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Shaping the Future: 7 Predictions for the Creative Community

What are the key shifts in technology, trends, and workstyles that will shape our future? We reflect on the road ahead for creative professionals in 2011.

At the start of every year, it’s fun to think about what’s next. However, for the creative professional community, considering the future is not just a casual exercise. It’s a necessity. The creative industries are rapidly changing, as is the way we manage our own creative careers.

Do you rely on the web for inspiration, feedback, or any other part of your creative process? Do you rely on online networks or websites as a source of new customers, clients, or collaborations? Are you involved in the worlds of advertising, design, fine art, or any other industry that ultimately relies on matching the right creative talent with the best opportunities?

If you answered yes, get ready.

Thoughts on the Road Ahead for Creative Professionals

In recent years, I believe that technology has been a little reckless with creative professionals. In many ways, technology has (shockingly) been obstructing productive creative careers.

Crowdsourcing spec contests, the lack of proper attribution for most creative talent displayed online, and inefficient services for career management – just  to name a few.But my team and I at Behance see the tide turning. We believe that technology and the latest shifts in creative industries will ultimately empower creative professionals.

Here are some of our predictions (and hopes) for the creative professional community in the near future [and full disclaimer: our inherent bias is that we think about this full-time and are developing Behance with these thoughts in mind!]:

1. The Era of “Distributed Creative Production” Is Upon Us

The advertising agency of the future will consist of account managers, administrative staff, and a tiny leadership team that provides creative direction. The creative production itself will be distributed to individuals and small teams around the globe who are at the top of their game. The same applies to corporate marketing departments and other creative firms.

In the past, resources for finding and managing top talent were extremely limited. Now, the rise of online networks, as well as project management and collaboration tools is empowering creative professionals and ushering in a new era of independence.

In the past, resources for finding and managing top talent were extremely limited.

Recently, I sat on a panel for NY Advertising Week called “The Shortage of Digital Talent.” My fellow panelists – all senior folks from large agencies – sought to explain what they saw as a “shortage of creative talent” in the digital space. I was the only one with the opposite perspective. There is remarkable talent emerging from all corners of the globe. But, I explained, “the only problem is that this talent doesn’t need to work for you anymore.”In the new era of “distributed creative production,” top talent will be able to work on their own terms. The companies (and clients) that welcome this future will benefit from better creative output.

2. Crowdsourcing (As We Know It) Will Be Rendered Obsolete

The early crowdsourcing initiatives have been nothing more than vast spec contests. The open calls for ideas and free labor from anyone has hurt everyone. Given the low odds of getting paid for work, this form of crowdsourcing has incentivized careless engagement. You just spend a few minutes on something and lob it in. Not surprisingly, the quality of creative output suffers, and attributing careless work to your name could hurt your career.

The good news is that people are starting to catch on. Top talent now avoids these crowdsourcing programs. New, more sustainable models are beginning to take hold. Quirky has revolutionized crowdsourced 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 form of crowdsourcing will become obsolete as we have more options and develop better judgment.

3. The “Credible Mass” Will Determine Quality

The future of “distributed creative production” starts with finding great talent wherever it may be. Relying on personal networks and headhunters won’t cut it. We will need a way for the best talent to rise to the top based on merit.

The future of ‘distributed creative production’ starts with finding great talent wherever it may be.

The greatest challenge we will face is how to measure the quality of talent. The solution will be community curation. Aided by tools like Digg, Facebook’s “Like” button, and the “Appreciate” feature on, communities are starting to curate themselves. Anything from articles 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 1,000 photographers should matter more than that of 1,000,000 random people. This is the difference between a “critical mass” and a “credible mass.” The “credible mass” will enable creative professionals around the globe to get new opportunities based on the quality of their work.

4. A New Genre of Advertising Will Educate Us

With brands in the hands of the people, a new genre of advertising will arise that is more authentic and borderline educational. Companies will tap their expertise as a way to win over the “credible mass.” For example, GE knows a lot about the future of energy and jet engines, Pepsi knows a lot about marketing and beverages, the New York Times knows a lot about journalism.

While you would likely skip over any commercials from these brands, you might be interested in their perspectives in areas where your interests intersect. Maybe you want to learn about GE’s smart grid from the scientists behind it? Perhaps you would enjoy a behind-the-scenes perspective on how a newspaper is assembled every single day from the New York Times? Great things happen when companies leverage their expertise for public interest. It also makes for powerful advertising.

The corporate marketing departments are not going to make the leap, but the creative minds in advertising agencies – and more likely the production companies that actually do the work – will start to experiment with a new form of advertising that will serve its viewer in profound ways. With the rise of online video and the role your friends play in curating the content you consume, advertising needs to step it up a notch.

5. The Static Portfolio Will Be Replaced by the Connected Portfolio

Not too long ago, creative professionals across industries relied solely on their “book” – a physical portfolio that was sent around to headhunters and prospective clients whenever an opportunity presented itself. These books were expensive, heavy, and instantly outdated from the moment they were sent. They also accumulated a lot of dust.

Over the last decade, most creative professionals transformed their portfolio book into a website. These static websites could be updated at any time and seemed much more efficient than the book approach. Personal portfolio websites proved effective, but only for those that visit them. Like the old-school portfolio books, you still need to invite people to view your site – whether by email or a link on your business card. Now, with the rise of social networks and professional networks, it is easier to spread the links to your portfolio and hope that the right person clicks.

Not too long ago, creative professionals across industries relied solely on their ‘book.’

I believe that the next step in this evolution will be the “connected portfolio,” a set of projects that live not only within your own personal portfolio site but also on other galleries and networks around the web. Your “connected portfolio” will act as both a personal portfolio website as well as a powerful dissemination tool that showcases your work wherever you want it – always keeping your work properly attributed and under your control. Such a system would boost efficiency and transform the portfolio from a static website into a tool for self-promotion and new leads.Our team at Behance is doing everything we can to help steward this transformation through relationships with companies like LinkedIn, organizations like AIGA, and our product pipeline.

6. The Rise of Creative Collectives & Mixed Media Partnerships

The unfortunate thing about trade associations and online websites devoted to one particular field is that they don’t help foster creative collaborations across disciplines. An illustrator is unlikely to connect with a photographer in the Society for Illustrators. With the rise of distributed creative production and more independence for creative professionals, we will need to connect and collaborate with creative talents that are different from our own.

I anticipate formal alliances between industry associations. Online websites and industry blogs will become multi-disciplinary (rather than serve, say, just designers or architects or photographers). We will also start to see more co-working arrangements and shared studio space between professionals from different fields. The rise of collectives and loosely assembled creative teams will support the increasing need to connect and collaborate across creative fields.

7. We Will Display Our Work in More Private Ways

Our exhibitionist ways will start to change. The trend in the design community (among other communities) of posting public snapshots of work in progress to get feedback will evolve. Feedback exchange is extremely important, but the merits of a more private and controlled environment will shine through. In the future, these exchanges will continue but in a different, more private forum, with carefully curated participants. This intimacy will increase the level of constructive criticism. We will see fewer remarks like “cool” and “LOL great work,” and more in-depth comments with substance. Private forums will also help us better serve clients who would prefer that their projects not be shared publicly before they are completed.


Some of these predictions are more lofty than others. Some focus on smaller, technical details, while others contemplate broader, industry-wide changes. Regardless, they are all in our hands. We make ideas materialize on our screens and with our hands, and then we are the first adopters. As creative professionals, we are extremely fortunate to have such a direct influence over our own future.Wishing you an imaginative and productive 2011.

What Do You Think?

What key changes – big or small – do you see on the horizon for creative professionals?

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (65)
  • Andrew+Deb O'Malley

    Really like #7.

  • nacho ★

    liked the 1º. i am a interactive creative, here in Argentina and i guess around the globe, the biggest ad agency are outside the agency.

    oustide you can make a great work team, but you have to add CREATIVITY + FOCUS + ADMINISTRATION. it´s easy & nice outside, but it may transform to Hell in a second.

  • Shawn

    A great article, and I believe it is 100% spot on target.

    You mentioned the movement towards what you termed “Distributed Creative Production” where, with the “… rise of online networks, as well as project management and collaboration tools is empowering creative professionals and ushering in a new era of independence.” thus “…top talent will be able to work on their own terms.” However, I was wondering why – though you mentioned “collaboration tools” – you didn’t single out electronics and software technology (ie. portability, communications network, software, etc.) as separate entities effecting this change from confined creative departments into a more free and flexible creative work force? I suppose we are to assume that this, along with software and applications, would be included into the definition of “collaboration tools”?

  • kenny

    I agree with point number 7.

    Just did that with a commercial we shot. Very helpful.-

  • Christopher Prins

    Holy crap, somebody has really put some thought into this. #7 is on the dot.

  • dp

    I’ve run into two camps regarding this. One potential client said “where’s your portfolio?” and the other said “why do you still have a portfolio?”.

    At this time, I choose to not have a physical portfolio because I have enough experience where my portfolio is secondary to what I have to say. I recommend having both for anyone who has under 10 years experience.

  • Roy Murphy

    Yep. pretty much on the money. The tension between clients wanting crowdsourced ideas for free and creative professionals ‘you get what you pay for’ perspective will meet in the middle. A relevant to the audience, curated idea model will be a growth area.
    Just ‘cos lots of people say something’s good, don’t mean it’s necessarily true.

    The future is more ideas that actually work, not multiple ideas with no future.

  • Robert Remley

    Good article. I don’t believe crowd sourced design will go away, it just will not progress much beyond it’s current offering. There is a level of client and client need that the current offering is fulfilling. I think that the concept of crowd sourced creative efforts will combine with the “distributed creative production” idea. Creative agencies will create their own selected and approved groups of creative resources that they source out projects to on a direct and crowd sourced basis. The corporate client procurement approach to selecting creative agencies will migrate to creative agencies for acquiring creative support.

  • plamotte

    Scott, I will try to not be too self promoting in this post because that is not my intention, but I think we at GeniusRocket have lived through exactly what you talk about in your post. When I first joined GeniusRocket we were a traditional contest based crowdsourcing site, that while originally founded to create video was being distracted by the large demand for affordable graphic design. Over the course of the past year and a half we have refocused the company back on to video, but to your point we have walked away from the contest model. So, why did we leave the market when creative contest sites are still wildly popular? For four basic reasons;

    1. Sustainability. If your best artists are submitting creative work to a contest where only one artist (or a small number) gets paid, how many times are they going to take that risk, if at all. Leaving you with a constant need to replenish the top talent.

    2. Feedback. Clients need to be part of the creative process and contest sites make it difficult to have a back and forth discussion prior or during production. Artists don’t want to “hope” they are on the right track, they want to be engaged with the client.

    3. Video costs are higher. While Doritos has shown quality content can be produced through Spec contests, its also has shown that million dollar purses are the main reason for production companies to take that chance. If you are looking to create a ongoing consistent source of quality content, artists need to be paid for their work, especially in video where so much cost is on the front end. From storyboard to final production every artist is now paid on our site.

    4. True branding strategy should be private. The contest model is primarily a public means of creating content. In order to promote the projects, and recruit artists it is difficult to keep the process private. However in a closed community everything can be done behind closed doors away from the eyes of competitors and media.

    Keep in mind that in walking away from the contest model, we weren’t walking away from quality talent, in fact we are inviting it. Our updated model is “curated” which means we have a vetting system to make sure the community is of a certain experience level. With our growing numbers this has only proven again that there is still a tremendous amount of underutilized talent across the globe. This of course is due to the fact that schools continue to push out highly trained artists, and technology continues to reduce the cost of quality production value.

    So in the end, what we learned at GeniusRocket, is by creating a highly interactive, non-speculative, closed community where brands can still tap into the crowd, you can appeal to the creative needs of the client, while still respecting the time and efforts of the creative community.

    Thanks for the great post.
    Peter LaMotte

  • ricone

    Thank you for the article, Scott. I believe that in the light of the ongoing discussion about the new advertising model your thoughts are going into the absolutely right direction. I would recommend incorporating a wider client perspective here, too: Why should they want to work with artists or collectives directly. No doubt, working with today’s real creative people will improve the quality of the work. But having worked on the client side for the last seven years I have to confess that you usually only go this way when you want to experiment and tap some new source of creativity … on smaller, less important projects. What hinders marketers from using this model for the more important things such as defining a new brand world? It’s security – security about the outcome being in line with their objectives and security about the process (e.g. time). Therefore, while I believe that working with artist directly is right, this model can only play a bigger role in the marketing communication world if you add a healthy level of control to it.

  • Traveling bags

    Nice review ! I like your article and i will definitely look again……………………………………

  • Ernest Falconer

    Smarter crowdsourcing, I love it…but do you miss out on the serendipity of stumbling upon a great idea from someone who is not of the “credible mass”?

    Ernest Falconer

  • DanStreety

    I’ve seen the evolution of the emos sitting in their cubes with their iphones blasting through sound-proof headphones, music I don’t recongize but part of me hopes we won’t lose that communal feeling of working together in the same space. I believe creativity is one of those last, great professions that allows the ideas to get better as they bounce off the walls of a small room with too many people and empty pizza boxes.

  • high school diploma online

    i agreed with you plamotte

  • Joxford

    YES! I really resonate with the idea of “Distributed Creative Production”. As a freelance creative director, I’ve been offered staff positions by a number of organizations and have turned them all down saying “Just because I don’t work for you, doesn’t mean we can’t still work TOGETHER.”

    I want to work with these clients a lot – and not just occasionally – but working freelance is more creatively beneficial & economical (for us both) than me joining an individual company for a 9-5 staff position.

  • J. Michael Roach

    Create stuff, Scott.  We’ve been studying this model for a while, and it’s good to see that we’re on the right track.

  • TimG

    Genius Rocket could never compete in the market, thats why it had to change, i remember it years ago…it was too small time in crowdsourcing.. i even won a prize on there…sorry but the site has not improved. new site suffers from poor design and UI.

  • Peter LaMotte

    Tim, we were actually very successful in our old contest market.  It was the clients that weren’t happy with the results from the contest model, and the creatives that we wanted most to participate didn’t like working on Spec.  Contest lend themselves to having to recruit new talent perpetually. The new vetted community has worked out much better and our average payout has skyrocketed from $400 to around $25,000.  Of course we stopped doing design and focused exclusively on video. A few creative teams have earned over $200,000 last year. I am not sure who exactly you are, but if you applied and were accepted to the new community you have seen that the new model is generating projects that with one or two exceptions has projects of never less than $10,000 and on average around $35,000.  Of course each project is invite only, so depending on your skill set and category you may not have seen that.  It really turned out to be a great move for GR to walk away from the Spec approach.  

    As for our design.  I would agree, that our old site wasn’t the best, but as for our new site most people love it.  We hired JESS3 one of the best design firms in the country (and a friend of the company) to design the site. It has even one a few accolades for the unusual scrolling design.  You can read about it here.

    All that said, if you are a part of the new community you have my email, if you have any feedback about the process I am always happy to talk in order to improve the model.  Please aren’t part of the new curated community still please don’t hesitate to reach out to me I am happy to tell about our new model. 

    Peter LaMotte

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