From Educators to Illustrators: Meet the Users of CC Search

Anna TumadóttirVictoria Heath

Have you ever wondered who looks for openly licensed images? Or how those images are used? Before we launched CC Search in April 2019, we assumed that the search engine would serve three broad groups of creators:

  • Those making designs, imagery, and art
  • Those illustrating text, such as bloggers, journalists, or educators
  • Those creating videos

It’s been over a year since CC Search moved out of beta (we just celebrated its first birthday!), and we now have a better idea of who we serve and their needs thanks to user feedback and insights derived from anonymized data. We’re excited to share with you what we’ve learned!

Who are our users?

Thanks to extensive feedback and user interviews, we have a better sense of the broad groupings our core users fall into, including 1) educators, 2) students, 3) creators, 4) illustrators, or 5) professionals. By collecting examples indicating how CC-licensed content is used, we also have a clearer picture as to how these groups use the content they find and what they need from us to ensure an even better experience. 

Image: “wocintech stock – 148” by WOCinTech Chat is licensed under CC BY 2.0, found via CC Search.
  • The Educator is someone who teaches, trains, or coaches at any level of schooling, from early childhood through adult education. They use CC Search to create or illustrate educational materials, such as presentations, handouts, worksheets, and videos. The Educator can be a creator, or an illustrator, but identifies as an educator first, and so the purpose and impact of their work is explicitly defined as for education. Approximately 30% of our users identify as educators. The size and impact of this group is deeply compelling as we structure our ongoing efforts.
  • The Student is most commonly someone who is instructed to use CC Search as part of a defined curriculum (such as or as part of a class assignment. They are directed to CC Search when learning about copyright or creating something to turn in to their teacher. Teachers using CC Search tell us it is their first choice because they see it as the safest, most comprehensive collection of openly licensed images. Approximately 30% of our users identify as students. One user, a Digital Creativity Advisor at a university in the United Kingdom told us, “I use the Creative Commons search engine with students to help them find great resources for use in their digital artworks but also to help explain the tricky concepts behind Creative Commons licensing. I’m so glad it’s there to make both so much easier.”
  • The Creator is a musician getting cover art for their album or a filmmaker adding images to videos or a designer getting inspiration or material for adaptation. They’re not mainstream creators with large budgets, but rather artists pursuing passion projects. This group makes up about 10% of our users. We see this group as distinct from those with an explicit education focus.
  • The Illustrator is an author, writer, journalist, blogger, or editor who is looking for a visual accompaniment to a written work. They’re looking for something they can freely use for personal and professional projects alike, some of which may be commercial. About 10% of our users fall into this group.
  • The Professional is someone who is using CC Search for business purposes, most commonly for marketing materials, website assets, or merchandise creation. They need content that can be freely used for commercial purposes. The filter mechanisms on CC Search and clear explanations of license restrictions allow this group to reuse with great confidence. About 10% of our users fall into this group.

The remaining 10% or so of our users self-report as other types, often planning to use the work they’ve found for personal reasons, like social media backgrounds, internal decorations, or birthday cards.

While we’ve been able to broadly group our users, which helps us understand their needs and motivations, we’ve also learned that the use cases of openly licensed images are wider than we can possibly imagine or represent through these groupings. We find it particularly heartwarming when a grandparent reports that they are making a picture card for their grandchild and inspiring when a teacher shares a link to a slide deck being used for a history lesson. We’re sincerely grateful to the users who share with us how they’re using the images they find.

Where are they based?

Our goal is to serve a global audience, and we’re actively working to make CC Search more usable in languages besides English. Despite our current limitations, we’re thrilled to see that CC Search is crossing borders. Here are the top 10 countries that users access CC Search from:

  1. United States (40%)
  2. Israel (6%)
  3. United Kingdom (4%)
  4. Canada (4%)
  5. Spain (3%)
  6. Australia (3%)
  7. Germany (3%)
  8. Brazil (2%)
  9. France (2%)
  10. India (2%)

In total, we’ve had visitors from 200+ countries and territories. Over 65% of our users were searching in English, with Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Russian making up over 20% combined. Over the next few months, we’ll be working to internationalize CC Search so that we can more effectively serve the growing number of users from non-English speaking countries. 

What have they taught us?

Student studying
Image: “Student Studying” by UGA CAES/Extension is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, found via CC Search.

There are several ways we keep in touch with the users of CC Search. Some folks send us emails or submit feedback forms, while others chat with us on Twitter or through our Community Slack. Which we welcome you to join! We also have a standing invitation for user interviews to help improve the usability of CC Search and other products we’re building. Our favorite conversations are with users, as we work to understand their pain points and collect candid feedback. These conversations inform what features we focus our efforts on.

In recent months, we’ve had the chance to dig into the myriad of ways that openly licensed images are used, what other types of content would be useful to our current users, and what users miss most about the old search portal for CC-licensed content. We’re happy to report that we’re working on meeting the needs of those who want other sources of content and other types of content.

We’ll soon be rolling out a meta-search feature, both for additional image sources as well as audio and video. This will look familiar to those users who’ve used the old search portal to confidently put the necessary filters in place before searching for CC-licensed content on the broader web. This new feature will allow for a quick jump to results from the likes of Google Images, SoundCloud, YouTube, and more directly from the CC Search interface. We’re also working hard to prepare for the indexing and discovery of CC-licensed audio, which we expect we’ll be able to support by the end of 2020—stay tuned! 

To stay up-to-date on the technical updates that we’ll be making to CC Search throughout 2020, be sure to follow Creative Commons Open Source on Twitter, join #cc-usability in the Creative Commons Slack, or keep an eye on the Active Sprint and Backlog in GitHub! If you want to share your thoughts on CC Search with us directly, fill out this feedback form or schedule a user interview with one of our team members. We’d be thrilled to hear from you!

📸: Featured image has icons by Valerie Lamm from the “Person” collection licensed CC BY via Noun Project.