So far I have been working on project management, defining the target audience and their needs, and improving the structure of the application. Before moving to visual design, I first needed to identify the kind of visual style that suits the target audience and works in a mobile phone UI. I want the UI to be inspiring, yet it still needs to be readable and not too intimidating.
In order to gather more information on which kind of visual style my target group prefers, I created ten mood boards on different kinds of visual art. The boards included examples of illustrations, typography and overall visual style associated with each genre. I asked ten people, all of which belong to my the target group, to answer questions on which board they associate their work with, which styles they like and do not like and which ones they would choose as their backgrounds. The idea behind the background questions was to find how long the participants would be willing to look at a certain style before it becomes too distracting or annoying. I also asked them what kind of prompts they would want, if they were to be based on the board styles.
The cultural background boards consisted of the following:
Character concept art
The participants liked the colourfulness and consistent palette of the minimalist and editorial styles. Along with the graphic novel style, people liked the visual language of those boards and felt inspired by them. Out of all boards fine art was the least popular, as it did not represent what people wanted from their own art, and it felt old-fashioned and cluttered according to the participants.
Most participants would want prompts based on the traditional, digital and fan art boards. The appeal is in relaxed approach and dynamic lines. Some would like to learn character concept art and landscape art, but they feel too intimidated by them to start. Cartoony style felt approachable yet too branded. Editorial and fine art styles were “too ready, looks like the expectations are high”. Traditional illustration was the most approachable. Clarity and approachability were the top two qualities people mentioned. Colourful flats and flowing lines were also popular. The feedback from the boards has given me a good base to build my visual design on, and I will start iterating the visual design based on this information.
I have been further defining the problems of the target group:
The target group is defined by need for speed. They need to focus on drawing itself and simplify any supporting actions.
Detest looking up stuff online because it takes so much time when having little experience or vocabulary to guide in searching.
Don’t get as much done as they would like because of the time constraint and due to getting distracted by challenging parts of drawing while lacking straight-forward solutions.
Generally poor self-esteem regarding their own art.
Comparison-mindset and lack of appreciation and understanding for their own work and for the progress or in-between stages of creating.
Generally young people, inspired by pop-culture rather than high-culture.
These problems are more widespread due to the social media era, because target group is surrounded by a massive daily feed of artists and work that seems superior to their own. The rich media feed has potential to be inspiring, but it becomes a burden for people in the target group, as it makes them unable to enjoy their own work. They have a pressure on getting likes and comments on social media and suffer from constant comparison to work of others and the feedback they get. Social media-mindset and pressure reflects on their personal drawing. Creativity suffers from the internalised pressure and coming up with ideas becomes difficult. People are insecure because they feel they cannot draw, as their perception of their skills is not truthful but overly negative and selective. My research indicates that the best way to help them is not by providing conventional art education, but by getting them to draw more and more casually.
Although the point of the application is not to provide tractional art education, I contacted an extracurricular art teacher to gather insights on how to get people familiarised with new media and techniques, and how to overcome insecurity especially when being surrounded by multiple people.
These are some key insights I gathered from the interview:
Being present is important, and small hints help people to continue and overcome frustration.
Providing specific advice for a specific problem quickly helps to re-engage. It doesn’t have to be a full lecture, just a couple of verses.
Breaking new things into simple steps that are easy to follow is useful.
Allowing free doodling with the new technique in an unexpected way keeps people engaged.
Having the media and assets ready for the next media or technique is important.
Showing that every approach and sketch has value helps people to see their progress and accomplishments.
Explaining a technique quickly in a few minutes maintains people’s attention and doesn’t take time away from their drawing practise.
Based on this I concluded that it’s important for my application to keep track of the media the user has available before selecting the prompt, provide short and snappy tutorial introductions and keep track of the user’s accomplishments. The following are features that aim to encourage the growth-oriented thinking over negative self-deprecation:
Asking users to submit information on what they liked about their own work and whether they liked the prompt subject and media.
People get frustrated with details which stops their drawing process. The app provides supplementary materials and breaks the prompt into smaller pieces to enable the flow.
Timeline allows users to see their productiveness — “I don’t draw enough” is something many people feel no matter how much they draw, especially if they work in a full-time job. Showing the work they have done visualises their accomplishments.
Developing a social side: encouraging people to share their less perfect work with others in a safe environment.
Learning by doing — the app doesn’t focus on improvement but gives tools for exploring new techniques and media.
“Great!” – encouraging screens to create a friendly tone of voice.
The reason I’m leaning towards creating a mobile application is that based on the research, people use their mobile phones for searching inspiration or reference materials, as when drawing traditionally there is often no space for a laptop or it’s too risky with having paints around, and when drawing digitally people want to use the whole screen estate for the drawing.
As I want the service to work as a standalone application, I’ve been sketching possible user journeys through the core parts of the application. The key parts at the moment seem to be identifying how much time the user has for drawing, and what kind of prompt would be suitable for them.
A sketch example of a user journey through one part of the application:
I also created a graph to visualise the concept of a ”comfort zone” which is one of the key factors that the ”curriculum” is based on. Comfort zone consists of what drawing media and techniques the user is comfortable using and use the most, as well as what subjects they usually draw.
The closer to comfort zone people are when drawing, the better their mood and confidence is. The harder and less used to the subject or technique they are, the more their mood drops and they feel more insecure because the mind shifts to negative thinking towards ”I don’t know how to draw, I can’t do this”.
Without help it’s difficult to overcome this, but when the practise is supported, usually by art educators but in this case by my application, it’s easier to overcome the negative feelings when learning new things.
In order to find out what kind of approach professional tutors have towards people with no prior art or illustration experience, I went to shadow a textile design student’s drawing critique. During the 30 minute quiet observation I found out that their approach to drawing and art was expressive and abstract. The method that their tutor encouraged the students to use was to create abstract, expressive art and patterns using different mediums, including ones that the students hadn’t used before. In the critique they associated descriptive words, such as ”living, merging, growth” or ”soft” to the work, which were then used as an inspiration to develop the patterns further. The students were also told to collect mood boards for inspiration, and the tutor emphasised how important it is to just keep the drawing practise going in order to ”get more stories” and interesting ”accidents” that would inspire the work further.
It was really insightful to see how the approach to abstract subjects can be more poetic, yet the core of the drawing practise is still the same – it’s worth it to keep drawing, no matter if the person is insecure about the results.
I have also been developing more ideas for the application:
The application takes into account the user’s comfort zone, by asking / recording what medium and subjects people usually draw with, and uses that information to its advantage when creating easier or more challenging prompts.
It creates a customised long term ”curriculum” that enables the user’s long-term improvement.
Takes into account the physical location and mediums suitable for that location.
Encourages to draw on different styles and techniques in order to enable the users to find the techniques they like.
Time to try challenging things multiple times in order to learn that specific subject or technique.
Based on last week’s interviews, I created a graph visualising the current experience of drawing process for amateur artists.
Finding time is a big problem – and even though there might be small windows of time that would give the person an opportunity to draw, they don’t necessarily realise that they could use the time to draw.
Having supplies is not a problem, although certain media needs a special environment – painting for example requires enough space and preparations and is not something that can be done on the go.
Idea – ”what I want to draw today?” – or the lack of it, can be something that stops the process entirely and keeps the person from drawing at all. On the contrary, sometimes having a good idea can raise the interest to draw and create excitement for the process.
Getting started is easier with an existing idea, whereas with no ideas it can be really difficult.
Sketching is part of the process that people seem to enjoy the most, and all of the interviewees also doodle for fun anyway, even if they don’t count is as properly ”drawing”.
Finding reference material is difficult, as it’s hard to describe the visual assets required for a specific scenario. The interviews and the survey revealed that most people prefer blog-post like quick tutorials over books or videos, as it’s much quicker to scroll through a blog post. Less time spent trying to find references means more time for drawing.
Finishing the piece can either be fun if the person has a flow going, or it can be daunting and feel unachievable.
People like sharing their work, showing their ideas and emotions to others as well as getting feedback.
My goals for this project are:
Support individual artist’s drawing practise, both immediately and in long-term.
Get the user to engage with the process of drawing. Possibly through scheduling, maybe including notifications.
Keep the user engaged throughout the process, by taking into account their personal interests, style, long-term goals, and by allowing them to choose between lighter and more challenging prompts.
Make the user see the value of their own work, by making sure that the moment of ending the drawing process is positive. Congratulate the user for drawing, no matter how small or insignificant their piece of work might seem to them.
Moving on with my research, I conducted four in-depth interviews with three amateur artists as well as one professional artist to get an insight on how people experience art block and how they currently engage with the craft of drawing. The professional illustrator’s interview was really insightful in terms of giving me information on how they managed to overcome the issues many amateur artists currently have, and how it affected their personal career path.
I got a lot of interesting information that will surely be useful later during the project as well.
Some of the core key insights that I’m currently going to focus on are:
People have different approaches to what helps them to overcome an art block: some need time and a chance to draw casually, stay on their comfort zone and relax. Others need a structured approach with schedules and deadlines in order to keep drawing.
Both amateur and professional illustrators suffer from external pressure, but professionals have the mindset to overcome it.
Amateur illustrators have high standards that create extra pressure to draw only ”finished” pieces, making it difficult to actually start drawing anything.
Amateur artists don’t see the value of doing only small or ”casual” sketches, whereas people who have managed to overcome art block and other difficulties noted that it’s really valuable to see that even the small things contribute to the overall improvement.
Finding time to draw is really difficult.
It’s easier to start drawing with a familiar medium and subjects, as well as drawing established characters.
Seeing the hard work pay off makes people feel accomplished.
Changing attitude is the key – not measuring personal value through the drawings, but perceiving drawing as a craft that can be improved.
All interviewees use their phone to look for references when drawing.
I created two Personas (loosely based on the interviews) in order to help me target the project better:
To continue my research on the area of drawing and illustration, I conducted an extensive online survey as many amateur artists mostly communicate and showcase their work online. The survey focused on the platforms and communities that hobbyists and professional artists use to inspire, create and promote their work.
Some key insights I identified from the survey were:
All of the research participants relied on self-directed study and online resources, and all of them agreed they have had a positive impact on their artwork.
Most stated that the software or materials they are using for their artwork are already expensive, and thus they look for free resources using mostly Google.
People found it difficult to come up with ideas for art at least sometimes, and majority had experiences of both an ”art block” –– which is a sustained state of having trouble producing art, and of a ”fear of white paper” –– which is a difficulty to start creating due to insecurity about their skills or ideas.
The survey also provided many smaller interesting insights on the artist online communities and confidence when it comes to creating and publishing artwork. I’m sure this survey will help me with this project in the future again with smaller details, but for now I identified the key user pains and the needs based on them.
It’s difficult to describe reference needs to Google.
Not able to access expensive resources.
Searching for resources takes time from drawing.
Difficulty to come up with ideas for work.
Lack of confidence for own work.
Affordable or free options.
Time efficiency when it comes to practising their skills .
Inspiration and courage to start drawing .
Moments of ”small victories” or something to boost their confidence.
Exercises to help produce work that is ’finished’ instead of ’perfected’.
Ways to express more accurate descriptions of the resources they need to search engines, or other means to access them.
Followed by the survey, I did secondary research on the existing applications and platforms aimed at helping artists, and found out that the existing services are either expensive, too specific or rely on very basic features with no customisation options. Also none of these services focus on easing the art block or negative thinking of one’s work specifically, which is something I want my service to take into account.
Thus I further defined my project outline into the following:
A service that helps amateur artists to come up with new ideas, gain more confidence in their work and find the resources that support their ideas more easily. It will make the self directed practise more streamlined while promoting a positive outlook on the artists own work.
It aims to help people feel more at ease when drawing and to finish their work through focusing on the act of drawing itself, instead of getting too caught on perfectionism and expectations.
The service will also take into account the different approaches people need when trying to overcome art block by allowing them to flex between challenging and lighter prompts.