Are Dribbble Users Blurring the Line Between Art and Design?

Apr 24 2011 by Kean Richmond | 48 Comments

You can easily split the design community into two groups: those drafted into Dribbble and those who aren’t.

Despite me being in the latter group, I find it difficult to ignore the fact that snapshots that are supposedly showing what designers are currently working on are no more than art and idealized designs that don’t reflect the actual principles and real-world requirements of a usable and function-oriented design.

Where I’m Coming From

To be clear, I haven’t been drafted into Dribbble. I know, for some, this will likely undermine any argument I make.

Though not drafted, I do still use Dribbble, and I’m signed up as a prospect (people who are looking to be drafted into Dribbble).

I use Dribbble as a source of inspiration. I look at the site to see the progression of designs and to learn about the design processes of my peers in the hope that this examination will improve my own work.

Dribbble in 24 Seconds

I find it hard to believe that any designer that’s even slightly in touch with the design community hasn’t heard of Dribbble yet. But in case you haven’t, let me quickly fill you in.

Dribbble, in its simplest form, is a community site designed to give creatives a platform for showing a small snapshot (400×300 pixels or less to be precise) of designs they’re currently working on.

Rather than upload a snapshot of a finished design or uploading snapshots solely meant for the Dribbble community, the creators of the site intended Dribbble to be used as a sort of "Twitter for creatives" — a feed of what they’re doing right now.

Content on Dribbble is uploaded by players in these three forms:

  1. Shot: When a player uploads an image of 400x300px or smaller for people to view, comment or mark as a favorite
  2. Rebound: When a player takes a previous shot (either their own or another) and changes that image in a way they feel enhances the original
  3. Competition: Usually seen as rebounds, a competition will have a design brief steering the designer towards creating a specific image

How Dribbble Is Being Used By Some

The problem I’m seeing on Dribbble is that the design work I often encounter isn’t design at all; they’re art.

People will have their own list of differences between art and design. For me, the difference is simply one of purpose.

Art may often lack a function; it may be created for no other purpose than to look good or to provoke emotions. Thus, art can often prioritize form (aesthetics) over function.

Design, on the other hand, must work functionally to suit a myriad of purposes. A design is meant to be used by those who encounter it; whether it’s in the innovative design of a laptop or as a way to attain information.

Are most images being uploaded to Dribbble design or art? From what I see, many of the shots fall under the latter category.

Even worse, many snapshots are being created simply to be uploaded for admiration on Dribbble.

Why are some players creating designs that will never be used or seen outside of Dribbble? Much of it appears to be a game of vanity and competition. Rather than spend time creating work within the constraints of a client brief, some designers feel they can create their best work without real-world constraints and in a timeframe that allows them to create something simply for the purposes of eye candy. Some designers seem only concerned with showing off their skills in idealistic forms. Most of the work appearing on Dribbble is generally fantastic and wonderful to look at, but so are many art pieces in an art gallery.

As I mentioned earlier, I use Dribbble as a source of inspiration. I’m willing to bet many other designers do as well. With so much art being uploaded to Dribbble, coupled with its ubiquity and authoritative standing in the industry, it’s easy to see that it can have an influence on the direction of Design.

The web design industry, in particular, has reached a point where we’re capable of creating such complexity in our work that the edges between Art and Design can easily be blurred if we choose to do so.

With only milliseconds to make an impression, we’re also under constant pressure to produce visually impressive websites to capture the attention of visitors. But is this shift towards form over function good for Design and its users? Are site performance, usability, functionality and purpose being sacrificed over artistic and subjective choices?

This is an issue I’m having to deal with in my own work, and luckily clients are there to keep me grounded. But Dribbble is making it difficult for me not be tempted to jump on the bandwagon of form over function; work that you couldn’t possibly recreate within real-world industry best practices, deadlines, budgets, and demands.

So rather than take from Dribbble the ideas that provide unique solutions to design problems, some designers are instead absorbing the aesthetic beauty and complexity of the designs being posted, instead of remarking on the function and purpose of the design. A quick look at comments on popular snapshots on Dribbble will show you that the discussions are around aesthetics and not about design.

I think the situation affects new designers the most; those not yet experienced with the demands of real projects. They can see the snapshots being uploaded on the site as being reflective of what their peers are doing right now and assume that’s what Design is. They may mistake work being presented on the site as an indication of the work they should be producing.

It’s Not Dribbble’s Fault

It’s not the fault of the fine creators of Dribbble; they created a site that could facilitate the purpose they set out: To provide a social platform that allows designers and creatives to share "small screenshots of the designs and applications they are working on."

Instead, it’s down to the players to use the site under the spirit in which it was created for.

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About the Author

Kean Richmond is a full-time web designer and developer based in Yorkshire, UK. Working as a generalist in most areas of web design and development he currently works at Bronco, tweets as @keanrichmond and rants on his personal blog.

48 Comments

Tom

April 24th, 2011

I have the same problem with logo galleries. Many of the logo’s are not for real companies. They are not used in the real world. To me that’s the wrong way around. Stuff is being created for these sites. And not created for real use and then shown anywhere.

iCosmin

April 24th, 2011

That’s why I never even tried to sign up as a prospect. I sometimes do browse Dribble for inspiration, but I wouldn’t really feel comfortable being part of its community, mainly because the sole purpose of everyone there seems to be showing off (vanity as you said).

That’s why I prefer Forrst over Dribble. People are much helpful there, even though it’s obvious that submitted designs quality on Forrst doesn’t compare to Dribble.

Looking forward to what others have to say, this is a pretty sensible topic :)

Aria

April 24th, 2011

I completely agree except for the last part, “It’s Not Dribble’s Fault.” And I don’t think you meant it either.

Ann

April 24th, 2011

Very true.

It seems that people new to the design field do their work for each other. In order to make money and have steady work, though, you must do your work for someone else. Who is not a designer, and whose goal is communication.

Tad

April 24th, 2011

Dribble is clearly about who can dress up the most adorable ON/OFF switch

Josh

April 24th, 2011

I find Dribbble frustrating to use and simply don’t understand its appeal. If I want to admire someone’s work or be inspired, I want to be able to see their full design or composition, not a small cropped version of their work.

Can you imagine a photo site where you show a small cropped section of your photo without revealing the full image? It sounds daft doesn’t it? Yes, I realize there’s a difference between an illustration or piece of graphic design and a photo, but I still find the whole premise of dribbble to make little sense.

And yet…the site’s been a huge success, so what would I know!

Arturo

April 24th, 2011

Yes I signed up for Dribbble prospect and I have no see the option to delete my account, I do not like it, I prefer forrst over Dribbble, there are more talented people on the internet that you can see on forrst. Dribbble has become more like a group rather than a community where everyone is better than the others and the only thing they care is to show off their work…

Matt Duffy

April 24th, 2011

While I see your point, a lot of the work is pushing limits and doesn’t really exist within the constraints of real client work, I feel like the work you are referring to is a small portion of dribbble. The most popular designers on the site produce much of this work, but they have that freedom. Many who contribute that type of work are successful enough to freelance and create their own projects or the trust of clients to push those limits. remember also that much work created for clients can’t be shared like this. If it wasn’t for the work dribbble members do on the side, dribbble wouldn’t have half the content it does. I agree that a lot of people will create work specifically for dribbble, but much of the work I see can be used and is used. Sure, if you only look at the popular section, you see great designs that are beyond pixel perfect and hard to believe they can be implemented as nicely, but that section of the site usually has largely the same 30 designers, which maybe is an issue but I don’t mind. if you go into the debuts and everyone tabs, you see the same level of work as forrst, a mix of new and experienced users who are posting work they really could use advice on. it’s just a matter of how hard you look and how much you care.

David

April 24th, 2011

My friend once asked me “Where do all the Dribbble shots go to?” and I didn’t understand what he meant.
So he said: “It’s what they’re working on, right? Where are the finished projects?”

Marcell Purham

April 24th, 2011

I like the design and simplicity of dribbble but I think the community should be for “popular” designers because that is all who receives good reviews on there. BTW Forrst is 10X better its a community for designers and developers.

Sandoer

April 24th, 2011

Your article is refreshing to read, since there seems to be an overwhelming desire to be drafted into Dribbble. I for one feel it is a narcissistic, ego-driven site that has appointed itself the judge of good, or worthy design.

I’ve never asked for an invite, because I don’t feel the need to be part of the in crowd. I believe it becomes a dividing point among designers, and is a negative influence.

Denis

April 24th, 2011

Totally agree with you. Users want to show they can use Photoshop, but most of the time, we can’t judge if they are good designers, just because we don’t know anything about the purposes (and if there is a REAL purpose). And the popular snapshots (most of them) are those we NEVER see in the real world. They are BEAUTIFUL, but…useless outside Dribbble?!

I’m on Dribbble, I like this website because it’s great for the inspiration. But it has become too elitist. “I can do that, look!” – “Amazing maaaan, your awesome.” – “Yeah, thanks”.

Chris Porter

April 24th, 2011

My take on Dribbble is that there will be people who just use the site to show off work and others will use it to actually show some “work”. It’s like that on a lot of sites. Just like music, you’ll hear something that has substance, then you’ll hear some crap. Deal with it…move on…

As for @Josh, think of Dribbble as a better PatternTap. When I’m gathering inspiration, I usually look for elements. Forms, about pages, social media icon placement, etc. I’m looking usually for UX and placement ideas. The work on Dribbble aesthetics are too (in the words of most of my clients and peers) …nerdy…gay…too soft….sad to say, but most of my clientele are in the hiphop community. Yes, I dislike my clientele…

…jeez

David

April 24th, 2011

I feel you are simply jealous of the awesome community of designers on dribbble.

David Bushell

April 24th, 2011

This article really depresses me, it’s too negative!

Dribbble is all about eye-candy and showing off, not about clients and briefs. It’s pretty clear that most Dribbble posts aren’t client work and just designers experimenting. You clearly know the score and can separate real design from design for designs sake, as can most professionals. Anyone who doesn’t know this isn’t going to get far in the industry. This is something every young designer has to learn to progress, whether exposed to Dribbble or not. I think your making assertions based on your own worries, and that can only lead to a negative attitude.

Alexander Charchar

April 24th, 2011

Thought provoking, thanks :)

I think there is an unnecessary bias against aesthetic-as-function littered throughout the design community. It seems as thought people have forgotten the role aesthetics plays in the functionality of a product. It’s often accompanied with the notion that art does nothing but be pretty, where as design is about a role. Art has a role, a very strong one, and it isn’t to just look pretty.

But you said art can also just be to evoke emotion. Isn’t this true of most good design, too? Consumers and audiences are warming to design and it’s via the path of emotional reactions, not simply ease-of-use practicality.

* * *

Whenever I’ve studied or been in an interview of some sort that involved my folio, I was always told it was great to see work that was produced for the sake of producing work. It shows an interest and passion for design, that it isn’t just a job, but something you feel a need to do. Going off and doing such things also means that we can execute ideas we couldn’t with clients, giving us the confidence to suggest them when we actually sit down to discuss a new project. It’s practise. It’s like hitting a million golf balls down a range, so that when you’re on the course, you’ll have more control over your game.

That all being said, I don’t really “get” dribble. The lack of context of seeing the entire project seems borderline ridiculous to me. But people like it and people are inspired by it. So it’s provides a grandiose opportunity.

It’s a lot easier to teach an aesthetically driven creative to become a designer (problem solver, communicator, etc) than it is to teach aesthetics to the dry technician. Perhaps sites like dribble and all the other inspiration galleries and blogs and websites are the precursor to a moment in the (this part) of the design community, in which hordes of people stand up and realise that it isn’t just about aesthetics, nor about functionality, but about both working perfectly together and that they’re are often one and the same.

The lines of art and design are blurring? I’d say they’ve been blurring for decades, and I’m grateful for it.

Mike

April 24th, 2011

I like the concept a lot. I would love peoples comments of work I am in the process of creating, I wish it would open it up a little, the invite only aspect is a bit off putting because I would love to participate for it’s intended purpose yet I don’t know enough people. A bit elitist.

Fre

April 24th, 2011

I think this is a very strange way of thinking about design and dribbble.

Even design as such can be art, but art in itself doesn’t have to be useless. Even a very well designed website can be considered as art. It may not be a Picasso but then just call it usable art.

There’s a part in the article where you’re judging designers for creating and posting things to dribbble that will never be used in real life. But I don’t see what’s wrong with that. Often these are rejected projects by clients or just tests by designers. There tests may lead to new hypes in design (currently the folded map things). Designers always want to show of and will always be a little competitive and experimental, Dribbble is excelent for that.

To Josh, that is one of the things I like about dribbble. It allows you to show a single piece out of an entire design that would otherwise not always get the attention it deserves and just allows you to tease upcoming projects.
Finding inspiration is often taking small pieces of different websites and piecing them together in a new collage with your own touch. Dribbble allows you to focus on these small pieces.

Also not a dribbbler, I have signed up as a prospect though. :)

Michael

April 24th, 2011

I think that the problem I am having with this article is in the assumption that dribbble is solely for designers and that people should use it a certain way. The model of dribbble has influenced how it is used a bit, but the primary question that dribbble asks is “what are you working on?” This could be anything really.. But is answered by a 400×300 px screenshot. So you could capture a screenshot of art, a drawing, could be a wireframeof an app your working on… Button styles, icons, or even a screenshot of some code in your text editor. It could be anything you are working on. I don’t see a problem with the diversity in what people are working on. Clearly the community is made up my a majority of creatives, designers and artists alike… Which makes a lot of sense being that the content is based around visual screenshots.

What is the primary argument here? Is it that the people on dribbble are using the site improperly or that viewers see the site as something that it’s not?

Dan

April 24th, 2011

The constraints of 400 x 300 is tailored to icons and other small work. And the fact most of the crowd are young “designers” who favor eye candy effects over pure design. But by far the biggest issue with dribble is the following, liking and commenting. He who has the biggest numbers is seemingly more “popular”. It’s no wonder it’s turned into an ego-fest. But if you ask Dan and Rich if there’s a problem, they will just ignore it or say they don’t have the time or money to address the issues.

Mark

April 24th, 2011

I totally agree with Kean Richmond’s argument that lot of design works are art. When i browse some work i too found that some of the work has less design functions. But i found some brilliant piece of designs there

Jatin

April 25th, 2011

Dribbble is one website that I visit every alternate day. It’s almost like my design second home (first is my computer)

Nice article.

Daniel Delaney

April 25th, 2011

Kean seems to be saying that art is inferior to design, which is like saying that pizza not as good as motor oil — they are for completely different things.

Jovan

April 25th, 2011

This is a very interesting article, first of all I never got into some Art School but ever since I was a child I’ve been into arts ( scribbling my heart out ), but I still manage to get a Computer Science degree, so part of me is a designer and a developer. Being in both I can see the great importance and great respect to someone who can do both design without sacrificing functionality. I hope Dribble consider this article as a way to give a correct directions to the members since the members are really really good they are just lost somehow on the sites main agenda.

Damien

April 25th, 2011

I see a LOT of frustration here.

Dribbbles users show their works -even not ‘real’ one- because they are passionates and like to share it, to have criticism, to see what other are doing. Not because of their ego.

BUT all of you thinking that are just jealous not to have the same talent, so YOUR ego have to find an answer that make you feel confortable with your lack of work / talent.

Michael Kvakin

April 25th, 2011

“Envy (also called invidiousness) is best defined as an emotion that “occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”[1]
Envy can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person’s self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been he or she who had the desired object…”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Envy

Kean

April 25th, 2011

Thanks for all the comments, I knew such a subject would polarise opinion. I don’t want to reply to any single comment as most I do agree with, even those with an opposing argument. Each opinion is well explained and justified, something I’m happy to see more of in the community as a whole.

I do want to add that I do still think Dribbble is an excellent tool in the community, it does have it’s problems as do most services and in hindsight my argument may be short signted with a view that comes from solely a web designer perspective with little consideration for how the service may be used by those in other design professions.

Yet I stand by my point of view and still feel that the shots presented on Dribbble could create a more aesthetically driven community, which although aesthetics are not something to be ignored must always be married with a functional website, the two are not exclusive. Also helping any young designers understand this is also the responsibility of the older generation, we need to be helpful rather than letting them figure it all out for themselves.

Also as Denis highlights few shots have adequate narration to allow anyone to comment from a design perspective and instead must comment on the aesthetics or guess at a shots purpose. This may contribute to the view of the service being more about congratulating a designer rather than a shot leading to a discussion where the goal is to improve both the design and the designers understanding. Could this be solved without providing a full understanding of the project in question? Unlikely, yet without it does Dribbble fail at one of it’s primary objectives?

Xand0r

April 25th, 2011

I think that this article skips over the fact that you can “follow” people on Dribbble. If you don’t like the shots that people are uploading, don’t follow that person.

You wouldn’t follow a spammer on Twitter, so don’t follow a spammer on Dribbble.

Steve

April 25th, 2011

It’s pretty useful when you’re in a creative funk and want to look up something specific like “on/off” buttons.

But in theory, what you’ve seen is an entire community being influenced by a concentrated source of trends, and it’s likely that there will be a sharp bell curve of sites that quickly go out of fashion due to designers following trend aesthetics rather than design that actually supports the content (of which usually allows innovation to happen organically, instead of in a hot fever of conformism and short-term praise.)

Gavin

April 25th, 2011

Really good article – whilst I’m in the Prospect category myself, I can’t help but feel its popularity would be increased if it had an open invite recruitment similar to LoveDesign or Forrst. I for one have a host of stuff that i’d love to show off on their forum as I’ve progressed tenfold as a designer since my early years and having LoveDesign and Forrst, having ‘the whole set’ in Dribbble would be great. In the spirit of sharing and growing as a design community, I think invites need to be handed out in greater quantity and without an us and them mentality.

Jacob Gube

April 25th, 2011

@Michael Kvakin: You probably spent more time quoting that instead of reading the post. Shame how some people are so closed-minded and judgmental.

Rich

April 25th, 2011

I read a lot of these comments and I think a lot of folks are missing the big point here. Dribbble in itself isn’t to blame for any “issues” because it’s just a tool. Ultimately, the community decides how that tool is used. Instead of whining about Dribbble, it’s up to the design community to right the ship. If you don’t like what’s being posted, don’t follow those designers, or don’t use the site at all. Post actual client work yourself and encourage a change instead of crying about it.

Kean really got it right here by implicating the users and not the site, or Dan and Rich.

Michael Kvakin

April 25th, 2011

@Jacob Gube: I’ve read the post (and comments) quite thoroughly, believe me. So you may spare that loser-granny-talk with “shame how…” etc. Look at yourself before judging people.
Better share your opinion and let me agree or disagree with you.

Greg Jackson

April 25th, 2011

It’s another way of getting exposure. But for work that is actually paying, I do wonder about client confidentiality! How does that work? Personally I would never expose a job in progress or even add it to my site until it’s live.

Jacob Gube

April 26th, 2011

@Michael Kvakin: I’m not sure what you mean. Your initial opinion is a disparaging and judgmental quote of the term, “Envy.”?

I love reading people’s opinions. I offer you all a forum for mature discussion here in the comments. Elaborate on what you mean instead of being snippy, sarcastic, childish, and making a snap judgement. It doesn’t help move any idea forward if you don’t explain your point of view.

I hate being preachy, but I feel I have to in this case. Being an effective designer means being open to new ideas, not blindly following the tide. It makes it seem like your first comment was a defense of a community that you’re proudly a member of (you even linked to your profile on Dribbble). That’s great; and any site owner would be massively happy to generate such a loyal base of members!

But it doesn’t hurt to look at different people’s perspectives. You might not agree with it, but tell us why.

Disparaging remarks aren’t an effective form of discussion; tell us your counter-argument in a straight-forward manner. We’d all learn more from it.

Chris Paraiso

April 27th, 2011

I agree with this article. Most of what I see is art and not design. While I’m a prospect on Dribbble, I’m a Forrst user at heart. To me, full screenshots are necessary to see the entire picture. Sure, a preview is nice. It may be pretty, but does it function (as the OP would say). I WANTED a Dribbble invite before, but that feeling has diminished a good amount. I could care less at this point. Most of my time is spent coding anyway.

I’ll keep it for what it is, one of the many sources of inspiration. There’s talent on Dribbble.. there’s a lot more talent that’s not on Dribbble as well.

Ivor

April 28th, 2011

Those people talking shit about Dribbble is mostly because they haven’t been drafted. That’s it.- Stop complaining!

Sol

April 28th, 2011

I don’t see anything wrong with a website based on competition and show-off, it creates an environment where designers try to up each other and better their talents. It does make people focus and get the most out of themselves.
But, the fact that the popular posts are the ones based on Art instead of Design, is concerning.
The fact is that the designers challenge today is usability and functionality, not art and playful stuff. So we can’t let the popular dribbble posts become the standard in web design.

James

May 3rd, 2011

Can someone help me to understand how dribbble works?

You can’t upload anything unless someone drafts you, but why would anyone draft you when they haven’t seen any of your work?

Also I see people who are prospects, who have never uploaded anything, with hundreds of people following them. Why would so many people be following someone who has not posted anything to the site?

Irina Shishkina

May 4th, 2011

I don’t think there is anything wrong with Dribbble as it’s a great source of visual inspiration. Don’t see a crime in experimenting, being passionate, creating and posting beautiful things. In a designer’s profession here is a place for both art and design and I don’t think these are mutually exclusive.

Justin

May 4th, 2011

Personally I wouldn’t want to show off my work unless it came with some positive but honest criticism and not just an “awesome” or “that’s crap”. who would want to put stuff online just because you want to be famous. Famous for what, making a few colors go well together? ok I give you a golf clap… what now?

Forrst is definitely a much more brimming community with knowledgeable and active people. So that’s the choice and i would recommend it if you can find an invite or they’re open for registrations.

Sherry

May 6th, 2011

Design is something that’s done for a specific purpose – usually part of overall marketing. Some design can definitely be artistic. Also coming up with awesome design is an art. But many “designers” lose sight of that. They forget they’re normally being paid to accomplish a task (visually) and let their creativity rule. You’re not a good designer if you lose sight of the purpose of design.

Dribble reminds me of art school. It’s a clique. If I ever do get a dribble invite, I plan on putting up design work done for clients.

Tyson

May 14th, 2011

If it’s design, great let it be design. If it’s art, great let it be art. It is so beyond me as to why many posters here are arguing their point as if one is right and one is wrong *cough* elitists *cough*. If one finds merit in another’s work, regardless of discipline, it is a GOOD thing and should be encouraged.

If you bother to look at dribbble’s about page it reads for “..designers, developers and other creatives..”. I know a lot of web-heads wont like to hear this but Artists fall into this bracket.

Sergey Basharov

May 16th, 2011

Hey fellows,
I like Dribbble and trying to get an invite now there. Meanwhile I have created a tiny web app to inspire myself with random picks from Dribbble. I hope it can be of use for someone of you. It’s located here: http://www.infinilla.com. It shows up 3 randomly taken images from Dribbble. When you click “Refresh” on the bottom of the page, it loads next 3 images. This way I can inspire myself and see great works easily. Please feel free to let me know if find it of use.

CJ

August 30th, 2011

So… Who wants a Dribbble invite?

Ryan

September 4th, 2011

What’s nice about Dribbble is that it IS an idealized world of design. It’s good to have an outlet. Experiment. Get feedback from your peers.

I consider it to be the equivalent of DVD extras or audio commentary – maybe even a director’s cut. Designers showing work as they had originally intended, before reality sets in (brand attorney says to add TM symbols every other sentence, usability director wants all links to be blue and underlined, the CEO wants a picture of his daughter on the homepage, etc).

jampa

October 12th, 2011

once i get invitation still i am not able to upload my works on the dribbble. just let me know what the reason for that..

thanks
jampa

Matt

October 17th, 2011

This might be a valid argument if Dribbble’s premise was that it was a website for “designers” to share client-based “design work” created under the real-world constraints you mentioned. But that’s not at all what it claims to be. It’s a self-described “show & tell for creatives;” some semblance of vanity is inevitably going to be baked into that recipe. Who’s to say designers can’t (or shouldn’t) be working on projects outside of what they do for their clients? That’s like suggesting a pro golfer not hit the links in his free time and then not tell anyone who isn’t a pro golfer what he shot that afternoon. Furthermore, who are you to suggest that participation be restricted to your own narrow-minded description of what constitutes design & purpose? If someone wants to make a piece art and share it with the world, more power to him.

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