Dribbble’s Effect on the Web Industry

Dribbble. The industry’s newest addition to design exclusivity where you, should you be lucky enough to be invited, can share small screenshots of whatever it is you are working on. Dribbble has garnered criticism, reverence, and a huge following of designers and onlookers; but how is this design community affecting our industry, and more importantly, what has it already done?

What is Dribbble?

“Dribbble is show and tell for designers, developers and other creatives. Members share sneak peeks of their work as “shots” — small screenshots of the designs and applications they are working on. It’s also a place to talk design, give and receive feedback and iterate toward better work.” Straight from the word processors of Dan & Rich (co-founders of Dribbble). Short and sweet: It is a invite-only design forum in its most simplest terms. The site uses pretty good UI to disguise its functionality by implementing imagery as title’s of forum threads. This definition from Dan & Rich is more of what it was and intended to be but not quite what it has become.

Dribbble is intended for designers. That’s it. My mother would not be particularly interested in the content on Dribbble where as a freelance artist may have it as a homepage. This is all fine and good. Designers of all types need places to receive criticism, see what everyone else is doing, be inspired, and share their work. Dribbble solves all of this in one spot…well sort of. The purpose? Simple: To help designers develop and share designs. This is not an original idea, many sites do this. Cgtalk.com is among one of the highest quality critique forums around littered with professional artists; but Dribbble is unique in exclusivity and its newly acquired purpose and inherent design.

What has Dribbble become today?

Dribbble is not what it used to be. The founders did not forsee what their frankenstein would become: self-preserving, devolving design society. <Designer rage ensues> Now before you get all antsy in the pants, let me explain.

This should have been forseen. The moment Dribbble was created and invites were sent, the founders were establishing style guidelines and expectations and the inevitable fate of Dribbble. What happens when something is invite-only? What happens when people, of which we are all biased, are those who can invite? What does invite-only mean? I will tell you. Similarity, trends, and dis-interest. This is no fault to the designers but Dribbble’s exclusivity limits the integration of unique artists. This lack of unique artist integration is due in large part to the simple fact that we invite other “players” of which artwork we like. This usually means that we invite those who share similar views or styles as us.

There is also, an extreme lack of critique. Many designers are praised with “likes” rather than constructive critiques. Again perpetuating the cycle. Dribbble is more of a showcase than a design community and this is a tragedy.

Everybody wants in.

So what happens when something is invite-only? Everyone wants in. Exclusivity says that which is exclusive is best. If it is exclusive you are excluding the common people, of course. Invite-only is saying “This is so good, we can’t share it with everyone.” and therefore, naturally, everyone wants in.

The effect the idea of invitation has is huge. A few select designers were invited to select a few more select designers, and so on, and so on. Dribbble has exploded with new designers, new rookies are added everyday. They are invited through other designers who feel that the “new rookies” have the quality work to be on Dribbble. But is it quality or style they are recruiting? Bingo, you guessed it: Style. Like I said earlier, we are all partial and with varying degress of self-preservation. This is human nature. Just like in politics, leaders appoint other leaders who share similar views; in designer’s case, style. We see the same styles all over Dribbble.

I serached web design and these are some of which I found. Why did I pick them? All 3 use some type of ribbon and texture background. Are ribbons and textured backgrounds a major component of web design? An onlooker would say that these qualities are inherent with quality web design since Dribbble is synonymous with quality. As designers we don’t want to give off this message. We don’t want quality web design to be a series of trending graphics and ideas, we are essentially crowd sourcing concept style. Use other searches and you will see a lot of the same regurgitated styles.

What happens when something is invite-only? What happens when people, of which we are all biased, are those who can invite?

Where is the outside influence? Well, there is none and we need it. Designers who are trying to be a part of the Dribbble community are learning what it takes to get in there: design like the designers already onboard with the site. We are festering in our own design incest. Recruiters are recruiting similar artists who then do the same. Dribbble is flooded with iOS app designs, Web 2.0 designs, and the like – not that this is a bad thing but Dribbble is slowly devolving. What once made it unique is now making it the norm. The community is saying “this is what we like, this is what the top designers are designing, and so should you if you want in.”

Web design isn’t alone. Want to make an icon? There’s an app for that. I am not bashing these artists. There is some nice work being done here that has a lot of sweat and heart in it. I actively search Dribbble for ideas, inspiration, browse quality art, and to offer my critiques. Dribbble has a magnitude of knowledge and talent. However, haven’t we seen these designs before? Designers keep developing the style that got them into Dribbble and then propagate that style by recruiting similar artists. The cycle is never ending and is the ultimate reason why Dribbble is becoming less of a unique and distinguishing service.

There are always exceptions.

Surely there are exceptions. You can go through and look for unique stuff; though it may take some time to do so. Some designers that should be part of Dribbble aren’t, I understand that and that’s ok. There are also designers who shouldn’t be on Dribbble but are (maybe me ;)). This is the nature of the beast. But there are some great unique designs:

These are fresh and imbue a unique sense of style and character that appear to be inherent in the designer or brand. They are a stark contrast to the plethora of similar and sometimes unoriginal ideas that flood Dribbble. Don’t take my word for it. The Dribbbles with the most views and likes are certainly the trendiest and of the most similar styles (not getting into celebrities here). This is obvious.

We are festering in our own design incest.

What can we do?

Invitations need to be sent to designers who are not the best, by Dribbble standards. We have defined that the best are those on Dribbble who all share the same styles and therefore those who do not share the same styles are not the best. These are who we need to be injected into Dribbble. Designers who use their own style and originality to create their revenue that is great artwork, mostly unaffected by the glow of Dribbble. What if these designers joined Dribbble and recieved tons of likes and critiques? This would be encouraging to them and we would see different and evolved styles grow, Dribbble’s original intent and now its greatest challenge: Can it create great artists? Do we see artists grow that are part of Dribbble? Not yet.

Support those who are trying to create original, different, and creative work and then recruit the same. If you’re a great iOS app designer, why only recruit another great iOS app designer? Why not, say, recruit a great android app designer – we all know how different these styles are or can be. How refreshing. Now what if these two styles made a baby? This is how the Dribbble community will push and continue on. Why are there only a few (if any) flash developers on Dribbble that showcase their work? These are important questions that are not being accounted for. And lastly, why are we letting Dribbble define what is the best art?

Help our design community grow by not limiting the growth to only those designers with a particular style. We are flooded, ok, we get it. Lets focus on creating great designs that push our audience and are defined by individual style that is cultivated through Dribbble; not by Dribbble. How is Dribbble affecting your view of artwork and the designers not a part of Dribbble? Do you find yourself designing outside of your own unique style for sake of Dribbble consideration?

  • Great article. I would love to get on Dribbble. I am currently on Forrst which uses a different invite system and has beginners to pro. What I do like about the invite by people already on the site is it seems the quality has been kept fairly high. Everything on dribble is top notch, for the most part.

    Forrst, because it does have beginners, can vary in quality. But that also allows for those with more experience to constructively help other designers, programmers etc on the site.

  • jack

    i agree with many of the points raised, but it’s clear the author doesn’t have dribbble account, and i have to wonder how this article would be different if he did.

    also it should be said that trends aren’t bad – web site design is all about trends: common interface patterns aid usability significantly.

    just my $0.02

  • dom

    You’ll get hell for this article, but it’s well-written and soundly argued. I dislike dribbble for other reasons. Private clubs for the cool kids are bad enough, glass walls and slaver pots for spectators make it a ridiculously smug and narcissistic parade. Though the incestuous style orgy you’re criticising is another reason to loathe it.

  • @jack, it appears Mike does have a dribbble account (http://dribbble.com/mikejonp) so is at least commenting from having used the service.

    I think he makes some valid if slightly over simplified points but there’s definitely a closed shop there where the “top designers” set the trends and many follow but I’ve come across some superb work from “unknowns” who I’d never have otherwise seen.


  • @jack – actually he does have an account. “There are also designers who shouldn’t be on Dribbble but are (maybe me ;)”

    And I have one in either case and I see what he’s talking about. Doesn’t matter what I post, I don’t get feedback whether it’s good or not. I specifically ask for critique, but none comes my way. And there’s views, but no comments. So yes, I totally see what he’s talking about.

    On the other hand, ur right, trends aren’t all bad. I think he’s pointing out that there’s basically a few trends and a LOT of designers doing them and as influential as Dribbble is, those trends are going to stick around longer than they normally would.

    Anyway, overall, great article and constructive comments from all. I think the author will be proud of the discussion. 😀

  • Mike Puglielli

    Thanks Guys, some great comments being made here and you’re right Jared, I am proud of the discussion that this has so far brought.

    @Will – Thanks man. Im sure you’ll get an invite soon. I do agree that Dribbble tends to continue to churn out quality art, one of the biggest benefits of its strict invite/recruit process.

    @Jack – Yes, as mentioned I do have a Dribbble account that I am pretty active about. I don’t post a ton of work due to private limitations, but I am always trying to provide constructive feedback. Yes some trends ARE good, usability, etc. What the post concerns is the replication of style and as Jared mentioned, because of Dribbble’s strong presence, Dribbble is setting the “best quality and style standard” and because of the user base, no fault to the community, is inviting same quality works (i.e. same styles and thus reducing creativity and originality much like Dom suggested).

    @Dom – I laughed pretty hard at your comment…hell may very well ensue but I think (and so far the thread is evident of) that designers are looking to be more creative and explore other designs. I think once everyone, even Dribbble celebrities, step back and see what is going there will be a shift in the STYLES of design rather than quality. Quality will remain the same, high.

    @James – Totally agree with you. There are certainly gems you can find on Dribbble that are so refreshing and beautiful such as the 3 I posted above.

    @Jared – In a nutshell, yes. Dribbble has established itself as a top tier design community through its recruit/invite-only business model. This presence extends to our industry and everyone wants to be the best, what is a Level 1 designer to do; imitate the pro’s on Dribbble which in turn only propagates the system.

  • Thanks for a very good write up. You mentioned several beefs I’ve had with the myriad CSS gallery sites out there – they tend to showcase only certain styles, often the ones that are trending and therefore tomorrow will be of little relevance. I do not have a Dribbble account, but for me, Behance offers most of the pros with very few cons.

    The problem being with this endless parade of gallery sites (which are free and unrestricted) is they tend to have a high percentage of low-quality work – site layouts that have single-px borders several pixels off, logo design that does not carry a strong message, etc. The very thing that makes a closed, invite-only site irrelevant, like Dribbble, is the very thing that initially makes it very nice: If it is invite-only, it does ensure a certain quality of work prior to admittance to the ‘club’ – however, it comes at the cost of pasteurization and uninteresting design.

  • Some very good and interesting points have been made here, but I feel the view on what Dribbble is “supposed” to be is maybe a bit skewed.

    I can’t speak for Dan & Rich on what their intentions were/are but from a basic viewing of the About page, the site simply reads “A Show & Tell for designers”. I’m not sure what the fuss is about for the lack of critique. I’ve never seen dribbble as a site to critique or be critiqued. While opinions can be shared and ideas can definitely be generated I think you have the wrong expectations for Dribbble if you are purposely posting things to be critiqued, or going on dribbble to critique others.

    I’m not saying asking for critiques isn’t acceptable but you have to understand not everyone is browsing to give critiques. They are most likely there to just see what you are working on.

    I see it as a “sneak peak” site or a look into designer’s work that may not normally be available on their portfolio. To simply show what you are working on and tell a little about it. Normally showcases present full views of completed work. What makes dribbble interesting is that you can get the view and see designs evolve.

    Seeing similar trends generate is definitely not anything new to the design community. You can’t solely put blame on dribbble. Any type of popular inspiration is bound to be replicated.

    I’m just going to say I strongly feel this is an absurd statement. Dribbble has exposed so many unknown designers/artists than ever before. If you spend 15 minutes browsing through any section of the shots I guarantee you will see amazing work by someone you’ve never heard of.

    Saying we should be inviting those who are “not the best” is a bit odd. Im not against inviting people who may have potential but putting the responsibility on dribbble to grow a designer’s ability is a bit demeaning to their own “uniqueness” as you call it.

    Dribbble is invites are driven by it’s own community. If there’s an interest in a flash dev’s work or a android developers work I don’t think many people would have an issue sending them an invite. But there work would probably need to be some spark of interest.

    I guess it all goes back to my point that dribbble isn’t necessarily a “critique” site and is a show and tell site. I invite designers who ‘Im interested in seeing peaks of their work and getting an insight of their design process.

    We are constantly looking to blame things and pull out the negatives in everything. Use dribbble as you want but if you don’t care for the way it’s being used simply don’t use it. But I recommend looking at the positive dribbble has presented for our community. Look at all the artist it HAS exposed, look at the opportunity we now have to see even more work from those designers we admire, look at they way dribbble has become a huge source for generating work for many designers.

    Instead of complaining about what we think dribbble should be doing, why not take the time to create something that you feel would be better. I think the comments here presented by everyone are valid but don’t think we can expect all the answers to come from dribbble. It’s not one site’s job to grow our community in every way. It’s our job to do that.

  • egiova

    I’m sure it’s all about confusion between “Community” and “Natwork”. Since all this insanity of “comunities” begin to flourish I’m doubtful. What I mean is a community is an “affinity” circle (family, country, region, etc.), meanwhile a network is a node thing. You can expect solidarity from a community, but you can’t expect this from a network. So, beyond all this there is a “lie” in regard to what you can receive, or not, from your lists of people.
    I guess it’s the same about Dribble: Is it a community or a network? What do you expect from it?

  • I built a site using the Dribbble API called FANNNS – where anyone could comment on any shot from Dribbble. I figured I’d get an RT from Dribbble’s head honchos since every other Dribbble API app / site has been promoted, but this one hasn’t.

    The web is an open community – I certainly don’t get enough feedback on Dribbble to help me when I’m designing, because I don’t have hundreds of followers.

    The system is definitely not perfect.

  • What a post! You hit it on the nail. I think dribbble could of been better. I only see popular designers and so forth getting their work critiqued and if you’re not popular then you get the ol “Needs bit of a touch up” comment. I don’t want to see only the best I want to see the worst also. Great article

  • Mike Puglielli

    @Josh I think you’re miss interpreting the article. To be brief, the remainder of the mission statement says “…It’s also a place to talk design, give and receive feedback and iterate toward better work.” So I think its fair to say that the idea of Dribbble extends beyond the simple idea of only providing its service as a showcase, to say otherwise would offend the creators. Surely they don’t want a web app to only be a showcase and not develop into something greater.

    There are also many unique artists, but they get caught in the mud. That is what the short and sweet version is. The unique and unknown artists are for the most part creating work that is synonymous to what most of the artists in Dribbble creating not saying they are unique or unknown themselves; there are many of those.

    I totally agree that it isn’t up to Dribbble to be a positive change in something. But you forget the power of particular mediums, such as Dribbble. It can be a local catalyst in its own exclusive community that could eventually filter out. People can stop trying to get Dribbble invites and instead create great artwork that otherwise gets unnoticed due to its unwillingness to match Dribbble trends or celebrities.

    @egiova You make a good point. It really is about what you expect from a particular service or community. I think most people have a fair expectation for Dribbble to be a window of possible critique – and Dribbble certainly has lent itself to this notion.

    @Alex The system is not perfect, no. But it/we are getting there.

    @Marcell It remains to be seen if Dribbble will die as a showcase or become an exclusive and sought after critique forum of advanced design. Until then, it is relatively a showcase with some underground artists critiquing and giving feedback.

    Really dig the comments everyone has made. There is some really good insight that I think have pushed this article further than I had hoped it would go. Great stuff.

  • GREAT !! finally somebody thinks like me about dribbble. Just an emboss-incest community full of auto congratulations, and ALWAYS the same design tricks.

  • It is a real treat for the eyes. Amazing work guyz.. keep it up!

  • Great post Mike — one of the best guest post we have had!

    Love the discussion going on here, I think it’s a point that hasn’t been talked about enough in a professional manner.

    Keep the comments coming, would love to hear from some of the “big players” on Dribbble to see how they feel on the post.

  • Thanks Chad, really appreciate it and the opportunity to write here – this blog has a great, passionate community…and rather insightful one at that. See what you’ve been missing in India? Great design chat – cheers, mate.

  • I can understand why it could be a good thing for the forum to be invite only as it keeps the discussions relevant and entertaining for designers but I prefer a free world where everyone gets a chance. I am sure there must have been many good designers that did not receive invites but why should you have to be good through the eyes of others to get an invite. I think many designers will dislike the forum for this. Open the doors I say.

  • Dan

    The quality on dribbble has been going down hill lately. Too many invites are being handed out to people who don’t have the talent. Even people who are not creatives want to be on dribbble.

  • Aris

    I’ve joined Dribbble 2 months ago, and your article is really pointing what i had in mind : everyone is doing the same style and copy the “populars” style to become populars (sounds like being in school to me). Always the same Apple style everywhere, even the illustrators are doing it, they adapt their characters to look like an Apple icon. very sad.

    I see the same problem in Behance, theres is no way to be spotted now, too much people, always the same are put in the front page. Same style are always in front, and the worst : copycat are now officially accepted by being in front page all the time.

  • I was excited about Dribbble at first, but my interest drastically waned afterwards.
    And here is why:

  • For those who still like dribbble, i have 1 invitation to give away. Check the contest rule on my blog:

  • Boris,

    I want to clarify — this post wasn’t that I don’t like Dribbble, it was an observation of its current functioning and how to improve it; with some implying tossed in here and there. I am still very active in the Dribbble community and do my part to add constructive criticism and screenshots.

    Best of luck and thanks,

  • Very Great sharing. i like this reading, you have define this article very well, thats why it has more worth of reading! thanks for sharing:)