Dribbble is Not a Platform for Critique

Jun 27, 2012

Dribbble, the popular website that allows designers to share 400x300px screenshots of what they’re working on, has come under fire lately from some members of its community. Many, like Nick Slogget and the designers that have “liked” his shot from yesterday, feel that users don’t give enough constructive feedback, instead favoring shallow and often hyperbolic praise. He’s right and it should come as no surprise. Dribbble is not a platform for critique.

When I first discovered Dribbble a couple of years ago it was in its infancy and seemed like it might grow into a thoughtful and critical community. I felt (and still feel) that constructive criticism is missing from design discourse today, and I was hoping that Dribbble would fill that gap. This has not been the case, and it’s not by accident.

By design, Dribbble rewards style and aesthetics, not concept or context. A quick survey of the layout of the site itself can provide a lot of insight into the interactions Dribbble most encourages. The “like” button sits right next to the screenshot itself, at the top of a column of actions, above the fold on even the smallest screen. Hierarchically, this is what Dribbble has decided is important. “Liking” something is a gut, split-second reaction that doesn’t require or imply any critical thought. It is a simple binary and it only takes one click and a few milliseconds to register your approval.

Commenting however, the only way Dribbble provides for giving critical feedback on a shot, is treated much differently. The comment box is below the shot itself, and as soon as two or three comments have stacked up it’s off the bottom of the screen. Because of this, it’s not possible on most shots to look at the image while you’re typing the content of your comment. Additionally, the comment box itself is a perilously small five lines tall. Though you could hypothetically type a couple paragraphs of thoughtful critique into it, scrolling around the tiny box to re-read and edit, it’s certainly not designed to accomodate that sort of writing. In most cases, including this one, small boxes encourage small comments.

Shots are always displayed in a white frame, which makes them feel precious and complete. The user’s profile page is laid out like thumbnails in a portfolio. For these reasons, most users are uncomfortable uploading shots that are messy, imcomplete, or truly in-progress.

If Dribbble really cared about fostering a community of critical feedback and conversation, they could implement any one of countless changes to nurture that kind of behavior. They could highlight shots with the most dynamic conversation on the home page instead of the ones withe the most likes. They could move the comment box up next to the shot, and make it larger, to allow users to look at an image and leave feedback on it at the same time. They could reward users for taking the time to leave thoughtful and constructive comments. They could eliminate “liking” all together and rid the community of shallow, quantitative validation. They could do all of these things, but they won’t, and it’s probably not in their best interest to. I’m sure that Dan Cederholm and friends have thought of all of this and more, but they’ve already figured out what so many others are still struggling with: Dribbble is not a platform for critique. Dribbble is a way to showcase details of your work, document your style, connect with other designers, and from what I hear a decent way to find freelance jobs (if you’re popular). This is clearly the aspect of their product that they have prioritized.

Please believe me when I say that I am as thirsty as anyone for real criticism, but Dribbble is not the community or product to solve that problem. Instead of complaining about their culture of ego-stroking or criticizing trends that spread like wildfire through their community, let’s have a constructive conversation about where and how we can have the kinds of discussions Dribbble is not suited for.