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12.21.2022

4 min read

How 'work in progress' content took over the internet

Why the design process, rather than the finished product, is starting to get online traction (and views in the millions).

Three phone viewports show different stages of an "inflatable" 3D type design in process.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein. Images courtesy Freddie Guthrie.

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Watching creative ideas come to life can be both exciting and satisfying—regardless of whether one likes to create or just see how the sausage gets made.


There’s no better indication of this than the current popularity of work in progress (WIP) images and videos taking over social feeds. Lately, web designers, digital designers, and online creatives of all kinds are sharing WIP images of their projects across social media, giving up the preciousness of a polished end result in favor of transparent process-sharing.


Consider WIP content design’s version of “get ready with me” videos—and they’re appearing everywhere. On TikTok, designers are creating hyperlapses of their artwork, websites, typography, and digital designs with searchable hashtags that get hundreds of millions of views, like #drawing (35.7 billion views), #arttok (more than 13 billion views), #workinprogress (1.4 billion views), and #webdesign (368 million views). Over on Instagram, designers like Erik Carter, Kelli Andersen, and Christoph Gromer are sharing in-process (or even rejected) work. Websites that advertise creative-tech tools such as VSCO, Glitch.io, and, of course, the online art school Domestika, have made work in progress part of their ethos.




Some designers use WIP videos as a new form of creative expression. Joshua David McKenney, who built a cult following for his doll-making brand, Pidgindoll, on Instagram over the past decade, launched the brand on Tiktok during the pandemic. McKenney introduced work in progress content on the platform after feeling that something in his visual communication was lacking—and in doing so, unlocked a new way to express himself, he says. He filmed himself working on sculptural doll designs both on-screen and off it, then provided a voiceover to narrate the process and let TikTok sync his vocal track to a song. “I thought the process was beautiful,” he says. “I felt it was a shame that nobody could see it.” The approach also paid off: Soon enough, his WIP videos garnered him 1.5 million followers, with some videos exceeding 5 million plays.


Creator Joshua David McKenney's WIP videos helped catapult the TikTok followers of his brand, Pidgindoll, to 1.5 million. Screenshots: @pidgindoll.



Graphic designer Freddie Guthrie, who has a comparative 15.5 thousand followers on TikTok, also noticed how process videos can have serious audience appeal. His TikTok tutorial on the inflatable text rendering he made for a Charlie XCX concept cover got 560,000 more views than his original post showing off the final version. Guthrie attributes the success of the tutorial video to its complexity, and to followers’ interest in recreating the effect themselves. “Because it's quite a complex tutorial, lots of people saved it to rewatch later, which TikTok then rewarded by showing it to more people,” he says, adding that the traction of the original video probably helped. The tutorial video had 30,000 saves, compared to his typical rate in the hundreds.



Graphic designer Freddie Guthrie's TikTok tutorial video had 30,000 saves at the tim