Creators & Casual Users

And building creative tools for both groups.

Here’s a conversation I had with a friend who builds software for artists at Pixar: when we build creative tools, we can either build for creators or casual users. When we try to solve for both, we end up with something that isn’t effective for anyone. After going back and forth, here’s the framing we came up with.

Creators want options. While ease of use is important, it’s not as important as giving creators everything they need to bring their visions to life. When a creative tool is sophisticated enough for experienced creators, it’s no longer approachable for casual users. Think of Maya or After Effects— powerful pieces of software for experts, but a dizzying mess of features for everyone else.

Casual users want outcomes. As long as the final product meets or exceeds their expectations, it doesn’t matter if their options are limited. Apps like PicCollage have a fixed set of fonts, backgrounds, and stickers, but that’s more than enough for most people. The tool makes it possible to create appealing work with minimal effort, and that’s all that matters to their target audience.

While tools for casual users appeal to more people, the output quality will be bound by what the tool offers. Tools for professional creators don’t have the same limitations, but their complexities exclude the people who are just getting started. I think there are clever ways to design feature-rich programs in a way that’s approachable for new users, but my hunch is that the target audience for those tools is used to grappling with complicated software. If you know about creative tools that straddle this line, I’d love to hear about them.

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