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AMA: Scott Belsky, Behance/Adobe/99U, and Investor

5 years ago from , Founder/CEO, Behance & VP Products, Adobe

hi everyone - thank you Andrew + DN team for the invitation to do an AMA.

my name is scott, and i've been focused on connecting and organizing the creative community for quite some time. i'm the co-founder of behance, and now oversee community and mobile products at adobe. i also have an interest in education for creative careers, wrote MAKING IDEAS HAPPEN, and helped create (and still host) 99u.com over the past 7 years. read full bio here

Happy to try and answer...well...anything (and will do so LIVE at 2:30pm EST 7/30).

  1. Start-Up Experience
  2. Navigating creative careers...
  3. Behance / 99U: What to improve, what and why, etc...
  4. Adobe/Creative Cloud: What it can be, the challenges and opportunities ahead.
  5. Why i'm obsessed with the interface layer
  6. Periscope
  7. Investing in and advising new businesses
  8. Being a dad.
  9. Being a vegetarian for 24 years.
  10. You get the idea...

Twitter at @scottbelsky and Instagram at @scottbelsky

28 comments

  • Daniel FoscoDaniel Fosco, almost 5 years ago

    Hey Scott, thanks for taking the time for this AMA :)

    What are your thoughts on Adobe no longer being perceived as the leading force behind creative software — do you get this sentiment from the community? And if that's the case, where do you think are the greatest opportunities for Adobe to create laser-focused creative software that not only helps people to do their jobs, but transforms the way they do it?

    4 points
    • , almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      Hi Daniel - thanks for the question.

      I think the sentiment varies depending on who you talk to and how open they are to change. Big picture, it is remarkable how much a product like Photoshop has evolved to meet shifting demands and entirely new uses cases (like screen design) over the years. However, there is no debate that more focused tools can offer a better experience for certain tasks. My colleagues in the desktop product teams are approaching this in a number of ways. There are new workflow features like Art Boards (and more coming soon) that better serve certain segments of users. But there are also efforts underway to build new tools with the laser-focus that you describe. One example is a new iPad app called "Adobe Comp," which was created in a partnership with Khoi Vinh to serve a specific segment (designers) for a specific part of their process (concepts/layouts/mock-ups).

      But I think you bring up a broader and more important question: DOES THE WORLD NEED MORE FEATURES, OR A BETTER WAY OF CREATING?

      My vote is the latter (we've got enough features, what we need is more efficiency and fluidity). Workflows with creative tools are still full of friction. Even some of the new and cool emerging non-Adobe design apps don't play well with others. While most people focus on "Creative Cloud" as a subscription offering for Adobe's desktop products, I think of it as a service that could potentially connect your workflow across mobile and desktop AND across Adobe and 3rd party apps. Ultimately, you should be able to work in whatever tool you want with all of your assets at your fingertips, without any concern for compatibility or compromised fidelity.

      4 points
  • michelle carlough, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Scott,

    I have a quick question navigating careers - what tips do you have for understanding and evaluating an organization, role, or even individual projects to decide if they align with your career goals and values ?

    Thanks!

    3 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      My observation is that people have great creative careers when they work in the overlap of their (1) Genuine Interest (2) Skills, and (3) Opportunity that presents itself based on relationships/geography, etc...

      So, whatever you do next, you want to make sure that you're working in YOUR overlap.

      In addition, focus on who you are working with. Often we get obsessed with role, title, compensation, and culture...and we forget to REALLY do diligence on the management and the team. I think the people you work with are the most important factor of all...so interview them, ask around, and choose a job with good people over a job with more money or prestige! Because, ultimately, you'll hate work and underperform with the wrong people around you.

      3 points
  • Camilo SanchezCamilo Sanchez, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Scott, I'm a big fan of yours. I've read your book making ideas happen. It's a great surprise to meet you in this AMA. Do you know how to code? at least html/css

    3 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Camilo - Thanks! Aside from the little I've learned on CodeAcademy on the weekends, I am not a developer by any measure. It's been a great experience working with our tech teams over the years, and my thought process and management practices have been greatly influenced as a result. To manage teams with an expertise you lack, you need to understand the processes they go through.

      4 points
  • Max LindMax Lind, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

    I have this thought/idea on time being relative, and how we all spend it on the things/people that matter most. Along those same lines, I'm always curious to hear everyone's take on balance. How do you manage to make time for everything in your life when there are undoubtedly so many moving parts?

    2 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      I think balance is achieved over time vs. on a daily basis. The most important thing for me is to be as present as possible wherever I am (and with whoever I'm with). It's hard, I'll admit...because the burden of uncertainty is constantly processing it in your brain. One of the greatest costs of entrepreneurship and leading new things is the commitment to constantly process stuff (and essentially never be fully present). Over time, you can learn to compartmentalize. But it is f'ing hard.

      3 points
  • Michael AleoMichael Aleo, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Scott, at the risk of asking an inappropriate question, I'm going to ask it anyway out of curiosity: Do you think Behance missed the boat on something that dribbble saw between the cracks and capitalized on in a big (traffic-wise) way? Why is Behance better than dribbble?

    2 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      Hi Michael - I wouldn’t compare Behance to Dribbble, since Behance showcases the full “project” (the full context of the work), while Dribbble focuses on small snapshots. No doubt, anyone can make a good drop shadow or remix assets, not many people can do so in the context of a solving a big problem. Snapshots are a great form of getting feedback, but don’t make up a portfolio in my opinion. Dribbble has certainly filled a need, no doubt. But I think the reason traffic is drastically higher on Behance is that a portfolio of projects tells a story that 400px cannot.

      The other question is around Exclusivity vs. Meritocracy. I see a lot of sites out there that are paid admission, or nomination by a friend only. At Behance, we’ve always believed that our job is to foster a system where anyone has a chance to showcase their work (regardless of who they know) and great work gets the recognition it deserves. In the modern day web, we should tackle the challenge of surfacing quality through community curation and other methods that foster meritocracy (rather than through exclusivity that gratifies the ego, in my opinion).

      3 points
      • Michael AleoMichael Aleo, almost 5 years ago

        Thanks for the really insightful answer, Scott. Projects vs snapshots is an interesting way to look at it. Appreciate the reply.

        0 points
  • cliff nowickicliff nowicki, almost 5 years ago

    I always loved the idea of interface layering, but never knew it was a thing until I read your article. This puts some ideas into my head to make my life simpler, especially as a dad with kids who are starting to get into computers and sports. So my question would be, as a dad, what 4 things would you layer together in a single interface?

    2 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      I would layer home management into a single interface. The stocking of your kitchen/refrigerator/cabinets, and the services to manage your home - these should all be aggregated and intelligent enough to work together...

      3 points
  • Jonathan CourtneyJonathan Courtney, 5 years ago

    In your excellent Interface Layer article you speak about individual services/apps even brands becoming commoditised. You also conclude that this will lead to the role of the UX/UI designer becoming even more important, but what are your thoughts on UX/UI becoming commoditised too with better and better software to create relatively good interfaces? Do you think it's possible for software to improve enough to allow a low-skilled designer to create amazing experiences?

    P.S. Loved 99U this year, already have my tickets for the next one!

    2 points
    • , 5 years ago

      I think there is a difference between "relatively good interfaces" and one that is distinguished by ingenuity and constant optimization. Commoditized UI/UX will not make you stand out or enable you to effectively optimize and compete. In the interface layer post, I basically make the case that the success or failure of a product is less about the technology and more the user’s experience of the technology (that's obvious to all of you), and that the most exciting businesses will aggregate and integrate services into common interfaces. The biggest implication of all: Design truly becomes the competitive advantage because the best interface (with the most thoughtful integrations) will win.

      1 point
  • Viral JoganiViral Jogani, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

    Hi Scott! Big fan of Behance and the content over at 99u. Thank you for doing this AMA!

    I'm currently an Electrical and Computer Engineering student at Rutgers, but I love designing UIs on the side. I don't see myself pursuing a career in design, however, whatever I do in the future will undoubtedly take design into great consideration. My question to you is: in a field like engineering, how do you communicate to others the importance of and need for good design?

    Thanks again,

    Viral

    PS: If you're around in NY, I'd love to grab some coffee with you and chat about #1, #2, and #9!

    2 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

      So....You are an electrical and computer engineering student at Rutgers who deeply values design... Wow, you have a golden path ahead of you. ;-)

      Design is a value. And like any other values you wish to instill in your team, you need people to understand and experience the importance. This starts with hiring the right people, how you position design in the company (is it outsourced or managed by some PM? or is there a designer co-founder and/or leader with a "seat at the table?"), and how your process empowers design (do designers/design-minded leaders set the product vision, or some business PM?).

      Either in NY or SF, happy to share a vegetarian meal!

      3 points
  • Andrew WilkinsonAndrew Wilkinson, almost 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed your book 'Making Ideas Happen' and messed around with Action Method Online a bunch way back when. Since it's not around anymore, what tools/system/methodology do you use to get things done?

    1 point
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      For productivity, I am an avid user of Wunderlist (for task management), Evernote, and, of course, Slack ;-)

      3 points
  • Maureen Ballatori, 5 years ago

    I'm responsible for graphic and new media design and strategy at a law firm and we try to embrace tech to differentiate ourselves and be more efficient - what are your thoughts about how the interface layer could affect the legal industry?

    0 points
  • Maxime Leroy, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Scott. Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA today!

    I have been following Behance's story for a few years now, and I've always been curious about one thing: How, Why and When did you and your team decided to build products like the Action Method notebooks, to launch 99U online magazine, to organize the 99U conference and recently to print the 99U Quarterly magazine. How did these products or experiences contribute to the main Behance Network?

    Would you recommend this strategy for other companies?

    Thanks, Maxime

    0 points
    • Scott Belsky, almost 5 years ago

      Indeed, our first creation back in 2006 was a line of paper products designed to help creatives be more productive. Strange roots for a technology company, huh? But for us, it made complete sense. We wanted to build a company that was mission centric and medium agnostic. Behance was founded to help connect and organize the creative world and empower people to make their ideas happen. In the early days, we were willing to create any type of product, service, or experience that helped fulfill this mission, regardless of the medium.

      Over the years, as we have focused more on the Behance network (the technology), we have preserved efforts like 99U. Enhancing the prospects of creative careers through Behance can only go so far without educating creative people on how to manage clients and scale themselves as businesses.

      No doubt, this was a "long game" in our business plan. Not sure I would recommend it for start-ups. Admittedly, it may have diluted our energy in the early days. But it yielded a better brand and a broader impact that has paid dividends over the years.

      1 point
  • jonathan bowdenjonathan bowden, almost 5 years ago

    Hi Scott! Big fan of yours, and I met you randomly at SXSW 2011 waiting in line for something. I also attended my first 99u this year, and really enjoyed it. Question though, why did you guys not have an app, instead of all the printed conference material? The materials were all really well designed and produced, but an app could have been much more efficient, and change on the fly? If you need one designed and built for next year, just let me know!

    0 points
    • , almost 5 years ago

      The short answer is, we LOVE the process of developing the 99U identity every year, and there's something special about the smell and feel of beautifully printed conference collateral that we cannot resist. So, I guess it is something we do for ourselves and to enrich the physical experience of 99U for the attendees.

      1 point
      • jonathan bowdenjonathan bowden, almost 5 years ago

        Yeah, coming from a traditional design perspective, I also really love printed material. But for something so short lived, it seemed like a huge waste of trees. But, take that for what it's worth...

        0 points
        • , almost 5 years ago

          It enriches the experience and its a small run (and recycled paper). But I hear you. The other thing I notice (at least when I attend conferences with apps), is so many people never bother to download and look through them...

          0 points
  • Maureen Ballatori, 5 years ago

    What is the most important lesson you've learned about growing as a person (and dad!) professionally and creatively?

    0 points
    • , 5 years ago

      Feedback is a form of compensation....so, if you're not getting it, ask for it. And early in your career (or a relationship), candid feedback is gold.

      1 point