The Big Issues

With the upcoming release of Blender 2.5, the industry is now watching our every move. But how are we portraying ourselves to the outside world? In this presentation, I highlight some of the problems that are holding us back, and possible solutions on how to fix them.

In this presentation you will discover:

  • The results from ‘The Great Blender Survey’
  • The #1 frustration with blender as voted by the community
  • The average age of the blender community
  • Why Blender.org is unappealing to new visitors
  • Why new users are unable to learn blender
  • How we can make donating more “fun”

Video Recording

Recorded live at the 2010 Blender Conference in Amsterdam.

Text Version

Not a fan of long videos? No problem! I’ve summarized the main points from the presentation and listed them below. All slides appear exactly as they are in the real presentation.

Intro

In this presentation I will be discussing the Big Issues – What we are doing wrong. The point of this talk is to raise some issues that we as a community are doing poorly and to provide possible solutions. The point is talk is not to simply point out flaws, but to bring them to the attention of the community so that we can act on them.

There are four main issues that I will discuss in this presentation.

Issue #1: Unclear Goals

If you’ve ever been to the Blender forums before you will probably recognize this situation: Lots of people with lots of opinions.

Everyone seems to have the answer for what needs improving and not surprisingly we never seem to get anywhere. The reason for this is that there is no central voice or opinion poll to determine what the most important task is.

Businesses usually track this sort of data by distributing an opinion poll. However, for Blender this had never been done before. So in August 2010, I created “The Great Blender Survey”.

Here’s a screenshot of the online survey:

The survey had one goal: To find out who is using Blender and why.

I think that if you can answer this question, then everything else will fall into place. You can determine what people are doing with blender and then develop the software to their needs.

I wanted this survey to be as accurate as possible so I exposed it to multiple parts of the community, including Blender Guru, Email subscribers, facebook, twitter and BlenderArtists.org.

I won’t claim that the survey is 100% accurate because it’s not, but it’s the closest I could do using the resources and connections I had available.

Over the course of 3 months I received 3,434 submissions.

Thank you to everyone who participated!

I have never released these results to anyone… until now. Ready to finally see them? :D

Let’s begin…

Q1: Are you male or female?

This question was to find out if the cliché that “all 3d artists are male” was true or not.

As you can see, it’s pretty close. Guys, if you’re using blender to find a girlfriend… it’s an uphill battle ;)

Q2: What’s your age?

This important question tells us what age most people in the community are, and finally speaks on the “maturity” issue.

As you can see, the largest age demographic for blender users are 18-24 year olds. These are the people that have just finished school and are in college or a job.

Q3: How long have you been using Blender?

This question not only tells us which year attracted the most blender users, but also how experienced we are at using the software.

From this graph you can clearly see a surge in new users over the past 12 months. This is a startling statistic as most of Blender’s news, tutorials and training products are geared for experienced users.

Q4: If you had to describe yourself, what level of skill would you say you are?

This question is aimed at identifying what level of skill users are at in order to cater training and tutorials to their needs.

Q5: What is your primary use of Blender?

If I could only ask one question in the survey it would be this. This question will tell us exactly why people are using blender and greatly assists us in developing the software for their needs.

The biggest demographic are clearly hobbyists, but it’s comforting to see that a good 47% of us are using Blender for commercial reasons. And I for one never expected to see so many game artists!

Q6: Have you ever used an external renderer?

This is a two part question. The first is to find out how many people are outsourcing the render process to other programs.

34% of the blender community have never used an external render engine!

Q6b: If yes, which external renderers?

This question helps identify which external renderers people are using, so that we can create intergrated exporters that meet the demands of the community.

Yafaray and LuxRenderer are the two most used render engines are amongst the blender community.

Q7: Have you ever used commercial 3d software?

Blender users love comparing blender to commercial alternatives, but how many have actually used commercial alternatives?

Surprisingly a good 74% of the community have! This is good news because it means they decided to stick with Blender anyway. We must be doing something right :)

Q7b: If yes, which applications?

Finding out which applications people have switched from helps us understand which UI layouts and keyboard shortcuts they are used to.

As you can see, 3ds Max is by far the most familiar app with Blender users.

Q8: Why did you originally start using Blender?

This question will tell us exactly what advertising methods are working the best.

Not surprisingly the biggest reason most of us tried Blender is because it’s free. What shocked me though was finding that 23% of us were more impressed by seeing what Blender is capable of. This is another reason why artists should post their work on public 3d forums like CGSociety.org instead of just blender specific forums.

Q9: Can you see yourself switching to another 3d application in the next 5 years?

With the ongoing development of 2.5, many users have voiced their frustration over the stability of Blender. How likely are we to jump ship to another piece of software?

The good news is that almost ¾ of the community is here to stay! Only 1% are dedicated to switching. >>Bonus! Find out why are they are quitting<<

Q10: What aspect of Blender needs the most improvement?

This all important question will tell us exactly what feature of blender needs the most attention.

As you can see, the internal render engine is heads and shoulders above everything else. This stresses just how important it is to keep the render engine competitive to the industry.

Q11: In your opinion what is the biggest problem with Blender?

Focusing on the bigger picture, I asked people to decide on the single biggest problem with blender as a whole.

Lack of documentation has been voiced countless times in the past but only now is it glaringly obvious.

Q12: Have you ever made money using Blender?

This tells us exactly how many people have successfully used Blender for a professional service.

As you can see, only 23% of us have ever succeeded making money with Blender.

Results

From these results we are able to work who exactly is the “typical blender user”.

Identifying who our users are and what they want is the first step in improving Blender. Hopefully this survey will help developers, studios, trainers and other professionals cater their services to the needs of the blender community.

>>Download the survey results as a PDF and Excel file<<

Issues #2: Marketing

Marketing is all about how we portray ourselves to the outside world and get new users on board. For Blender the first impression that most people have is from visiting Blender.org. What the visitor sees when they arrive on this site, greatly effects whether or not they download the software.

According to the book ‘Don’t make me think’, all visitors are at a website because they have a question and they want it answered.

In the case of new software, it’s three questions:

If you can answer these three questions on the homepage then the website is successful at giving the visitors what they came for.

Before we discuss blender though, let’s first take a look at our competitor’s websites.

3ds Max

An image slideshow at the top proudly shows what 3ds max can do. Underneath that is a brief description telling exactly what 3ds Max is. On the right is a Buy it now button that shows the visitor the next logical step if they like what they see. All three questions can be answered just by glancing at the homepage. Therefore, 3ds Max passes the web design test.

Octane Renderer

A similar layout: Gallery Slideshow at the top, short description underneath and a buy it now button on the side. Octane Renderer also passes the web design test.

Lightwave

Gallery at the top, description underneath and buy button underneath. Are you noticing a trend? Lightwave passes the test.

Maya

Gallery slideshow at the top, description underneatch, buy it now button on the side. Maya also passes the test.

Blender…


What’s wrong with this picture?

The biggest glaring problem is that the entire middle section is completely irrelevant to new users.

In fact there really isn’t anything on the blender homepage that is relevant to new users.

Blender.org reads more like a hangout spot for experienced users then a doorway for new users. Which is a shame because the whole purpose of a software homepage is to convert a curious visitors into a user. Currently we are failing that.

Redesign Mockup

I’m not a web designer, but I’ve attempted my own mockup redesign of the site, using artwork from the current blender.org galley:

Artwork by Mathias Pedersen, Clement Granjon, Filip Sadlon and Radiance

The whole purpose of this design to answer the three important questions that new visitors have:

The most crucial element of this design is the large image gallery at the top. Users don’t want to be told why a software is a good, they want to be shown. Currently the community is posting amazing pieces of artwork on BlenderArtist.org. But unfortunately, once they slide off the frontpage they disappear forever. What a waste! Why not showcase this art directly on the homepage for the world to see?

Also featured in this site redesign are a short description, two easily identifiable download buttons and links to the gallery and demo reel. All these elements are appealing to new visitors.

Issue #3: Training

In the last 12 months we have seen two new websites emerge that are dedicated to delivering ongoing tutorials: Blender Cookie and Blender Guru.

So you may be wondering… what’s the issue? Surely we have this training thing covered, right?Wrong!

There are two problems. The first one being that training is incredibly hard to find. Experienced users know about Blender Cookie and Blender Guru, but new users don’t.

An obvious solution would be to update the Blender.org tutorial page with new tutorials, but unfortunately I already did that and it hasn’t solved the problem.

Why? Because the tutorial page is almost impossible to find! A new user does not know to click ‘Education & Help’ and then read a long block to text to find the link for ‘Tutorials’.

Without easily accessible training new users will get frustrated with Blender and quit. We need to reference the tutorial page in as many places as possible so that new users can locate it with ease.

One place to start would be the Blender splash screen. This is the first thing new users see when opening Blender and it’s the first place they get stuck. By having a clear link right on the splash that says ‘Tutorials’ they will know exactly where to go.

The second obvious place would be to link to the tutorial page directly on blender.org.

Believe it or not but this also persuades new users to download the software. Why? Countless marketing research has proven that if you can provide free training to a customer they are more likely to buy the product. This is one of the reasons that Adobe products ship with a training disc :)

The second problem is that we have forgotten about new users!

Blender Guru makes advanced tutorials and Blender Cookie teaches techniques and tutorials at a beginner level. But there no tutorials for complete beginners. How is a new user supposed to wrap their head around the concept of 3d without a proper walkthrough?

I’ve decided to volunteer to solve this one. Next year I will be creating a completely free beginner training series, very similar to Video Copilot’s beginner series. Stay tuned!

Issue #4: Donations

Receiving donations is crucial to the success of Blender. The more money the foundation has, the more fulltime developers Ton can hire. Unfortunately, the donation system is very lackluster:

“Well it looks like a pretty standard donation page to me. What’s the problem?”

Good question. Whilst donating is fairly simple concept, there are many things that we can do improve the experience and make it more attractive to masses:

In detail:

  • Only accepts one off payments – This is like shooting yourself in the foot. Dedicated blender users have asked for a way to donate on a regular basis, but currently there is no option to do this.
  • No Recognition – Obviously when people donate money they are doing out of the goodness of their heart and aren’t expecting anything in return. But human beings are still human beings and we crave a pat on the back. If we know that nobody will say “Thank you” for the effort, then we aren’t likely to follow through with the donation.
  • No clue as to where the money goes – If you donated $100 today, where would the money go? A new feature development? Bug fixes? Pay the rent on the blender institute building? If the donator does not have a 100% clear understanding of where their money is going, they won’t donate. It’s as simple as that.

For examples of how to do donations the right way, you need to look no further than World Vision:

Now obviously Blender is not a charity but we are still asking for donations so we should not stray to far from the pros.

  • World Vision donations are accepted on a monthly basis so as to ensure that the support contines all throughout the year.
  • Novelty plaques are given to the donator so they can “show off” their donation to friends, family and whoever visits their house.
  • Detailed descriptions show exactly how each dollar of your money is spent.

Donation Redesign

I’ve put together a redesign of the donation system based off these ideas:

In this redesign, people wanting to donate are given three simple monthly donation plans: Bronze, Silver or Gold (an option to donate as a once off is still available)

Detailed descriptions show exactly where each dollar is spent.

The donation plans are visualized as a trophy to make it feel like you are purchasing a product as opposed to throwing money in the air.
For recognition this could be intergrated into the blenderartists.org forums:

A small trophy icon is all it takes to thank the donator for their contribution. Everytime the user makes a post, they can feel good  knowing that other users are now recognizing their contribution. This small gesture will also entice other users to contribute because when they click the icon it can route them to the donations page.

You may be wondering, “Yeah but how many people would actually want to donate on a monthly basis?”. Well for that you need to look no further than Farsthary’s blog. He asked his readers “How much would you donate monthly to support the Blender Foundation?”

And believe it not, but 40% said they would happily donate $10 or more on a monthly basis. Now obviously that’s just a poll and not everyone who voted will actually follow through with it, but it shows that the blender community is at least supportive of the idea.

So that concludes my presentation! Thank you for reading :)

What did you think of these proposed ideas? Do you think they would help improve the progress of Blender? I am very interested in hearing your feedback. Please write a comment below!

If you like this presentation you may also like my other live presentation, “How to Raise your Profile as an Artist”

About Andrew Price

User of Blender for 9+ years. I've written tutorials for 3d World Magazine and spoken at three Blender conferences. My goal is to help artists get employed in the industry by making training accessible and easy to understand. I'm an Aussie and I live in South Korea ;)
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  • Alfy

    Wow, this was 3 years ago? I’m also surprised that your advice hasn’t been taken.

    Awesome work anyway, this is actually exactly what needs to happen – and keep happening (surveys, feedback, implementation & iteration/revision – constantly directing development). It’s clear above all else that development of blender is hindered most by the developers not being aware of their users (I noticed this in so many ways from the outset). Classic case of programmer psychology – “I know what people want better than they do.” Just FYI, if you’re a programmer PLEASE know that statistically you are about the absolutely worst person to understand the user experience or other people. This may not be true of yourself, you might be the diamond in the rough. But it will always be a positive thing to get input from others, listen very carefully & drop your ego.
    A good test is to ask yourself:
    -”Am I sure I know what I’m doing here with the user experience, workflow & UI?”
    -”How many times have you watched another person use your software to see how they use it”

    If you answered yes to the first question, then you aren’t the diamond in the rough. Get someone else to help you.
    If you also answered “I haven’t” to the second, once again, get someone else to help you.
    If both, please do the world a favor and stick to just the programming. Or be prepared to learn a lot.

    I feel also that the user experience isn’t really being looked at in the survey. For example the UI makes sense after you use it a while, but when you open up blender for the first while it is the most un-intuitive bit of software pretty much on the market and I feel users that get put off by this won’t be on this survey. I suggest watching some people user blender for the first time.

    There are ways to make workflow fast but not make it difficult to learn. It just involves watching new users and understanding what assumptions they make and understanding what they want to do.

    Unfortunately I can clearly see user acquisition isn’t important to the developers as there basically isn’t a single line of communication between developers and users. Which should be just about the most important thing for someone who truly understands product development. Developers do what they want, end of story.
    Is there a chance they can put you in charge haha? I think we would all be very grateful and many more people would use blender (just don’t go and get an ego yourself) :P

    • Alfy

      I have to apologize, I sounded way too harsh here! I think we all know how easy it is to get frustrated. Blender is in fact though, about the best open source free project out there and almost miraculous that it has come this far. I have only respect for the developers. All I really wanted to say is:
      -Blender needs improving (but hey, nothing is ever perfect).
      -With such a small amount of resources behind it, it will save time and create a better product by following strategies such as the ones Andrew has devised here.
      Very sorry for the double post!

  • Irrevenant

    Totally agree with almost everything you said, and disappointed the website still looks the same three years later. :(

    A couple of comments:

    * Please, PLEASE make the one off-donation option highly visible. I can understand organisations wanting security in their donations and I appreciate that a lot (40% apparently!) of people want to make recurring donations. But that still means 60% of us don’t. And if it looks like you can only give recurring donations, it can feel a bit like you’re giving an inch and they’re trying to take a mile.
    * Along that line of thought, maybe *some* recognition for one-off donators would be nice? The way you’re proposing, someone who donates $10/month is a bronze supporter and someone who donates $500 (either in one hit or over time) is nothing.

    * In the mockup how does the “Watch the Demo Reel” link differ from the “Watch Blender movies” link? That’s a potential point of confusion.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this. Moments of particular genius:
    * Tutorials targetting people NEW TO 3D.
    * Making the tutorials more accessible.

    Thanks.

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  • Voknash

    The site is now being redesigned and it seems like they haven’t taken your ideas or considerations :/. It sux, because your redesign feels much more professional.

    I wonder why blender.org has to have such a large amount of text (the current version of the redesign still has), with a feed of blendernation and all. Extremely unnecessary if you ask me.

    • Forest Ka

      I’m working on the new website right now, and I am personally taking this survey and its issues into consideration. You’re not alone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/CobyRandal Coby Randal

    Thank you so much for taking the time to poll this data and share it with us. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/tae.wong.73 Tae Wong

    How to mark inappropriate comments by flagging them? The blender.org and their open game/movie websitse are too slow. Isup.me makes no sense here.

  • Theuns

    Hi, just read this 3 years too late, but I see a lot of your suggestions are now implemented in the webpage at blender.org! BTW what is the best way to get started on directly manipulating data in blender API? Tutorials or video will be fine…

  • Tom A.

    I lost count at the number of times you said “um”. You must have been nervous because that’s not how you talk in the tutorials. Try to just pause instead of saying stuff like “um” “uh”. I’ve had teachers that do that when they have to give speeches. Once someone addressed the matter and told them to just pause and think of what to say next, they got better at giving speeches. It was a great speech otherwise and its old so I’m sure your better a talking in front of a audience by now. cheers mate.

  • Rio

    I like the concept for the new Website. No if only Blender would actually do that….

  • blender4life_homie

    for solving this “help new users problem” they should add a dialog that opens up at first startup, with direct access to getting started tutorials or the basic documentation.

    just my thought :D

  • robb

    what a bullshit

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  • t3atim3

    I think these are great ideas! I remember when I first found the Blender website. I was quite confused, but luckily I still found the download button. As for tutorials I think there are a couple of nice beginner tutorials already out, but the ones I seen were on Youtube and were for older versions of Blender. I think if the tutorials page on Blender’s website could be updated to add more outside sources of tutorials that might help a bit. As for the poll, I wasn’t around to take it. But I plan to “try” and make money off of it, I just have to get better first. I must admit the reason why I first started using Blender was because it was free. But after seeing the artwork others had created with it I couldn’t understand why more people wouldn’t switch to Blender. I don’t know about other people, but I’m not too computer savy when it comes to adding plugins and stuff. So when I had to find the right Python plugin I was quite frustrated. Afterwards I was ready to begin my Blender adventure. I enjoyed your mock-ups of Blender’s website, hopefully they’ll see this and keep some of these ideas in mind when they’re on their website next time.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/NiosDark?feature=mhee andrew

    Great presentation

  • http://blenderecf.wordpress.com Cesarecf

    About the Donating System

    Besides the regular and free tutorials it could be added to the platform for the regular donations, enable the feature to access locked items (Perhaps those one who are payed) “Donate every month for $$$ and get a chapter of X curse every month” or something like that, that way donations are rewardered.

    • Forest Ka

      I think you meant “course”…

  • http://www.greenerthanaverage.com B M

    How did you make those pie charts?

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  • http://www.uvassociates.in Anusha

    Great Survey, good exhaustive research, precise problem pin pointing, and amazing solution. The website redesign and accolades for supporters are damn good ideas. I hope they are implemented soon.

  • http://www.yourvacuumguy.com Cody Sortore

    Wow, this is amazing! I can only hope that they are listening over at the Blender Foundation! My journey towards Blender started as a long desired project to make some games that have been floating around in my head. I actually first landed on the Blender site after searching for “Free 3D Creation Software” once I was there my mind instantly went “Ugh… clutter.” After searching around for information to see if the software would even be useful to me (which took a good hour or more) I finally just said “Okay… it seems like this MIGHT be what I need I’ll download it and try it” The only version available then was 2.4x and as quickly as I opened the program I closed it and went back to the search engines.

    After trying TrueSpace 7.6 for a while running through their many varied, and very thorough tutorials I was beginning to feel like I was getting the hang of things! Then doing some more searching I found that the project would no longer be supported… so I started looking for alternatives. The only acceptable alternative I found at the time (because there was NO way I was going to mess with Blender again) was 3DS Max I tried it with their 30 day free trial, it was amazing, powerful, great free tutorials right on the splash screen (with pictures) when you opened the program. It was great, amazing, WONDERFUL!! Unfortunately it was too good to be true, when the 30 day trial ended I was all ready to hand over $500 for a copy… unfortunately for me they wanted $3,000 per year. Wow… that was a little more than I cared to pay. I tried searching for something else but nothing fit the bill and I finally went back to blender, but only because there was new hope with a new 2.5 beta release. So I tried it again, with much better results, I’m a visual person (go figure, someone trying to become a 3D artist a visual person) so the cleaner interface and ability to select my options with buttons rather than spending my nights memorizing shortcut keys, made me very happy. Happy enough that I went and searched for tutorials on how to work this dang thing. I finally found BlenderCookies and since then things have gone smoothly.

  • http://blender.com.br André Luan

    I really think that we all want to make money from Blender and live from it. This survey shows what I already know: it’s not working and the problem doesn’t seems to be with the professionals.

    What about another survey, this time with industry data? What they do, what they care, what they think about free software, etc?

  • Necror

    Blender Cookie has a series of tutorials for complete beginners.
    http://www.blendercookie.com/getting-started-with-blender/

  • see360

    OK, I was quick to judge in my earlier comment. A few more hours of “poking around” and Eureka! Now that I’ve solved my key issue (getting textures to export to luxrender), I’m getting some fantastic results. I feel confident quoting projects now that I couldn’t before. Regarding the internal renderer, it is very fast and helps me set up a scene, so I don’t even have issues with it.

    Thank you to all the folks in the blender community who got me to this point!

  • see360

    PS Andrew Price, your excellent video tutorials are the only reason I’ve stuck with blender. Thank you!

  • see360

    Spot on. I’ve billed hundreds of hours as a 3D freelancer creating product shots for well known brands, all with sketchup and kerkythea (I’m cheap, and they work). It took a few weekends to learn the software and sell my work. I get about $500-$1000 for a typical project.

    I had a client want animation, so I scanned the world’s offerings and gave blender another try. Dozens of ranomly documented shortcuts and software versions and patches are OK for the hobbyist, but it has taken me more than a few weekends to learn. 2.5 is a big step in the right direction with more intuitive menus, but I should have bought a commercial package and saved the time. Every user of blender should realize that they could be getting paid, and a steep learning curve just sucks up more hours that can’t be billed.

    I’m still having trouble getting product labels to render in third party renderers (there is no way I can present to a client the blender internally rendered results).

    Your software has so much potential blender community. On the boards I see blender coders respond to requests with “you get what you pay for.” You are so close, please don’t let your project become irrelevant as a generation of users like me are forced to go somewhere else.

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  • zsl

    Glen Moyes did a great beginner screencast series on Showmedo. Although that’s for the 2.4x versions.