Dribbble Is Not For Product Designers (but that's okay)
I’ve read some excellent articles analyzing the various negative effects that Dribbble has had on the design industry over the last few weeks. At first, I was inclined to agree. The prettiest app/interface designs always garner the most attention, regardless of whether they make sense or not. This encourages others to create similar works in the never-ending quest for internet points.
One of my greatest frustrations with Dribbble is that it’s nearly impossible to convey interactions and flows – the core of my product design work – without an undue amount of work involved:
In contrast, the best [product design] job applicants I’ve seen sent in their thought process. Sketches. Diagrams. Pros and cons. Real problems. Tradeoffs and solutions. Prototypes that illustrate interaction and animation. Things that move, change and animate. Things that use real data. 
I started thinking about selection bias – what do people really use Dribbble for? I decided to group the Popular page into categories and see if I could learn something. Knowing that one of the major “Dribbblisation” concerns is the corruption of real, problem solving design, I wondered how much work was actually falling towards that end of the spectrum versus more expressive (artistic) disciplines.
I tried to keep my categories as generalized as possible:
The “Fake Work” was mostly apps or logos but, since they were completely non-interactive and didn’t attempt to solve a realistic problem, they fell towards digital art more than anything else. I had no idea where to put the shameless plugs for “new blog post” and “download our new app,” so I stuck them in the middle.
The numbers  were surprising. I was expecting an inverse bell curve (tending towards the extremes), but that’s not what happened:
Almost 75% of the popular Dribbble shots in my little experiment tended towards the artistic side of the spectrum. We’re talking about 3/4 of the work not being (or pretending to be) problem-solving design at all. So why are we getting so worked up?
When there’s fake product design
I think it’s easy to look at trending weather app shots and redesigns of iOS 7 and see it as a detriment to our design community. I know I’m guilty of wielding a pitchfork on numerous occasions. It seems, though, that ‘useless UI’ happens in waves right after a particularly big splash. I’m flipping through Popular on an average Wednesday. No controversy, no big news recently, and I can’t find a single fake screenshot to get mad at. Not even an American Airlines rebrand.
Fake work dominated in 2012. In lieu of adequate data, we’ll have to wait and see how 2013 fared.
Some interesting data points:
- Only 3 designers contributed 50% of the most popular fake work in 2012.
- The most popular ‘real’ project was Instagram.
- There’s no ‘flat’ design here at all. Funny how quickly styles change.
Fake work causes problems when we focus solely on visual styling and ignore (or try best to forget) that real world design problems typically have vast requirements and problems to solve. Young designers emulate their idols, and the cycle of the “graphic stylist” perpetuates.
When you do real product design
So, you just finished tidying up for iOS 7. There’s a new coat of paint but, most importantly, you finally had time to sit down with the iOS engineer and fix that stupid signup flow and remove SMS confirmation once and for all. Design won the day.
You’re proud of your work, and you want to show fellow designers what you’ve been doing for the past two months. But you can’t post your signup flow on Dribbble – it’s not very interesting, it’s not a visual work of art, and it’s way too complicated to explain in 400x300 pixels. You won’t win any internet points for that.
But that’s okay.
When you’re working on a real product, you have a real product to show for it. Speaking for myself, I get a lot more gratification from reading App Store reviews from real users and talking to designers who have used my product than from the shots I post to Dribbble.
Sacha Greif has another solution:
For example, more and more designers are posting animated GIFs on Dribbble to show the interaction layer. A lot of people are also posting on CodePen too, to show the final coded outcome of their work.
Designers like Jeff Broderick are also posting very comprehensive, in depth shots that give people a peek behind the curtain. It’s a lot more work, but I think it’s great.
I love sharing my work online, and I’m not going to stop using Dribbble anytime soon. I’m also using Zerply more often – the community is a bit smaller, but much more nuanced and focused on sharing real work.
I plan to go forth with the knowledge that interaction design is not a language Dribbble speaks. It’s a gallery of amazing artwork at its best, and a pile of ridiculously stupid work at its worst. It’s become the Facebook for designers – it’s not where you want to be, but where you know all your friends are.