris Albrecht: Chris Albrecht
Scott Belsky: Scott Belsky
Om Malik: Om Malik

Chris Albrecht
00:00
Who’s wearing the Roadmap red sweater today instead of the GigaOM blue shirt and socks yesterday, the socks don’t match because that guy is cool. We are going to bring Om right back out, couldn’t let him go too far. He’s going to be talking about the Rising Influence of the Digital Creative Community with Scott Belsky; the VP of Products and Community at Adobe and also the founder of Behance. Please welcome Scott and Om to the stage.
Scott Belsky
00:37
Oh, you get a song. I didn’t get a song.
Om Malik
00:39
Welcome.
Scott Belsky
00:39
Thank you.
Om Malik
00:42
And I didn’t even get to go back and just relax, nothing. All right Scott, you’re my last talk of the day, I saved my best for the last because when I was putting together this conference, the first person I talked to was Scott. And it was at a coffee shop in New York, and we were supposed to meet for fifteen minutes to have an espresso, and it was a 3-hour conversation. We touched about everything from design to creativity to how the world is becoming very different, and the evolution we are seeing around us. Scott, on the spot said yes and here he is. Scott, for those of you who don’t know, started Behance. And if you don’t know Behance, Google it, go to it and there are some fantastic videos, some great articles. It’s like my best way to spend a Sunday, you can just find – it’s like the creative epicenter of the world. It is so much beautiful stuff on Behance, so Scott, welcome and thank you for making time for us.
Scott Belsky
01:46
No, thanks for having me.
Om Malik
01:48
Let’s talk about things which the two of us absolutely love, which is creativity and the Internet. Let me ask you, does Internet kill creativity or does it help creativity?
Scott Belsky
02:01
Well, you would think – and our team seven years ago certainly went into building Behance with the thought that the Internet should be the greatest thing for the creative community around the world. It helps people get visibility for their work, whether you live in a small town in Romania or whether you’re in New York of San Francisco, you can sort of be on an equal playing field and let your work speak for itself. That was the exciting idea behind organizing the creative world. In reality, I would say that the Internet’s a mixed bag. There are many forces of the Internet that work against the creative community. For starters, attribution sucks online. People’s work gets syndicated and used all over the place without attribution, if there is attribution there’s usually another link back that generates opportunity for them. Crowd-sourcing and spec contest – recently there was this big competition for a new brand, for this 55DSL – a sub-brand of Diesel. 15,000 designers around the world submitted pieces of work for a 1500 Euro prize. We asked some folks who participated and they said; oh, you know, I spent an average of 2-3 hours on this submission, which is not enough time to do meaningful work for a client that represents your talents, as great as they are. But is way too much time, if you do the math, because it’s over four years of 24/7 labor that went into a 1500 Euro payment. If you think about that, it’s like a tragic loss of creative potential that the Internet has made possible. So these are some of the things we’re fighting against but at the same time, I think there’s an incredible opportunity obviously, to have the creative community less verticalized and have more overlap between different disciplines, and you see new creative fields spawn, you see new collaborations that you never thought would happen, and you can ultimately gear a website for meritocracy, and help people get opportunity for the right reasons.
Om Malik
03:56
Still, is it good or is it bad?
Scott Belsky
03:58
No, no, it’s good.
Om Malik
04:00
So, how is it good? Let’s talk about that.
Scott Belsky
04:04
Well I think for starters, the greatest collaborations – and this is not a new idea, this dates back to Medici times in ancient Italy – where you have like an architect and a fisherman sitting in a cafe talking about their problems, and then it spawns something new. That happens more readily now, where if you’re a photographer and you’re following fashion design or architecture – you’re being exposed to more people, you’re having less friction in collaborating with them. That spawns all sorts of things. And I also think that creative people are starting to consider themselves businesses now. I know John Maeda, who spoke yesterday – he always says that when designers graduate RISD, he says congratulations, you’re all entrepreneurs. You’re all businesses. And that means you have to consider yourself from a PR standpoint, a marketing standpoint, make sure you’re asking enough and get paid for the work you do and put yourself out there – all of these things are now more possible than ever before.
Om Malik
05:00
How does Behance fit into this whole plan, especially now that you’re owned by Adobe, since you guys sold it right?
Scott Belsky
05:13
Behance is trying to help organize and connect the creative world. We started this because we realized that there’s just no transparency in the creative world around who does what. You never actually know, if a big agency takes credit for a new brand or a billboard or a campaign or whatever. It’s not the agency that did it. It’s the people behind the work that did it. And oftentimes, the agency was hired by a brand, then the agency hired smaller agencies who then hired head-hunters who then hired creators wherever they are in the world to do the work, and there’s no real attribution or transparency around who is involved with the project. So the thought is, instead of having people manage their isolated portfolios in its disparate fashion, let’s have a connected platform where it’s easy to track the attribution, and really help people get the opportunity they deserve. So that was Behance, and that was the goal but a lot of other things have spawned over the years and I think one of the things we really embraced from the beginning of Behance, which I really think tracks back to the theme of some of what I’ve seen today and also yesterday, is this notion of being more about the mission of your business and less about the medium. For Behance, we said; let’s not be a tech company or a consulting business or a paper products company, let’s actually think less about the medium and think more about; what are we trying to do in the world? We’re trying to connect and empower creative people. Let’s start from there, and use the power of the web to be in multiple mediums at once.
Om Malik
06:45
Can you describe the difference between a mission-driven company and medium-driven company?
Scott Belsky
06:52
Well I think at a practical level, there’s the cost associated with being in a medium that has gone down drastically. I don’t know what the actual number is but to spin up servers five or seven years ago, or before the age of AWS was probably a lot more expensive than it is today. To have back office administrative resources to do billing and all this other stuff now can be done for $12 a month in a SAS model – all of these forces to run ourselves as businesses are now more readily available. I think that, whereas a company would have defined itself more by their medium, maybe 5+ years ago, saying we’re a tech company or we a business that puts on conferences or we’re a blog – and now it’s more like; well, we can do multiple things here. If we are a blog that also runs conferences, there’s Eventbrite and all these other out-of-the-box things we can use to run the business of a conference. Behance, when you think about it, we bootstrapped our business with a paper product to help organize creative people, made a paper product line that helped us survive as a business for five years before taking any money. We had a conference that’s now in its sixth year that was around creative getting organized – that also helped fund the business. We also were building this website, which obviously made us a technology business in most people’s eyes but for us, again it was about the mission. I don’t think this means doing too many things at once. In fact, you should kill everything that is not directly related to the mission you’re trying to address. You should be a little bit more medium-agnostic, meaning; let’s not confine ourselves by specific medium, because now we can be better.
Om Malik
08:36
Give me an example of a mission-driven company which is not Behance.
Scott Belsky
08:42
Well, I think GigaOM would probably qualify as one.
Om Malik
08:46
Taking us out of the picture, some other examples out there.
Scott Belsky
08:50
Sure, others I’ve admired over the years – IDEO was one. They’re a consultancy but they also publish books and they’re also doing this, also doing that. You also see companies like LinkedIn – a tech company getting into the content publishing business and building a network of contributors, so I believe that companies are now starting to – they may be medium-centric businesses now, and they’re starting to say if only for competitive reasons; let’s triangulate in on our mission, and let’s pursue more mediums of expressing or pursuing that mission.
Om Malik
09:32
How do you go from being a medium-driven company to a mission-driven company? If you’re starting something new – Kickstarter is a very mission-driven company. Indiegogo is a very mission-driven company. If you’re not them, how do you switch gears? How does Adobe become a mission-driven company?
Scott Belsky
09:55
That’s obviously the biggest change in our business, our team. 100% of us are still together since the acquisition which was just about eleven months ago. The network has doubled in size and what we’re thinking now about, within the Adobe world, is here’s a company which was all about its product, and these products that the creative world has used for so many years. Now it’s becoming a services business, where we’re trying to support work flow and think beyond the desktop products. What else can we do to help creative people connect to each other and their own assets in different ways. And I think it requires you to take a step back and start asking about the problem that you’re trying to solve, which is hard for a big company that has such an established lineup of products that are used so frequently and has been in the business of just updating them for so many years, to step back and say; what are the problems we’re trying to solve. They’re actually new problems. People are not saying; I want 100 new features in Photoshop next year anymore. Although years ago, that was what was always compelling to upgrade. I think now, people in fact are saying; I want fewer features, I want to make this easier, have a more seamless, friction-less workflow. Or things like; I want to be able to work on the desktop, and mobile, and tablet. I almost want to forget what I was working on when I look back at the work and remember how I created it. If that’s the new problem that we’re trying to solve, then what needs to change? I think that’s the first step. I believe in Adobe’s case, most of the implementation of new ideas will be through technology, but not all. I do believe – and this is one of the reasons why Behance chose to be part of this Adobe family that’s growing with services like Typekit – is that there’s a value for the experience now that wasn’t there as much before.
Om Malik
11:51
The thing which I find very interesting is that, however mission-driven companies might want to be, the quarterly results come in the way. You have the Wall Street, you have to appease. And it kind of starts to impede – I was joking with Brett but it really is. Facebook is limited by – it has to meet its targets every 90 days so there is a very distinct challenge for big companies who are on this treadmill of earnings – how do they think differently? Do you have any answers for that?
Scott Belsky
12:32
I don’t have answers, it’s something I think about a lot. My go-to when you say that in my mind is to have product leaders that are more design centered. It’s really a question between short-term greed and long-term greed. If you build an incredible user experience and that increases loyalty and reduces churn and increases conversion, all those other metrics that we’re looking for as a bottom line, that will be great in the long run. There’s probably an art to making sure we accomplish short-term goals and also really work our way towards long-term goals. When you have people involved that are leading with a bias towards design, which is hard in an engineering-driven company, I think that – even if you looked at Google seven years ago, a lot of people would say it’s an engineering culture and designers don’t matter. I don’t think people would say that anymore, and maybe that’s because of the long-term value for the user experience, and that is the start of the creep into the way that this company is run. My hope at Adobe is that we can have more of that – more product leaders that are design-driven. And hopefully that will reflect in the product at the end of the day. You have to feel it, and right now, there’s so many companies whose products you use and you say; it feels like there are many disparate groups that contributed to this, rather than there was a unified group of people that shared the same values that built this.
Om Malik
14:07
You know the company I find is still struggling to find its real mission is Ebay, even though it’s been around for fifteen-sixteen years. And you look at their design and Paypal, how they work with each other, there is no coherence in that portfolio.
Scott Belsky
14:29
And it feels like they’re probably in different buildings with different people, different bottom lines that they have to deliver on. As the user, that comes into play and I’m sure there’s a short-term quarterly reason why they’re operating this way. But from a long-term perspective, that probably is their biggest competitive threat.
Om Malik
14:47
Let’s talk about stuff, you and I think a lot about the Internet and creativity, tell me how, in your observation of all these people on Behance, how many people do you have now?
Scott Belsky
14:58
We’re just approaching two million.
Om Malik
15:00
So two million people. What have they taught you about the creative process on the Internet?
Scott Belsky
15:10
I think we’ve learned a lot. First of all, I remember one day we came into work and it was right after the Japanese earthquake. We went to the most recent stream – there are about nine projects being published every 60 seconds now, and projects can be from any type of creative around the world. So when you look at the most recent stream, it’s like a rapidly populating stuff from people’s portfolios. And it was amazing, there were thousands and thousands of projects from creatives across all fields around the world that were responding to this crisis. Some of them were designing graphics for T-shirts to raise money, some of them were just making motion graphic sequences, you know, I think it was the artist trying to understand what’s happening in his or her world, with their talent. In some ways, it was like the pulse of the creative world in real time and it made me think that we’ve always understood ourselves and the world around us based on the interpretation of creative people. It’s never been possible to tap into that on a real-time basis, in an organized fashion, especially in the professional creative world. So that was a real moment when I realized there was a lot to learn from the creative community in action. We’ve also seen new genres of art emerge, for example; there’s graffiti art – Behance has one of the largest graffiti art communities in the world. You also have a whole lighting design community – what we found is – I think five or six years ago at this point – there was this team in Germany that had started something called Light Graffiti Art. They’d run around with flashlights and take quick pictures and make this graffiti art out of light. They made a whole portfolio over it and then they got hired by Sprint and Absolut Vodka to do some of their campaigns and they added those to their portfolio – it was this new genre of work where of course, suddenly, there were other teams starting to emulate their work. It was cool to see Behance almost as a date and time stamp, of where that started and when and why it started.
Om Malik
17:19
The interesting thing about the Internet is, how fast it helps spread ideas. How fast they come. Just like you said, people were reacting to the earthquake, coming up with creative output and equally fast, they’re onto the next thing. I sometimes wonder if we are losing our ability to create real movements, like the 60’s movement happened because it spread through the world at a much more analogue pace. Now, you go to Cologne or Copenhagen or Calcutta and you will the see the same iPad ad and the same ad for Levi’s and the signposts on bus stops are exactly the same. So the creativity is spreading really, really fast.
Scott Belsky
18:15
It’s a good point and it brings us back to the first question you asked about the promise and perils of the Internet. I think the lowest common denominator is more likely to be reached by more people based on the critical mass. How many people like something determines the most popular video on YouTube, which typically is something that includes someone who is scantily clad, or some crazy pop phenomenon, and it’s the lowest common denominator rising to the top based on the critical mass, how many people like something. I’m more interested in the credible mass, which is who likes something. Especially when it comes to moving creative fields forwards and making sure that it’s not all the same, that the same stuff doesn’t always get to the top based on popularity. The credible mass is less about how many people like something and more about who likes something, and their credibility. If you look at a piece of architecture, what matters more? What a million random people think or what a hundred highly qualified architects think of that work? What if that work is by some graduating senior from RISD? Who gets the right amounts of appreciations from established architects and suddenly gets an opportunity that becomes the platform for her career? So, my hope with a professional creative community like Behance is to start tapping into the credible mass of the community curating itself, and really try to push fields forward by new stuff that makes you a little bit uncomfortable, like; that’s not an established form of architecture, or; that’s a new way of doing motion graphics, that’s not right. Whenever you look at something and you’re like; that’s not right, what you’re really saying is; that’s not familiar. If it’s not familiar, we might be onto something.
Om Malik
19:53
Talking about that, when you look into the future from the Behance perspective, what are some of the trends you’re beginning to see in your community, the new things which are popping up there?
Scott Belsky
20:07
The fastest growing field is certainly UI/UX design, and innovation in that space. I think we’re seeing that also creep in to other disciplines. There are a lot of graphic designers that are starting to move over to web so that’s an obvious trend that we’re seeing. We are seeing also – here’s an interesting thing. 95% of all members of Behance follow creatives outside of their own field, which seems logical. You know, you’re a photographer, you see incredible design, you start to follow that person – that happens all the time. But what is more surprising is that over 50% of all of our members have published a project in a field other than their primary field, which tells us that the availability of tools that are no longer impossible to acquire and learn but are now cheaper to acquire and also easier to learn, especially in a mobile world. They’re starting to tinker in fields other than their own and actually publish in fields other than their own. And these are not just hobbyists, these are professional creatives that are really starting to explore and use tools and publish in a field that’s outside of what they were trained to do. That’s exciting, because you’re going to see more crossover, more of that overlap that I think all innovation comes out of. That’s certainly a trend. Also, the resurgence of some of the old school stuff; Typography, I see a renewed interest in Typography in terms of the volume of projects being published in that field. And then there’s the breakdown of countries. Central Eastern Europe, and how incredible they are in certain genres of art. We actually start to tap into the data on Behance sometimes and figure out, where is the most appreciated motion graphics work coming from? Stuff like that. It’s pretty cool to watch.
Om Malik
21:59
Have you seen any change in the creative process, the collaborative process around creativity, like, has that meant something new have you guys observed? Like, more than one or two people, maybe four people collaborating from across the world?
Scott Belsky
22:20
I think you’re starting to see an increased incentive for collaboration. That comes really from attribution. At the end of the day, you want to know that the work you’re doing is attributed back to you. There’s less incentive to help someone, even if you’re getting paid, because a lot of these people on Behance don’t do their work first and foremost for the money. They are in the creative world because they love it. So, when you’re being approached for collaborations and stuff, you don’t take it as seriously, but if you know that work is going to be published and displayed in all four of your portfolios and can accumulate a number of appreciations and views on Behance that gets you noticed and gets you hired and all that, the incentive fosters more collaboration. I also think that tools are starting to catch up. Obviously all of the cloud services we use – there’s so much less friction when sharing files and all that, and that’s an area I hope Adobe becomes more innovative with, and really helps serves that need because still, it’s all about sharing files via emails that become outdated from the moment you send them, or using cloud services that aren’t optimized for the creative process, and there’s got to be a ton of opportunity there.
Om Malik
23:39
Before we take off, I want to ask you a couple of specific questions about Behance and how you guys came up with the Behance ideology and what led to it and how you designed the experience around Behance. So, run me through the process – I think the most interesting aspect about Behance is what it is.
Scott Belsky
24:05
I think, being a mission-centric medium agnostic business was by necessity at first, because we needed to pay bills. So we made these notebooks and things like that and hosted a conference just to try and keep us afloat. What we backed into was this realization that a brand is really distinguished these days by a mission that makes sense through multiple mediums. That’s really served us over the years as other portfolio platforms emerged and started after ours, but what Behance was about was more than just the technology, the service that we provided. That was certainly something. When we built the business, we decided that we wanted to have a bias towards design, in the way that the company was led. My co-founder was a graphic designer by background. We decided to eliminate the role of a product manager. A product manager would typically work with engineers, then go back to the designers, then go to legal. As a result, no one was ever talking to each other. So we said what if we just take that person out, and replace it with a process that involves certain people from every team? And have a lot of the original concepting for what the needs are, and for the product to be driven by the design team, since we wanted to have that bias towards design and how we were making decisions. So we tested that, we found ways to scale it. I think it’s been one of our competitive advantages. All the other companies – I always challenge their structure. There’s nothing wrong with the name “product manager”, but that person needs to be a design-driven person, and intimately involved with the design process as well as addressing what the problem is you’re trying to solve. So some of those process points that we took really played a big role in what Behance became, I think.
Om Malik
26:03
One of the things that we’ve talked a lot about in this conference is that design is not just the way things look or the aesthetics. What does design mean to you?
Scott Belsky
26:13
I think there are a lot clichés about what design is or isn’t, and design is stuff you can’t see and blah, blah, blah. I think that at the end of the day, design to me is logic and thoughtfulness. When the dots actually connect, it means that the process was designed well both in the creation of the product and how it feels. I also think that you can get away with a lot if you have good design. A lot of companies struggle with technology behind the scenes but can use tricks of design to get away with quite a bit. Even the speed of a site, the perceived speed is as determined by design as it is by engineers, in terms of how you gear the user experience. Things like that are very profound but, gosh, how do you define design? Design is oftentimes the things that you don’t notice, that make all the difference.
Om Malik
27:27
Somebody once told me design is like the humanness of a product. It’s hard to describe what it really is, so thank you for making Behance possible, it has cost me many Sundays and I’m pretty sure it’ll keep doing that. Thank you for coming, I know you came just for this from New York so thanks for making the trip.
Scott Belsky
27:53
Thank you.
Om Malik
27:53
Thank you, guys.
Chris Albrecht
27:59
I hope you enjoyed the morning sessions, it’s time for lunch! Go out and grab some lunch, meet some people, talk amongst yourselves, go visit the research GigaOM research table booth and the sponsor booth and the general session will resume at 1:50. Thank you, everybody.