Interviews

DeviantArt Relaunches, Hoping to Foster Digital Creative Communities

“We are looking to help people build their own communities and then help them profit and thrive through those communities, to really activate careers in art.”

Promotional artwork for Eclipse (courtesy of DeviantArt)

Last November, the venerable art sharing website DeviantArt quietly launched a beta version of a massive redesign. Called “Eclipse,” the platform is hoping that the update will allow them to continue to foster creative communities in the modern media environment. Eclipse, still in development, recently opened up to a wider group of users for feedback. To find out more about the overhaul, Hyperallergic spoke with DeviantArt chief creative officer Justin Maller on the phone about the project. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dan Schindel: What’s going into this renovation of the site, primarily?

Justin Maller: Eclipse is primarily an aesthetic overhaul. It’s about modernizing the look and feel of DeviantArt more than it is about sort of implementing new tech or products. At the moment, we’re working on consolidating our existing portfolio of products and pages and bringing them into a design field that is more consistent with modern visual language. DeviantArt is a little outdated; it feels harder to join and get involved if you don’t have a history with it already. Removing that friction is important. Once that base is there, we’re going to look to expand and offer more services to the community.

DS: What’s influenced the new look for the site?

JM: The overall goal was to achieve a clean and contemporary aesthetic. Trying to do that but make something that’s still recognizably DeviantArt is the challenge. It’s trying to take something that is so old, and has this specific feel to it, and bring it into the modern world. Usually, websites get iterated upon year over year, but we’re trying to take something that hasn’t had a lot of iterations in quite some time and bring it into a space where designers and artists will look at it and say, “That’s beautiful, that’s a good home for my artwork.”

DS: What are some of the services you’ll be looking to incorporate once Eclipse is up and running?

JM: I’m not sure how deep I can get into some of the specifics at this stage. But we’re going to look at creating tools that facilitate the creation and development of artwork in a unique way, to enable artists to be able to grow in a very structured way that’s going to incorporate elements of education, through video and live streaming. That’s for artists in the beginner to intermediate range. And then for people moving toward the professional stage, we’re going to look to adding some options for them to be able to earn a living, or at least make a secondary income, off of their art.

(courtesy of DeviantArt)

DS: How will you balance catering to both professionals and new artists?

JM: That is an issue we’re running into at the moment. Because the design is slightly dated, it does deter professional artists from wanting to join and contribute to the community. So updating that to a place that is clean and vibrant is hopefully going to make that smoother. And I feel that we’re doing a good job listening to our existing community, so I’m confident that we’ll retain them, and I feel that the site that is launching is going to be very much more aligned with what new users will expect of the internet. So I think that when they land on DeviantArt, and it looks the way that Eclipse looks, they’re going to be like, “Well yes, of course. This is an art site.” I think that it just comes down to creating something that is high-quality and guided by strong design principles.

DS: So things that have grown up in a grassroots way through the site, like artists starting their own Patreons, you want to work to incorporate that directly into the structure of the site?

JM: Absolutely. We are looking to help people build their own communities and then help them profit and thrive through those communities, to really activate careers in art. There’s stuff that’s ancillary to that which we may be developing, but we’re trying to capitalize on the obvious stuff that artists can do, and which can scale as well. That’s a really difficult thing for artists. You can launch an endeavor, but then when it starts to scale, how do you handle that? So building infrastructure for that is a challenge facing us, and something I’m hoping we’ll pull off well.

We’re moving the site toward stuff that’s already happening. DeviantArt artists have long leveraged their pages as a way to recruit an audience to drive to Patreon, and they disseminate their work on the site to offer rewards to their supporters. I don’t think that adding that sort of functionality directly to the site is a deterrent for anyone. It’s a function that will be there, and can be used or not used. It’s a sort of thing that will unlock over time as people go further into their DeviantArt experience and explore more functionality of the site as we add it. Since this sort of stuff is already happening within the community, it’s just a matter of keeping it there.

(courtesy of DeviantArt)

DS: You’ve been incorporating user feedback while testing Eclipse. What effect has this had on the project?

JM: We have a very, very passionate community, and we’ve certainly been listening to them. A part of DeviantArt’s ethos has always been customization, the ability to take your profile page and make it uniquely your own. In our first build of Eclipse, we’d gone for a slightly more uniform approach, and we got a lot of feedback that users really wanted the ability to personalize their pages, and we made that change. That’s a very specific instance of the community guiding the redesign, and it’s certainly not an isolated one. We’ve heard from users on everything from the size of thumbnails to how to add new things to how notifications should work. Taking the feedback of these very engaged, very passionate people is important. You don’t want to sacrifice the overall mission of creating something new, but it is important to make sure that their needs are being looked after.

DS: And once Eclipse is in place, it’ll be updating on a regular basis?

JM: Yes, absolutely. Our first step is to get the entire site brought into this new visual language, and then once that’s done, it’s going to be time for us to start creating these exciting new elements. And those iterations will come out regularly over time. Even once Eclipse launches, there’s going to be things that are going to require continual updates. DeviantArt itself is comprised of nearly a dozen or more products, from the Deviations page to the notifications to feedback. But no update will be as jarring as what we’re about to do with Eclipse, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a lot more step-based moving forward.

Editors note 4/10/19: A previous version of this article misspelled DeviantArt chief creative officer Justin Maller’s name as “Justin Miller.” This error has been corrected.

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