deviantART: Ryan Ford on Niche Creative Communities

Each month we ask a corporate member of the Art Directors Club to share some industry news with the greater ADC community. This month, deviantART had us sit down with Creative Director, Ryan Ford, to talk about niche creative communities.

Many people may be surprised by your involvement in ADC. Why should professional creatives pay attention to deviantART?

As creative professionals, we have a duty to stay in touch with current trends, styles, and ideas being shared on the Internet as it relates to our industry. It is important to keep tabs on what’s happening on open networks like deviantART to ensure contemporary work actually looks, well, contemporary, and not like what everybody else is doing. Additionally, sites like ours serve as a fantastic resource for new talent, where professionals can source up-and-coming talent to support their teams and projects.

What is deviantART trying to do for the greater creative community?

DeviantART’s bigger purpose is to expose people to art through a non-intimidating environment, and to convey the importance of embracing art in our everyday lives. For our artists, thanks to our amazing community, the site offers more potential for peer-to-peer feedback than anywhere else on the web. Many of our artists have quite literally developed their skillsets through the “continued education” they’ve found on deviantART.

By zemotion

There are certain markets where deviantART really stands out – comics and digital art for instance. Tell me about these communities.

The community on dA represents art across every category imaginable; from digital to traditional hand-to-canvas, photography, hyper-realism, sculpture, and even literature. DeviantART also welcomes ‘Groups’ which are created by our members, and used as a platform to discuss specific genres of art with other deviants with a common interest or passion. Some of our stand out categories include, fashion photography, abstract art, desktop customization, graffiti/urban art, comic book art, and typography, to name a few.

Many creatives associate deviantART with a younger, amateur crowd. What do you offer to more seasoned designers, advertisers, illustrators and photographers?

It’s true that young creatives are drawn to deviantART, because everyone has to start somewhere. It’s also true that these emerging artists are tomorrow’s superstars. We like to look at it as our opportunity to nurture them, incubating their talent through our massive peer network, and training them for greatness. Many of these artists are recruited through our site by major comic companies, movie studios, design agencies, and the like. DeviantART, more than anything, is a source of inspiration for all people and that includes seasoned professionals, because let’s face it, even experts need creative growth. Otherwise what’s the point of continuing?

Where do you believe online sharing and discovery are going in the future?

The web is already all about sharing. The world is using huge sharing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit to share things they like. Much of what is being shared is creative content: pictures, artwork, videos, stories, and games.

A hot button topic these days is “content curation” as it relates to sharing information. In the future, as people become more comfortable with the idea of sharing creative content, I believe that people will better realize the incredible value of niche social networks like ours.

What is it that makes you ‘deviant’ exactly?

People assume the name implies alternative lifestyles, but in actuality it is about going against the norm. When we started deviantART, there really were no social networks and even fewer creative communities online. There were message boards, and that was about it. We changed the game and “deviated from the norm,” as we like to say.

What trends are you seeing in creative submissions?

Of lately, I’ve noticed a huge community growing around textures, fonts, and general resources. We’ve always sort of had it, but it’s never been as big as it is now. DeviantART has become a prime resource for all creative professionals, in that we have a massive collection of really high-quality resources for use in their work, which includes the mentioned textures and fonts, but also includes 3D models, character illustration bases, and even tutorials teaching new methods of creating.

By ForrestLuchero

Do you think portfolio reviews are going to look like the community critique at deviantART in the future? Is this a step forward for instant feedback, or are there problems with anonymity, authority and distance?

That’s entirely subjective, really. Each artist has to determine for themselves the quality of a critique based on the feedback from the critic. You don’t need a (profile) picture or a real name to define whether you find value in the critique. You find value in the critique if it is thoughtfully presented, and there is growth that springs from the musings. So, really, anonymity and distance amount to very little when it comes down to it.

What matters is people’s willingness to help others grow. What we have on deviantART is a massive community of people sharing differing levels of expertise, but also a genuine desire to impart wisdom gained from experience, however minor that feedback may be. It’s better to receive small nuggets of wisdom and feedback from 10 people than to wait around for an “expert” to examine your work so they can provide you with their glorious insights.

Like all open publishing channels (YouTube, Flickr, etc.) deviantART receives a lot of low quality work to go along with the great stuff. How do you make sure stand-out material stands out?

Our content is mostly democratized, meaning we put a lot of weight behind the opinions of our community and not necessarily behind the opinions of a select few. Other sites arm the few with the power to spotlight work or hide it in the darkness forever, while we arm the populous with the ability to simply share their opinions. Having said that, because people’s tastes are in constant flux, we’ve been witness to many interesting patterns in creativity that have ultimately cascaded into the creative content we see today in design, illustration, ads, photography, etc.

How do you deal with some of the harder issues: racy materials, censorship and copyright infringement?

We have a great team of people who are responsible for weeding it out. Our community is diverse, creative, and more interesting because we encourage the sharing of ideas and art in its many forms, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Copyright infringement and censorship will simply not be tolerated.

Any new events or features coming up we should know about?

We’re exploding the moon.

By Alice X. Zhang

Interview: Max Dunfey