Dribbble Drafting Drama

Dribbble is a relatively new designers’ playground from Simplebits. The idea is to leak (or “dribbble”) small portions of work-in-progress for critique by fellow designers. The site deliberately limits the size of your uploads to 400 × 300 pixels, ideal for keeping the focus on the details and giving designers the freedom to upload samples of work while retaining a degree of privacy for projects which are not yet live.

The site has been in private beta for the best part of a year, and is available only to invited members. From time-to-time each member is issued with a small number of invitations, which we’re advised to distribute selectively.

Draft Wisely

I admit that this has kept the quality of submissions remarkably and delightfully high, and many designers (myself included) agreed with Jason Santa Maria’s sentiment in this tweet:

I love @dribbble and secretly hope it never goes public. The concentration of good people, shielded from public drama, just works.

But when choosing to select or reject people who’d sent me examples of their work to be considered for a Dribbble drafting, it did cross my mind that there are many designers who are not yet at the top of their game and who would really benefit from the feedback and exposure they would get on Dribbble.

I don’t know how this would work. Should the site be open to all, or does it benefit from being invitation only? Would opening it up dilute the experience for the more experienced designers? Could some kind of leaderboard allow filtering to show only the most ‘liked’ designs? Would this lead to people gaming the system, just competing for ‘likes’? Would it lead to even more elitism than the site has already been accused of?

There are many unanswered questions, some of which are being discussed within the walls of Dribbble. I’d love to read your thoughts, whether you’re a currently drafted designer or not.

16 thoughts on “Dribbble Drafting Drama

  1. I agree almost wholly with everything you’ve said. I find that Dribbble by default echo’s the general situation in our creative community, elitism. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s the nature of the beast. As is the incessant back patting and kudo’s some choose to give to their friends, colleagues and idols. Making Dribbble public would look like twitter. Not necessarily a bad thing, just loaded with a lot of people that arguably misuse the service and dilute the overall quality.

    The leader-board though, could go terribly wrong though. Embracing a sense of competition rather than community.

  2. I’m a somewhat amateur UK designer who’s not yet been ‘drafted’; having kept an eye on Dribbble through the various acclaimed designers I follow on Twitter, it seems that while the concept is interesting, it comes across as something as a home for the ‘elite’.

    People like me aspire to produce work like that of some of this elite group so to me; a tool like Dribbble seems like a great idea for getting feedback from the people that shape the web, as well as getting a glimpse of innovations and ideas that have put these designers at the top of their game.

    I can certainly see where the desire to keep it in as close a group as possible comes in, I’d probably feel the same if I was part of it, there’s no doubt Dribbble as a service is a lot different now than it will be if it opens up to us commoners!

  3. You are absolutely correct—there are many designers not yet at the top of their game and who would benefit from that sort of feedback and exposure.


    I think that something like dribbble is exactly what these sorts of designers need: a closed environment populated by truly excellent designers. In order for a so-so, up-and-coming designer to get an invite, they have to try to step up their game on their own, make good impressions, and generally work hard at getting better. That’s a positive thing for them. (And by them, I mean me!)

  4. I think the idea of Dribbble is really interesting, but I’m also looking at it from an entirely different angle. I’m a developer, more than a designer, but occasionally the need arises for me to design something as well. As a Dribbble community member I wouldn’t be posting pictures of my cat…really I wouldn’t be posting pictures at all, but I love looking at talented designer’s creative ideas and would be happy to give critical feedback. On the occasions that I actually do design something, Dribbble would have exposed me to this mass of creative work that’s always inspirational.

    I suppose right now the Dribbble community is looking for people to contribute design work, rather than strictly comment. I think a reason it’s become so widely hyped are the more famous and talented web designers (with 10,000+ Twitter followers sometimes) are tweeting their Dribbbled work that 9,900 of their followers can’t see but desperately want to. Then we want in to this cool service but can’t, and since most of the people we see tweeting about Dribbble are fairly well known, it gives a bad taste of elitism, even if that clearly isn’t the intent.

    That being said, I understand Jason Santa Maria’s sentiment, because a small community of talented people is more fun than a huge community of mediocre people with a small pool of good ones. I’ve been feeling that a little bit with Gravity (http://gravity.com) which just went into public beta today…I actually recognize the names and faces that respond to my conversations.

    i don’t know how Dribbble works internally now, so I can’t comment on ways to make it big while still feeling small, but any sort of system where that can happen would be ideal for a site like that.

  5. This is exactly what I was thinking when having a Twitter conversation about Dribbble, and the problems I see with it. Problem is, Twitter isn’t the best place for full blown ideas and criticisms, but I never got round to writing a post.

    You’ve nailed exactly what I was thinking. The concept it to get feedback on designs, to help you become a better designer, BUT those doing the inviting want to exclude people who aren’t up to (their) standards, but, in my opinion, these “average” / aspiring designers are the ones who would benefit most from this service and constructive feedback / criticisms from established designers within the industry itself.

    (BTW the placement of the invite form at the bottom of the post confused me, I was thinking it was the form to put in your comment!)

  6. It’s refreshing that a social network of this size puts quality over quantity. The one major drawback is the elitism, but come on, that’s hardly anything new in the web community.

    IMO, I can’t imagine dribbble’s floodgates ever being set to ‘open’. It would, as you say, completely dilute the calibre of talent already in there, as well as the underlying point of dribbble, which is to facilitate creativity through open, qualified feedback. Yes, I’m sure there are hundreds of ‘outsiders’ who would benefit from being part of the dribbble massive, but their time will come as the community organically grows – and as they get better, pushing to be drafted!.

    For me, I was (luckily) drafted, and am nowhere near the top of my game. Regardless, I absolutely love dribbble and it *is* inspiring me to get better. I haven’t had this kind of affinity to anything online since Twitter.

    Leave it as is Dan, please.

  7. Speaking as someone who currently doesn’t have access to the elusive Dribbble, I would love for it to open up to the public so I could gain access, however I don’t think that’s necessarily the best thing for the site.

    I think the current invite only method ensures that the members are kept at a certain level, a level where the critique and advice they are giving actual holds some weight. I understand this maybe feeding into the elitist accusations but I think if it was opened up to the general public there would be a flood of people signing up putting up their random work and patting each other on the back regardless of the quality (something I think already happens quite a bit on sites like deviant art).

    Now don’t get me wrong I do think that it would be a great benefit but I think the cons would far outweigh the pros, there are plenty of websites out there for uploading your work but very few like Dribbble and I think they should try maintain that.

    (written very quickly, excuse any horrific grammar)

  8. Currently I’m on the outside looking in and it feels pretty lonely out here. I will usually see at least one tweet a day from someone who has dribbbled something and it does give a feeling of a very closed network. This feelings made worse when you do see people getting dribbble invites for simply being the quickest to reply via tweet, though it does appear more people are actually distributing invites based on level of work which is good.

    I kinda feel that the problem wil dribbble will not be opening it up to a ‘lower’ class of designer but instead to everyone. This is where the invite system is good however it should be a little more open so that some designers can apply for access but be only allowed in once it’s been confirmed they are a designer and not someone looking for somewhere to spam.

    My opinion now is probably different to that I would have if I was using dribbble, as I’d probably want to see only the best work but you are right in saying that it’s those not yet using the system that might get the most benefit. Though this benefit would only be ensured by the experts continuing to use the system. At the moment it’s almost a case that the good get better and the bad get no help. Unintentionally could dribbble be creating a divide of ability?

  9. Perhaps dribbble could “open up” with a process similar to how you decided who to give invites to:

    • non-invited applicants could submit 1-3 dribbbles
    • current members would have access to a section of dribbble applicants (perhaps would even be assigned applicants to review)
    • once an applicant was approved by x number of current members they would become a fully-fledged member

    Perhaps this is a little contrived but a system along these lines would help maintain the “exclusivity” and quality control but still give a chance to everyone to get involved.

  10. If you are going to stick with the sports analogy, why not have a minor league and a major league? The current members would comprise the major league. The minor league would be made up of people who went through a process like Oisin descibed: submit a few dribbbles, have those submissions reviewed, get drafted into the minors.

    The minor league players would only have access to other minor league dribbblers, but the majors could check out both leagues. Then the major league players could see what kind of contributors the minor league guys would make. At some point, after x amount of time, some minor league dribbblers would move up into the majors.

    A lot of people complain about exclusivity. I was kind of put off by dribbble and how only a limited number of people were allowed in. But that is life.

    I played some basketball in high school, but I wasn’t nearly good enough to make it into playing college ball, much less the NBA. Thousands of other basketball players weren’t good enough to make it into the NBA either. I don’t hear them complaining about exclusivity. This applies to hundreds of other areas of life as well.

    If there were some way to get noticed, something like I’ve outlined above, I think that more people would be ok with dribbble being closed off (at least they might have less to complain about). As with other areas of life, if you wanted it bad enough, practiced hard, and didn’t give up, you would be able find yourself with a ticket to the big game.

  11. I agreed with Jason Santa Maria’s tweet. I was also satisfied with the email that was just sent out to make the “Shots” viewable to the public.

    Perhaps a win win would be to develop some sort of a “League” system where you have divisions. Where Pro (NBA) is the BEST, and then have some Minor league (NBDL) for the newbies.

    Who decides who goes in which league is another story though.

  12. I’m extremely happy about the way they decided to roll it out publicly. The people (like me) who want to see what these talented designers are working on and can be inspired by there work without feeling like I was out of place with an account and nothing to post. No pressure, just the ability to admire from a distance.

  13. Though I’m a bit biased, I think it will be great for the public. Us designers could really use a place for feedback. I know that feedback helps me grow the best. Right now as an ‘elite draft’ right now, it just seems like a web clique.

  14. I am not a member of dribble and thats probably what keeps me interested. I think quality feedback is hard to get and things like this are very valuable, but perhaps some sort of different levels, and recommended members go to the higher leagues, so it involves everybody.

    Having said that, i imagine i would lose interest quite quickly as i have built it up in my head to be much greater. Would it be possible to see a screenshot of the site (from the inside) or is this breaking some rules?

  15. I loved this line;

    “…it did cross my mind that there are many designers who are not yet at the top of their game and who would really benefit from the feedback and exposure they would get on Dribbble.”

    Also the fact that some of us haven’t gotten an invitation yet pushes us to become better designers :)

  16. If a so-called famous designer uploads a flat black circle on a while background, it will get hundreds of “likes”. If an unkown designer uploads a really good piece, we can only hope it will at least get one “like”.

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