While the Web today is chock full of creative expression of every stripe, and digital media has given voice to a whole new class of amateur creatives, be they musicians, artists, or photographers, creative professionals on the other hand have long been underrepresented in the digital world. Yet, as web technologies and their distribution channels mature, diversify, and become easier to use, business opportunities for creative professionals have finally started to outpace both friction and cost. Today, creatives are building careers as freelancers or small business owners with much greater success online.
Behance launched in 2006 amidst this changing landscape with the goal of finally providing creative professionals a legitimate, professional platform on which to showcase their talents and regain control over their work. Yet, when it comes to exposure, attribution, and discovery, there’s still too much friction for creatives looking to do business online — even inside Behance. Which is why, over the last nine months, the Behance team has been working on a major redesign that aims to significantly increase the transparency and efficiency of its platform as well as the discoverability of its creatives. And today that redesign finally went live.
But before going further, it’s worth getting some background: Behance’s platform for creative professionals was designed to enable artists and designers to create multimedia portfolios and distribute them across its growing network of partner sites (of which there are now 10K), including names like LinkedIn. Though increasingly popular among creatives, the startup has largely flown under the radar in the tech community, but today’s redesign could change that.
When we last covered Behance in August, the startup had attracted over 500K users and was seeing over 20K new projects launching every week, with 1 million projects created to date. Since then, its network has nearly doubled, with traffic increasing significantly. While it’s holding back on current monthly and quarterly user numbers, Behance CEO Scott Belsky told us that the startup saw over 10 million visits to its network of sites in the last 30 days, and the network is currently growing “by thousands of members per day.” (And though Behance has boot-strapped for over six years, it is now beginning the process of raising what we hear is a substantial series A round.)
Backed by this escalating growth, Behance is looking to grow its value for creatives by becoming more efficient at an infrastructural level and by reducing friction in how their work is discovered by others. For example, prominent among the platform’s slew of new features are improved gallery browsing, activity feeds, member profiles, curated galleries, and the ability to follow other members. While Behance’s goal has always been to allow its users to showcase their talents, its new incarnation finally puts discovery mechanisms on equal ground, both among artists themselves as well as for potential employers looking for, say, a top-level graphic designer for an advertising campaign.
For example, the site’s new “Explore Tab” allows users to search the platform’s content from a number of categories, based on your personal tastes and interests. Those browsing Behance content can drill down into specific categories, like, say, graphic design, whereupon the algorithm filters out all content not produced by graphic designers. This is fairly typical for search criteria, but where it starts to stand out is in its additional granularity, as you can browse by the content that’s most viewed, most appreciated, etc. Or based on the country and city it came from, how recently it was uploaded, whether it in the last 24 hours, or the last week, etc.
On top of that, you can browse by specific tags associated with graphic design, like health, fitness, retro, or iPad, for example. Choose as few or as many as you want, click apply, and the list of graphic designers gets pared down to those who specialize in health-related retro design for the iPad.
Although I’m not sure they’ve nailed it yet, this granular search functionality has the potential to be very powerful for discovery, especially as those tags and categorizations can be applied not only to products/work, but people as well. As the company moves to create a robust, transparent LinkedIn for the creative professional, you can see how these enhanced search tools will benefit prospective employers. And not only that, but other artists and creatives with specific backgrounds or project goals looking for inspiration from others working in their specific fields. Allowing creatives to connect with each other based on the tools that they use, the schools they went to, the brands they work for, is huge.
And to that point: Behance has also updated its “Activity Feed” on user profiles to give users a visual dashboard from which they can “follow” other designers they’re interested in, taking in a realtime stream of content from those whose work they care about — a move which can increase transparency. The startup is also putting the ability to browse trusted curators front and center, as users can now more easily browse through galleries curated by Adweek, AIGA, as well as top Schools like the Rhode Island School of Design.
This last part is significant to the Behance community, because traditionally college students and young designers have shied away from interacting on the larger platform. The reason is that many of its members are designers with years of experience, and thousands of followers, which can be intimidating to someone just starting off. So, Behance has allowed the creation of school networks within its community, allowing users to share their content according to their own privacy specifications, like sharing just to their school network, for example, a la Google+. In the big picture, the idea is to create a college-level, Facebook-style social networking feel within the larger community.
Furthermore, updating its profile pages allows users to share more of their work on their page, as well as upping the level of transparency by enabling users to indicate where and when their work has been featured, integrating it into social media profiles, while project pages now show their owner’s personal information above the fold and include a fuller set of details, like tags, the tools, media, or software they used to produce the content, where they were when they produced it, and so on.
Another cool feature includes the ability for users to track their portfolio statistics, whether it be for their profile or individual projects, seeing how many times it’s been viewed, “appreciated,” and commented on.
The Behance of old had some annoying fragmentation between its .net and .com domains, but the redesign has resolved that, as Behance.com redirects to the former. The point being that today it looks like a serious technology company. It offers analytics, high level search, segmentation, and discovery, realtime activity streams, project management tools that basically allow you to upload and customize a wide variety of content without feeling like you’re working with three-year-old Drupal technology. Following and “appreciating,” along with an internal messaging system, give it the requisite modern social features.
What’s more, while it offers customizable profiles, users that don’t want to host their own sites can use Behance ProSite to build their own portfolio site that lives on its own URL, while offering some basic layout and content customization tools and the option to create additional pages, without having to write a single line of code — for $11 a month. And on top of this iSites-type CMS, Behance offers a cross-platform task management system that lets you delegate tasks, manage projects, and sync with mobile, among other things — both on free and premium plans.
This latter bit leads into Behance’s monetization structure. While, up to this point, it’s clearly been making enough from advertising and its premium CMS and task management software, one thing I noticed about the redesign is that has removed ads from the platform’s UX in a significant way.
And, to that point, Behance also offers “buy” buttons that users can place within their content to make purchasing actionable. The difference is, though, that Belsky says that the company isn’t trying to build out eCommerce functionality — there’s no universal payment mechanism or shopping cart lurking behind the curtain. The CEO tells us that the goal is to use its buy buttons to redirect commerce to other platforms creatives are already using to sell their wares, like Etsy, or Amazon. Of course, diminished advertising and no content sales commission means looking for revenue streams elsewhere.
As Behance is looking to maintain its overall focus on allowing creatives to showcase their portfolios while allowing others to discover their content, this pushes them further into the professional networking realm, and likely into LinkedIn-style monetization by way of things like corporate accounts, charging employers for access, etc. Closing a big series A will also provide that much-needed growth capital.
Obviously, the real value of this redesign is that it is now leveraging the power of deep search, social networking functionality, data-mining, and technology that can power a whole mess of websites, and thus can gain data and action-based insight into how creative professionals work. With more exposure and higher transparency resulting in better attribution, creatives stand to better grow their own personal brands.
Behind these new features and functionalities, Behance reduces the friction inherent to being a freelancer or small business in creative enterprise. And in doing so, the startup increases its value to employers as a platform by which they can easily search for and discover the right creative talent for their needs. And that, as the many companies jockeying to find the best model to match employers with job seekers shows, could be gold.