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I don't come here a lot anymore.

But when I do, I do so to see what's getting produced by the community. "What's popular today? Is it still provocative overweight anime horses and sexy lingerie model photography?" Usually it is...on the front page, at least. Having helped build this site into something-more-than-nothing I know that the front page, for all its purported attempts at sophisticated algorithmic-based sorting, is not really a reflection of the talents of the millions of members.

However, it is a reflection of what's hot right now. And what's hot right now is AI-generated imagery. DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and probably 2-3 others that escape me right now.

There are a number of reasons why you folks should not upload this stuff:

  1. Under the ToS of most of these systems, you don't personally own the art. The art is owned by the creators of the software that generated it.

  2. The art is generated by a system that scrapes the web looking for imagery it can categorize as something. It might find a painting of a figure right here on Deviantart, categorize that painting and its subject matter, and then used it to train itself. The image output you got was generated by a system lifting the work of your neighbors and acting like it did the heavy lifting. It's a collage-maker without the benefit of the collage being about something (like collage-makers try to say).

  3. You did little more than type out a description of what you wanted. At best, you are a client who took the output they paid for, uploaded it to an art site and said "I made this."

  4. The sheer popularity and ease-of-access of services like Midjourney means using them is going to be a populist activity—one that is inevitably going to delegitimize the work of others and whatever modicum of artistic integrity this website has. You see, when the front page is 50-80% AI-generated-imagery, a visitor is going to perceive the front page to be a representation of the majority of the content on the site. In other words, they see the front page as AI-generated and assume the rest of the library of work must also be this. This is human nature. Granted, before the AI-generated imagery problem, Deviantart's perception (again, based on the front page) was that it was all provocative overweight anime horses and sexy lingerie model photography. But at least that stuff was human-created.

Playing devil's advocate, I can just hear some comments and retorts. Allow me to get ahead of them:

  • What's the difference between an AI generator and a photographer? Certainly both rely on a machine to do the heavy lifting. Firstly, how dare you make this comparison. Secondly, an AI generator is a computer doing ALL of the lifting, while a photographer is using the camera as a tool. You'll notice that photographers have unique styles from one another, borne from years of experience, informed by their knowledge of lighting, the way skin and light complement one another, the human form, how to capture emotion, the power of color, figure-ground relationships, framing...the list goes on. Optimistically, AI generators are they themselves more akin to the photographer. By using MidJourney, you've hired a photographer to give you an image in their style.

  • Coming up with a clever description for an image output is itself the creative activity, isn't it? I will be the first to admit that creative writing is an art form. But what you are doing to build a MidJourney image is akin to typing a description for an ALT tag of an image for accessibility compliance. Creative writing it is not. Don't fool yourself.

  • Isn't this the direction illustration is heading in? I've seen this notion shared on Twitter—that publications, journals, books, news articles, and more will circumvent the use of human illustrators in favor of an AI generator. After all, why pay a person to make an image when a generator can pop one out for little-to-no cost? This might be true, for now, because it's novel. But an image generator will always be limited by the ability of the client to describe what they want to see. Like all clients, your descriptions will be boring as fuck, and fail to describe the impossible nuance and minutiae that come from only a talented human being putting "paint to canvas," so to speak. Also, recall how everything image generators pump out looks the same at its core (I mentioned that previously).

  • Isn't there something to be said about people finding ways to be creative when they otherwise can't draw, paint, photograph, write, etc? Yes I think it's wonderful people get excited by their artistic opportunities and explore those, but please refer back to the title of this overdue post: the AI art is not your art. You are the client.

K that's it. I wonder how this will age over the next 8 years.

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New Site Design

3 min read

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Midjourney is not your art by TheRyanFord, journal

New Site Design by TheRyanFord, journal

7 Notes On Deviantart's New Branding. by TheRyanFord, journal

Happy Birthday to deviantART! by TheRyanFord, journal

The new and the success of critiques by TheRyanFord, journal