24th January 2014

Is Dribbble harmful to up & coming web/app designers?

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Dribbble design

The wealth of development across multiple design platforms, coupled with new technologies make it an exciting time to be a ‘designer’. To help us designers ride this wave of cables and code, we have a wealth of inspiring writing from personal favourites; Steve Krug, Jeff Gothelf & Jeffrey Zeldman to name but a few. 

It’s no wonder then that we as designers want to share and discuss all our exciting projects with others on the likes of Dribbble. In essence this should be a great tool, allowing people to receive educated and constructed feedback to improve their work in all forms from Information Architecture (IA), User Experience (UX) & User Interface (UI). In reality however…

Hundreds of iterations of the same visual & lets not talk about weather apps!

Design comparison

The overriding issue is simple. The Dribbble community value aesthetic or form over the equally critical function. Very few pieces posted actually attempt to solve business goals, usability issues or are tailored to their intended audience, but have instead been designed with the goal to impress fellow Dribbblers. 

Funeral home with bright colours? 

Dribbble funeral

“Wow that’s incredible” is a usual response to some of the talented individuals on Dribbble. Naturally people look and try to emulate, thus creating similar visuals to the point in which we end up with an almost pre-defined template and fads that live and die within weeks.

Long shadows…

Long shadows

While I understand this focus on visual, with Dribbble’s IA arguably hinting towards it with its own design, I think it’s incredibly important to remember what underpins a great ‘design’ – something that’s vital to anyone making a start in this career.

In the case of a website design, this is never started on screen. Instead it starts with pens, paper and lots of planning; addressing site structure, information architecture, content and site hierarchies (flat vs. deep), factoring in client goals/limitations and user journeys/personas to name but a few. 

Revision and refine.

Design meeting

I realise that wireframes and user flows don’t make for a great show and tell. However, glancing through Dribbble’s pages of app designs and websites it’s clear to see this process has been missed or neglected on far too many cases.

Since a website or an app is in essence a ‘product’ that needs specific problems solved e.g. increasing conversations on an e-commerce site, then it would appear that many web/app designers are simply arists creating pixel perfect visuals rather than addressing the real product issues.

While I don’t argue for a minute that creating a beautiful composition with great font pairings, striking photography & beautiful UI elements isn’t a skill, I’d simply love to see this execution paired with hidden beauty, something that simply doesn’t just look great, but something that feels great to use too. Sadly though, the latter seems to be a skill that gets overlooked far too often.

So to anyone wanting advice on web/app design, I’d suggest starting at its foundations. Discover the principles that underpin the craft and learn how to use these for your benefit. Design has layers, like the oft-metaphoric onion, of which the skin (surface) is the least valuable.