A Warning for New Designers: Avoid Dribbble

on Bradley Taunt's blog

Everyday a new designer begins their journey into the world of [insert design industry here] and it is magical! Having a fresh pair of eyes untainted from the current trends of the time can help improve design as a whole. Newbies can even teach new things to older, grumpier luddites (like yours truly). But over the years I’ve noticed a concerning trend among junior designers; they rely too heavily on Dribbble.

Relying on Dribbble for minor inspiration is one thing. Referencing “shots” as justification for real-world design work? Not so much. I believe Dribbble shouldn’t be used for either of these use cases, but I can at least give a pass at browsing for basic inspiration (colors, padding, layout).

Now, using concept shots to push for your own design decisions? That is a terrible idea. We “senior” designers need to step up and help newbies avoid this trap.

Designing for Other Designers

Dribbble is rarely a place for design feedback and discussion anymore. Hell, most people use it as a digital portfolio to share with prospective clients. Others use it like some form of “design Linkedin”, which has its own host of problems.

Dribble is now (mainly) a place where designers post “work” for other designers. There is a small minority of users still looking for real, human feedback on their work - but they are a rarity.

Take a look at the popular shots category at any give time. Most shots are promo pieces used to attract potential clients. Nearly all design concepts are impractical or simply impossible to create in a real-life setting. This is incredibly damaging to newcomers trying to learn “good” design practices. Dribbble shots simply ride the wave of the current trends, which doesn’t provide junior designers with a solid foundation or core understanding of design as a whole. It just causes them to endlessly chase the “latest and greatest” trend.

Shot posters rarely go into the reasoning behind their design decisions. No research or iterations are shared to show the process. Instead it simply states “here is a cool website layout for a company that doesn’t exist”. Zero constraints or goals needed to be met. No discussion about how one version of their design didn’t perform as well when tested on real users. So of course it ends up looking so cool and original - it wasn’t designed in reality.

I Don’t Have All the Answers - But I’ll Try

I am not the holy savior of all things design. I’m just a designer who has been around the block a few times. If new designers want to keep using Dribbble as their main source of guidance and think I should go kick rocks - that’s fine. I will. But for those with a little more passion for the profession, might I suggest some humble alternatives to get you on a more consistent path?

  1. Read some good design books (to get you started):
  2. Talk to real people
    • Chat with your team’s marketers, customer support specialists, senior design leads, and developers about new features (they often have better insights than you)
    • Perform customer interviews early and often (they use your product or service - let them tell you what they want!)
  3. Read through some quality UX reports and research
  4. Pay attention to real world design (good and bad)
    • Grocery item designs, labels packaging
    • Vehicle analog and digital dashboards / safety features
    • Warning and safety labeling (great for universal and minimal design inspiration)
    • Government websites and applications (notoriously terrible - great for “what not to do” examples)
  5. Your own experience (over time)

These are just my own suggestions to help new designers get a better foundation of core design concepts before falling down the Dribbble hole. Take it or leave it. I’m not your dad.

Most designers who are pro-Dribbble will most likely write me off as a grumpy old man yelling at a cloud. That’s only half true. But if just one person reading this even considers avoiding Dribbble as a source for learning proper design - then it was worth it.

Now if you will excuse me, there are many more clouds to yell at…

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