A digital solution that addresses the problem of online art theft, empowering independent artists to share original work online with confidence.
Solo Guided Case Study
Figma, InVision, POP, Photoshop
Research, UX Design from conception to completion
01 / 05
Research & Discovery
Artists who use online platforms to promote their art are vulnerable to having their work misappropriated without their knowledge and consent, with a 2019 report estimating that over 2.5 billion images are stolen and used online on a daily basis.
Although the recent rise of Non-Fungible Tokens has brought the issue of digital art theft to the forefront, the unethical appropriation of digital artwork is a problem that predates the era of crypto-art.
With the rise of the NFT market, anyone with the know-how can create and sell NFTs, including thieves, erasing the original artist’s credit. And although NFTs track owners, they do not provide proof of authorship.
This is also a problem that disproportionately affects independent artists without the resources to fight perpetrators -- who may choose to monetize the stolen work, or falsely claim authorship.
My first goal was to investigate the present state of the problem space: how artists create, post, and protect art online, as well as barriers to this process.
of art dealers made their sales online as of 2017.
"Art ecommerce is projected to ‘continue & likely accelerate.’ "
of images shared online each day are used without a valid license.
This causes upwards of
in damages daily.
of photographers surveyed in 2016 self-reported as victims of image theft.
...of that number, 33% did not seek legal recourse, finding it too daunting.
The digital art landscape of 2022 is an active, vibrant space. Even before the recent surge of interest in digital art monetization through NFTs, art-linked ecommerce was a growing field.
However, this does not guarantee fair treatment for the artists creating original content, as demonstrated by the statistics gathered above.
As part of my research, I looked for any existing solutions that aim to address the problem of art theft, especially any products with a focus on protecting independent artists in the digital space. This analysis revealed the handful of services that did exist were predominantly focused on retroactively addressing the problem of digital theft.
[ ABOUT THE COMPETITION ]
Interpol’s ID-Art app crowdsources amateur sleuths and collectors to report stolen works of physical art, checked against a central database of 52,000 high-profile missing artworks: a solution focused on protecting non-digital art for a different, more privileged demographic.
Pixsy and CopyTrack both provide a suite of tools that allow photographers to pursue legal action against infringement in a more streamlined way. Finally, DeviantArt Protect, one of the most recent solutions to emerge, uses state-of-the-art image recognition software to help notify artists when someone uploads potentially infringing artwork, with a focus on monitoring NFT platforms such as OpenSea.
The solutions I found so far all addressed the space in different ways, with varying degrees of effectiveness, but all were retroactive solutions, aimed at detecting instances of theft and taking steps in response.
To better understand how others navigate the process of sharing their art online, I conducted 4 interviews with artists. I wanted to gain insight into questions such as:
- What motivates you to post artwork online?
- Have you ever had, or worried about your online art being stolen?
- Have you ever researched or taken steps to protect your art from theft?
- Has > 1 years experience as an independent artist
- Is familiar with posting original artwork online on public platforms
FULL INTERVIEW LOGS
- Decontextualized method
- Date: 7th - 9th February, 2022
- Location: Toronto, Ontario
- Interviews conducted remotely via Zoom, recorded with consent
- Otter.ai transcription software used
THE COMMUNITY MEMBER
"I'm never satisfied with what I produce. I'm my own worst critic."
Korean-Indonesian female who recently self-taught digital art.
She's an active participant in the online art community, who wants to monetize her art.
THE ETSY HOBBYIST
"Art is like representing a feeling I can't put into words."
Canadian female, works with digital and traditional art, self-taught since age 13.
She has monetized art via physical prints, merchandise, and commissions.
"Art can only exist in the context of being seen and exposed."
Canadian female, professional illustrator who works with traditional art.
She has a part time art practice and over 10 years of experience selling and showcasing work.
"NFTs have a lot of potential... I feel like it's being harnessed in the wrong way."
Canadian female studying Game Arts, works with traditional and digital art.
Using the process of Affinity Mapping, the raw research data I collected from my interviews was analyzed to draw out motivations, behaviors and pain points.
This information was then synthesized into high-level themes.
The broad, high-level themes gathered
from the process of affinity mapping were:
How Might We help independent artists feel confident promoting their art online without fear that it could be stolen or misappropriated?
Referencing the key insights gained from user interviews, I crafted a fictional persona that represents independent artists affected by the problem space. This would provide a relatable personification of my interviewee's motivations, behaviors and pain points.
Identifying design opportunities
Using Tanya's persona, I mapped out the process the artist might go through when creating and sharing artwork online, as well as her reaction and response to becoming the victim of art theft.
This exercise allowed me to identify key moments in the journey that presented opportunities for impactful design interventions.
Task Flow Mapping
Selecting opportunities for disruption
By thinking of Tanya as a real user with desired tasks to complete, I constructed a collection of thematically similar groups called epics, each containing user stories
from Tanya's perspective.
Primary User Story
"As an independent artist, I want to be able to show proof that I created the artwork, so that I don't have to worry about someone else claiming to be the author."
Reflecting on the Persona
At this point, I referenced Tanya’s Persona to ensure that the crafted user story and task flow addresses her biggest needs while alleviating her most significant pain points.
- Tanya wants to post her art online to be viewed, and credited when it’s shared.
- She hates the feeling of not knowing if her art is being stolen and shared without her authorship.
- Currently, she often posts in-progress “process” snapshots as she feels these are harder to steal.
- However, she is less likely to post completed work if it’s particularly meaningful to her, as she worries more about that getting stolen.
To upload and share original artwork online with definitive proof-of-authorship.
03 / 05
Referencing precedents from a UI Inspiration board
I assembled, I put together an idea of the screens that would be needed to process the art media.
I also began organizing components I’d be able to standardize.
Lo-fi to Mid-fi development
Working off exploratory sketches and the low-fidelity prototype in Marvel's POP app, interactive wireframes were prepared in Figma, then subsequently user-tested.TRY OUT THE MID-FI
[ USABILITY TESTING PROCESS ]
Goal: Evaluating design decisions
I conducted 2 rounds of usability testing, each with 5 users. This provided feedback
that was incorporated to improve the design, helping me identify and rectify problems with the prototype’s usability.
The most important revisions focused on addressing a lack of awareness on the why
rather than the how
of uploading process work, as well as confusion about the artwork’s destination (in-app and out of the app.)
Updated Mid-fi Prototype
Based on user testing, I organized my usability problems by order of importance, plotted the necessary changes on a design prioritization matrix, then made a series of revisions.
After the first prototype revision, round 2 test results showed a dramatic increase in overall success rate.
Establishing an Identity
Definition using keywords and images
The next stage centered around designing a brand that centers around the product’s core value proposition.
I identified keywords, phrases and metaphors that best suit the brand’s core experience: giving artists a secure place to display their art, while exercising the artist’s authorship, a dynamic transformative process. The resulting keywords:
Transparent / Dynamic / Creative /
Precise / Confident
Behind the scenes:
In selecting a brand name, I looked for something that was applicable to the app’s purpose: evocative of both transformation and permanence.
I narrowed it down to a choice between ARTIFACT and IMPRINT. ARTIFACT was a strong contender, as it could be broken down into relevant constituent words ‘Art’ & ‘Fact’, while the dictionary definition was “An object... showing human workmanship as distinguished from a natural object”.
Based on user feedback, however, I decided on IMPRINT - which felt more like a bold, actionable word, evoking the artist’s agency over their artwork (rather than just potentially describing the object itself). It also had the advantage of being used as an action word- i.e. “imprinting my artwork”.
The accompanying tagline “Proof • Vault • Share” was already implemented earlier as a task flow descriptor, and is snappy, simple and communicative.
In keeping with the brand’s values, both wordmark and system fonts should appeal to artists by expressing modernity and simplicity.
Sans-serif fonts in the geometric or grotesque styles fit these requirements. I settled on the Manrope sans-serif typeface, conveying the idea of modernity and clarity. Colorized versions were also considered, but discarded in favor of a strong black/white contrast.
[ DEVELOPING A WORDMARK ]
I used the Procreate app to explore operations on the wordmark, centered around emulating physical or art-based processes: ink bleeds, watercolors, and wood-burning, to allude to the idea of imprinting as a physical, indelible process.
Consulting with peers and members of the artist target demographic helped me choose the final version to continue developing, which inverts black and white to express the idea of engravings and punch-outs. The first “I” is switched to lowercase to make it feel less brash than an all-caps option. A ragged, “inked” edge on the blackout is a nod to the art focus of the app.
Finally, to emphasize the brand’s dynamism, I explored a two-stage, black & white animated wordmark that reveals the inversion and stylized period at the end of the transformation.
[ DEVELOPING THE APP ICON ]
The app icon that would appear on a mobile home screen should ideally be simple while conveying the purpose and brand of the app. A number of metaphors and abstractions were explored, including ideas of lamination, engraving, vaulting, stamping, and a nod to I.M. Pei’s Louvre.
The eventual icon selected for vectorization was a geometrically simple, axonometric visual of an engraved surface with a translucent layer hovering above, abstract enough to work at a small scale while still encompassing the brand.
As I moved through color injection and began building the hi-fi prototype on the Atomic Design system, I explored a design rationale that focused on applying translucency and consistent layers, drawing inspiration from both Android’s material design and Apple’s iOS visuals.
The intent was to express the product as an elegant, subtle machine that could also fade into the backdrop and allow the vibrancy of the art to take center stage.
[ EXPANDED UI INSPIRATION BOARD ]
Before formally beginning to create a UI Library based on the Atomic Design approach, it was necessary to review and expand upon the previous UI Inspiration board, with a focus on looking at the visual styling possibilities for user interface elements.
One additional priority was on further refining animations and motion graphics used in the mid-fi, with a focus on keeping them communicative of the app’s functions instead of getting carried away with visual flair.
[ COLOUR INJECTION & STYLING ]
I wanted to use a stark, clean, minimal aesthetic, with restrained, precise use of colors. This intention directed the mood and tone-setting of my app, and helped to narrow down the selections of blue and gray as primary brand colors.
I decided to base the visual tone on a light, clean, stark art gallery, hinting at the material qualities of paper and canvas- more traditional, physical mediums. Darker tones were also selectively used, as well as blues and aqua shades to inject material notions of glass and graphite- machined, precise surfaces to counterbalance the former materials.
After exploring various ways to inject color, I decided to break away from the 60-30-10 rule when necessary, using dark and light neutrals more liberally than color accents.
Establishing organized systems, inspiration boards and making use of Brad Frost's Atomic Design method are crucial to ensuring that the project maintains cohesion and is coherent to outside observers.
The UI Library serves as a ‘source of truth’, essential to delivering a consistent experience by standardizing and categorizing replicable patterns (e.g. buttons). A system built in this way is easily digested, and redlining measurements also makes it easy to hand off the design to other designers or developers who will eventually build the product.
I am indebted to the invaluable guidance of the BrainStation educator team, the generous contributions of my interviewees and user test participants, and the thoughtful feedback of the BrainStation UX 'Icons' cohort of January 2022.
Special thanks as well to Marcus Chu for providing valuable information on machine vision and image-based content retrieval.
Independent artists feel strongly connected to their work, express a common desire to have artwork treated with regard, and typically post online with little expectation of reward, apart from wanting to share it with the world.
When user testing, having a user be able to navigate through a task flow’s individual steps doesn’t necessarily mean that the overarching goals of the app have been successfully communicated, especially if the overall task flow incorporates functions that are novel or in a unusual sequence.
Moving into the hi-fidelity stage is a an involved process with many moving parts. Establishing organized systems, inspiration boards and making use of the Atomic Design method are crucial to ensuring that the project maintains cohesion and is coherent to outside observers.
As part of my post-UX bootcamp plans for IMPRINT, I intend to seek out collaborations with developers and professionals with a deeper understanding of machine vision and content-based image retrieval, in order to explore the possibility of turning this project into a shipped product.
With a functioning proof-of concept, I will devote more time to understanding ways to strengthen the proof-of-authenticity system, mitigating potential weak points that might be exploited by art thieves or bad actors to undermine IMPRINT's credibility.
Another important consideration is making the app financially sustainable and (ideally) profitable, exploring non-exploitative routes to monetization that do not interfere with the brand's values and 'artist-first' mentality.
Exploring Blockchain Integration
I made the decision during the duration of the project to avoid NFT or crypto technology as a buzzwordy, 'catch-all' solution to the issues I was exploring. However, now that the project's core value proposition and functionality has been established, I would be interested to see how a mindful, environmentally-conscious approach to integrating blockchain technology could allow IMPRINT to further evolve.
copyright © 2022 by Mark soh