Not too long ago, I was a young designer yearning for an invitation to Dribbble. Every day I would stare longingly at the great works of art on the site, see all of the great designers gleefully posting shots of their latest work, and wish that I could join in on the fun. I wanted to be an active member of the design community; make positive contributions, provide feedback on others’ work, and gain some exposure for my work.
Yet over time I, like many others, have discovered that Dribbble is not the constructive community that it appears to be. It’s become a platform for self-promotion, mimicry and stagnation. But it doesn’t have to be.
1. Revamp the Invite System
Dribbble has invite-only memberships. This was intended to ensure a high quality of work and community. Those who are already members are given a handful of invites every so often, and are instructed to find designers worthy of entry.
Why do the right thing when you can hold a gratuitously self-promotional contest?
The problem is that the vast majority do not give their invites to those most deserving. No, no, no. Why do the right thing when you can hold a gratuitously self-promotional contest? Here’s an example: “Follow me on Twitter and Dribbble and retweet a link to my portfolio and then I’ll draw your name out of a hat after I get a few hundred followers from this.”
I made that example up, but unfortunately it’s not far from reality.
2. Eliminate Followers
Due to the power of having more Followers, Dribbble is no longer about the design, it’s about the designers. The entire concept of followers undermines the positive impact Dribbble could have on the design community.
It’s becoming very obvious that the “Popular” label is describing the designer, not the work
You see, once a designer attains a certain amount of followers their shots, regardless of merit, immediately get thousands of views, hundreds of likes, and dozens of comments. And because of the immense following of that designer, the community feels compelled to praise the work without considering its quality, and it is catapulted to the top of the “Popular” page (more on this in Point 3).
Due to the flaws inherent in the Following system, it’s becoming very obvious that the “Popular” label is describing the designer, not the work. This probably explains the weird drive to gain more followers through any means, as I explained in Point 1.
3. De-emphasize the “Popular” Page
If you are signed out of Dribbble, or simply do not have an account, its Home page is the “Popular” page. This is completely understandable in concept: promote interest in the site by displaying its most popular contributions. However, it’s negative side-effects are crippling.
This mentality serves only to stagnate the progress of the design industry and all of those within it
Due to the pedestal on which the page has been placed upon, many designers now aspire to be featured on the “Popular” page. This mentality serves only to stagnate the progress of the design industry and all of those within it. Since the same few designers’ work is constantly thrust onto viewers, and since no one is allowed to criticize it (see Point 4), emulation occurs. Designers begin think that imitating the work of the elite few is their goal and originality is destroyed.
4. Help Foster Feedback
In a world of only positive feedback, nothing improves. If there is no criticism, no one learns.
This is the most disturbing aspect of Dribbble. I’ve recently been told that Dribbble is not a place for criticism or feedback. That opinions should only be given if asked for. That if you aren’t saying something positive, don’t say it. That simply is not how design (or life) works and it’s poisoning the community. And for the love of God, if you don’t want feedback on your work, then why are you posting it in a public community where others can freely comment on it?
In a world of only positive feedback, nothing improves. If there is no criticism, no one learns. It’s science.
The Bottom Line
It’s been said that Dribbble is not a platform for critique, and I hope that isn’t true. The Internet doesn’t need another designer directory.