I have no connection to Dribbble outside the fact that happily pay $20 a year to get much more that twenty bucks worth of value out of the experience. Dribbble is amazing. But it’s also a bit awkward. And like most awkward things, you can miss the goodness inside if you focus on the idiosyncrasies.
First off, Dribbble is a real and very direct channel for independent designers to get work. It is delivering on a promise that professional organizations have been making for years: join up, get involved, grow your career. That value proposition is proven on Dribbble. With any other professional organization you join, that promise is dubious at best.
And this is important because (real talk here) things are looking kinda scary for designers. No one likes to talk about it. And it’s comforting to see that design budgets are growing and it’s becoming a focus for more and more companies. But supply is outpacing demand. I don’t have numbers on this. Just a bunch of friends struggling quietly, staying afloat, but worried about how long they can last, and I’ve been there many times before. Dribbble might be one channel to bootstrap an early design career. It might be a viable alternative to the agency salary-and-benefits route, especially at a time when those jobs are not as secure as they once were.
The second point is much easier to miss. Dribbble’s pitch is that it’s a “show and tell for designers”, a place to share work and get feedback. But we all know that people are so damn nice on Dribbble that it’s hard to get anything but comments like “your graphic designs are literally blowing my mind” or “sweet texture bro”. As the world’s best feedback tool, Dribbble fails.
But what the whole thing is really about is community. As more designers cut their agency ties and take up the cross of freelance work, Dribbble is stepping in as the place for workplace water-cooler chat. But instead of five fellow coworkers to chat with by the water-cooler, Dribbble is a freakin’ cafeteria packed with hundreds of fellow freelancers to chat with, share with, maybe even collaborate with. Dribbble isn’t just a better professional organization, it’s a better office space. If we stack it up next to the benefits a IRL office provides, it does a pretty great job. Getting design feedback is just one function of the office and it is probably the least interesting. No one develops loyalty to an office based on the groups technical feedback skills. An office is where you share news, commiserate, joke around, celebrate victories (personal and communal).
If you’re not into it, don’t sign up, don’t pay, don’t share. But don’t underestimate this simple little service.
For some interesting further reading check out Clayton Christensen’s idea that we hire products for a job to be done.
We often misunderstand what job we are really hiring a product for. I don’t think Dan Cederholm intended provide this breadth of services (community, career, social, etc) when he built Dribbble, but often the winners in a space fill in service gaps in new an unexpected ways.