Two weeks ago, we released two new products – deviant and art Mentions and new username symbols. Gratefully, and as we'd hoped, many deviants are embracing these changes in exactly the ways we'd anticipated, and the ways we ourselves did over the past several months of testing. While some deviants embraced the changes, it's fair to say that others have felt surprise, curiosity, and maybe even shock. These feelings are totally normal, but for the large part, there's a hope present. A positive outlook. The first steps in a new era that makes the way for our goals in the future, and, at the same time, removes clutter and confusion that new deviants often experience.
As with any change, there are a handful of deviants that don't understand why we made the choices we did – how we came to the conclusion to change. They're confused by the newness, scared that they don't recognize the site they love, and they urge us to "change it back." We understand those worries and share the nostalgia for things past, but this decision was not made lightly.
From Text to Graphics
The change from text-based symbols to graphical symbols was personally challenging for me for entirely sentimental reasons. As it was for $spyed, who reinstated his $ symbol, back from a temporary + symbol, a week before launch so he could enjoy it just a little longer. That might sound a bit silly, but those were real feelings, and we completely sympathize with deviants who have had a hard time adjusting to the change.
In the early days, deviantART's community was obviously much smaller – so much so, that there became a need for the handful of paid staff to differentiate themselves from the active volunteers, who often went above and beyond for the good of the community. This was for two reasons: one, the sheer level of dedication from the volunteers was so great we wanted to give them a distinction all their own, and two, for better or worse, confusion would abound in the community on the rare occasion a volunteer said something a paid member of staff would not have said.
We eventually implemented the $ symbol to indicate paid staff vs. those generally helping out, and the * and = symbols to denote those with Premium Memberships. Lastly, the ~ symbol was used to indicate all deviants. The big irony here was we considered having no symbol at all for deviants that didn't fall into the other categories, not thinking too much about it.
There soon grew a need for even more distinctions. Back in those days, the symbol for a Prints staff member was a % (which we thought was hilarious because resembled a paper rolling through a printer). Gallery Moderators were given a ^ symbol because their role was to elevate conversation. Chats, and later the Groups system, were denoted with the # symbol which referred to a "topic" back in the old Internet Relay Chat (IRC) days, and we wanted that to roll over to deviantART, where chats and groups also brought people together under a particular topic. Along those same lines, deviants with an @ symbol were our Chat admins, which also had roots in IRC, where the symbol meant the same thing. As time progressed, it became necessary to acknowledge deviants who had been around for a long time in meaningful ways, so we began awarding Seniors with the ` symbol to applaud them for their significant contributions to deviantART.
In 2005, and again a few years later, we actually considered making the change from text-based symbols to graphical, but we just couldn't let it go. It was too much a part of our roots, and we weren't ready. But now, eight years later, it was overdue.
Keeping the Lights On
It's a fact that we very much need to thank our Premium Members for their contributions to deviantART. It's not subjective; we are genuinely in a debt of gratitude to these deviants, and we're honored that we're able to give them extra features and recognitions in exchange for their gift of support. We've said this before, but it bears repeating and there's no exaggeration. Premium Memberships on deviantART keep the lights on for all of us.
Some people might ask, "Well, what about the Prints Program? What about advertising? DeviantART makes money there too." The Prints Program is a tool that can be utilized by art appreciators all over the world that gives back to artists in a meaningful way, offering them exposure and high-quality craftsmanship you won't find at other websites. We thank every person who takes part in it, and we're honored to help each of the artists the program supports. And advertising does help contribute to keeping our lights on, our staff employed, and our servers running, but when the dot-com bubble burst or when the stock market tanked, there was no ad revenue. In those times, the reason deviantART survived and so many other sites didn't (because their venture capital imploded) was that deviantART continued to have its vision supported by our deviants.
So, yes, we wanted to thank – and want to continue to thank – the deviants who made all that possible. If you have a star symbol next to your username, you should be proud, because you're helping keep deviantART on track into the future. Premium Memberships offer the single purest line of support we have to work with, and we couldn't be more grateful for the contributions of each and every Premium Member.
(On the topic of the look of new symbols, at their base, they're really not so different from before. $zilla774, from our User Interface team, put together a fantastic journal about the project to redesign and replace username symbols. I urge you to give it a read.)
Clarity and Gratitude
When we kicked off the process to redesign and replace our username symbols, the project only came about as a way to reduce confusion – it was brought up during examination of our onboarding process for new deviants. As I said in the New Username Symbols launch article, a common question from new and old deviants alike was: "What do username symbols mean?" Over the years, as we’ve surveyed deviants, we’ve found that very few understand symbols. It was a roadblock to understanding the full deviantART experience. We don't want deviants to focus on symbols and meanings. We want the focus to be about the art. We aimed to reduce the clutter and static to getting new deviants up and running, adding art to the community, and inspiring others.
We were never trying to put people down with the removal of the ~ symbol for non-Premium deviants. That's the truth.
If you're a deviant who hasn't yet achieved the status of the other symbols, you should be proud. You're a member of the greatest art community in the world! There are tons of tools available to all deviants for free, and we have so much more we're able to offer the entire community in development as we speak. Each and every one of you – symbol or not – are to thank for making the community what it is.
To The Future
We hope even in the short time that has passed, deviants are starting to become accustomed to these symbols, and maybe even growing to prefer them to the old system. I will say we're continuing to make small tweaks here and there (including addressing concerns about internal and external linking) and playing with minute differences in size and appearance in various places on the site. And, as always, we listen to all feedback and suggestions on Journals like this one and anything submitted to %hq, so you can keep your feedback coming, and your message will be received. (Due to sheer volume, we can’t respond to every message, but I promise and assure that everything is read.)
Thank you for continuing on this journey with us. As I mentioned, these new symbols are paving the way to even more amazing things deviantART can do in the future, and we couldn't be happier to share it with all of you.