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?