The Soda Academy
"Crowd-sourcing initiatives and spec work are nothing more than a big insult to creatives – who should all be paid fairly for their work."
"Top design talent is now as coveted as top engineering talent in Silicon Valley/Alley and the broader technology industry."
"The greatest challenge we face is how to measure the quality of talent."

Scott Belsky, Behance

The Age of the Empowered Creator

Age of Empowered Creator

A look at the State of the Creative Industry in 2015

It’s an exciting time to work in the creative industry. The tools we use to create are rapidly (and finally!) more mobile and connected than ever before. Creative content – both quality and frequency – has become critical to brands in the era of social media. And whether your customers are businesses or end-consumers, they expect to be inspired and educated by the “advertising” in their lives. The creative industry needs to keep up with the demand for greater quality, frequency and relevancy. Here are a few positive forces helping empower creators to drive the industry forward.

1. The friction between creativity and expression is disappearing.

I’ve been at Adobe since Behance was acquired in December 2012 and have witnessed first-hand the company’s new focus on removing friction. A lot of the new innovation around here is in creative process - reducing the number of steps it takes to do something, rather than adding innumerable new features. The desire to simplify and make creative process more efficient extends from our desktop products to our new mobile strategy.  Rather than build a “mobile version of Photoshop,” we are building new products like the recently launched “Photoshop Mix” that make it easier for more people to perform certain Photoshop-like actions, yet still preserve full compatibility with Photoshop on the desktop. These efforts are helping more people – and companies – use creative tools to express their ideas. The truth is, we all have creativity. The friction that inhibits ordinary people from expressing their ideas is really the learning curve associated with so many creative tools on the market. Through better design and new platforms like mobile, more people will be able to create and contribute.

2. Technology is being used to engage creatives – and increasingly in a sustainable way.

It is deeply disappointing to me when I see companies using technology to take advantage of creative labor rather than empower it. Crowd-sourcing initiatives and spec work are nothing more than a big insult to creatives – who should all be paid fairly for their work. These open calls for ideas and free labor hurts the industry overall. Given how low the odds of actually getting paid for work are, crowd-sourcing creative has sparked careless engagement by some members of the design community. They may just spend a few minutes on a design project and lob it in. Not surprisingly, the quality of creative output suffers. Attributing careless work to your name could also hurt your career.

The good news is that people are starting to catch on. Top designers now avoid these crowd-sourcing programs. New, more sustainable models are beginning to take hold. Quirky, for one, has revolutionized crowd-sourced product design by ensuring that every contributor gets paid. Our team at Behance is also experimenting with new models for “sourcing” groups of top talent and guaranteeing payment for contributions. Regardless of what new models emerge, the old and destructive forms of crowd sourcing will become obsolete as we develop more options and better judgment.

3. Creatives are increasingly managing themselves as businesses.

Today, every creative individual has the opportunity to run his/her own business. The Internet has removed nearly all friction to sell work, market expertise, raise money, bill clients, hire a team, and more. Now more than ever, those with the ideas are empowered to take the reins on their own destiny. Products like TicTail (online stores), Kickstarter (financing), Harvest (billing), Behance (marketing your portfolio), among others, have made this possible.

Consequently, creative people in larger teams and companies work with an entirely new set of expectations. Salaries have gone up, and top design talent is now as coveted as top engineering talent in Silicon Valley/Alley and the broader technology industry. There are now even venture capital firms that are focusing on design-founded companies, like Designer Fund and Kleiner Perkins (who named John Maeda, former President of Rhode Island School of Design, a Partner).   Within successful companies, the creative team has moved from the periphery to the center. What began as a small group of design-led businesses has gone mainstream, with creative teams becoming more influential over the entire business, in companies large and small.

4. More creatives are getting more opportunity these days, and for the right reasons.

Of course, empowering creative careers starts with finding great talent wherever it may be. Relying on personal networks and headhunters won’t cut it. We need a way for the best talent to rise to the top based on merit.

The greatest challenge we face is how to measure the quality of talent. The solution is clearly some form of community curation, using things like “endorsements” on LinkedIn, “Likes” on Facebook, “Appreciations” on Behance, and so forth. Anything from fashion design to written content to pieces of art can now be sorted based on consensus.

But the insights of the critical mass aren’t enough. For example, when evaluating the quality of a photograph, the opinions of 100 seasoned photographers should matter more than those of 1,000,000 random people. This is the difference between the “critical mass” – how many people like something – and the “credible mass”—who likes something. The future of curation and matching talent with opportunity starts with tapping the credible mass through algorithms and new ways of understanding the correlation between online interactions and quality. At Adobe, we talk about the “creative graph” and track how the creative world is collaborating more than ever before.I hope the creative graph becomes a reality and helps emerging creators get the spotlight they deserve.

Scott is an entrepreneur, author, investor, and currently serves as Adobe's Vice President of Products-Community and Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work.

Illustration provided by Russia-based SoDA member, Red Keds