The Dribbble Divide

It’s that time of year again. My Twitter feed the last day or two has been alight with folks arguing over the merits of Dribbble. On one side, we have folks deriding Dribbble as design fluff, form over function, a pox on the design profession as a whole. On the other side are people who, quite reasonably, see Dribbble as a fun, supportive community to try out and share new visual design stuff.

Over and over I’ve found myself on the side of the detractors. I’ve used (and heard others use) the term “Dribbble shot” to comment on work I think bypasses the fundamentals of UI and experience design. The product-as-term, Dribbble, has become synonymous with shallow amongst designer friends and I. And only as this recent swell of resentment-and-defense crested have I taken a moment to really evaluate my stance and to take a closer look at what about Dribbble creates such a strong, visceral reaction.

When I first started getting into interface design, our community was struggling pretty hard against the perception that design meant a coat of paint. Often, our work was an afterthought, a last step in a product development process. I recall reading article after article about designers not accepting the term pixel-pushers. I remember seeing friends at startups and larger organizations sell and push design-centered approaches to their coworkers and leaders, paving the way for all of us.

That was only six years ago. Since then, we’ve made gigantic strides as a profession. We’re now not only partners in the process, but our skill set is basically a non-negotiable when building a new team or product. We fought our way from the background to the forefront of every tech company out there. It’s a testament to design’s ability to persuade and to provide value, and to our community’s dedication to hurtle ourselves into the fray. We did it. We changed the conversation.

Now, when I see something like Dribbble, I can’t help but think about all of that pigeonholing from not so long ago. I can’t help but be concerned that people will look at the work there and think that’s all designers do. That somehow that community and product will devalue and slow all the progress our profession has made in the last decade. I think that’s what creates such a strong reaction against Dribbble at times: we see our past and fear that we may be circling back to it.

Maybe, most likely, it’s all in our heads. We’ve come a long way and will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible and what design means. And if small and specialized communities pop up as a result, good for them, right? Isn’t that what the Internet is for? I can’t imagine catching backlash for creating a community around pure UX design, for instance. Maybe we need to relax and accept people participating where they’d like at the level of fidelity they enjoy. Maybe we should stop being afraid that our past will come back to haunt us and, instead, look forward to see what’s next.


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