Are Dribbble Users Blurring the Line Between Art and Design?

You can easily split the design community into two groups: those drafted into Dribbble and those who aren’t.

Despite me being in the latter group, I find it difficult to ignore the fact that snapshots that are supposedly showing what designers are currently working on are no more than art and idealized designs that don’t reflect the actual principles and real-world requirements of a usable and function-oriented design.

Where I’m Coming From

To be clear, I haven’t been drafted into Dribbble. I know, for some, this will likely undermine any argument I make.

Though not drafted, I do still use Dribbble, and I’m signed up as a prospect (people who are looking to be drafted into Dribbble).

I use Dribbble as a source of inspiration. I look at the site to see the progression of designs and to learn about the design processes of my peers in the hope that this examination will improve my own work.

Dribbble in 24 Seconds

I find it hard to believe that any designer that’s even slightly in touch with the design community hasn’t heard of Dribbble yet. But in case you haven’t, let me quickly fill you in.

Dribbble, in its simplest form, is a community site designed to give creatives a platform for showing a small snapshot (400×300 pixels or less to be precise) of designs they’re currently working on.

Rather than upload a snapshot of a finished design or uploading snapshots solely meant for the Dribbble community, the creators of the site intended Dribbble to be used as a sort of "Twitter for creatives" — a feed of what they’re doing right now.

Content on Dribbble is uploaded by players in these three forms:

  1. Shot: When a player uploads an image of 400x300px or smaller for people to view, comment or mark as a favorite
  2. Rebound: When a player takes a previous shot (either their own or another) and changes that image in a way they feel enhances the original
  3. Competition: Usually seen as rebounds, a competition will have a design brief steering the designer towards creating a specific image

How Dribbble Is Being Used By Some

The problem I’m seeing on Dribbble is that the design work I often encounter isn’t design at all; they’re art.

People will have their own list of differences between art and design. For me, the difference is simply one of purpose.

Art may often lack a function; it may be created for no other purpose than to look good or to provoke emotions. Thus, art can often prioritize form (aesthetics) over function.

Design, on the other hand, must work functionally to suit a myriad of purposes. A design is meant to be used by those who encounter it; whether it’s in the innovative design of a laptop or as a way to attain information.

Are most images being uploaded to Dribbble design or art? From what I see, many of the shots fall under the latter category.

Even worse, many snapshots are being created simply to be uploaded for admiration on Dribbble.

Why are some players creating designs that will never be used or seen outside of Dribbble? Much of it appears to be a game of vanity and competition. Rather than spend time creating work within the constraints of a client brief, some designers feel they can create their best work without real-world constraints and in a timeframe that allows them to create something simply for the purposes of eye candy. Some designers seem only concerned with showing off their skills in idealistic forms. Most of the work appearing on Dribbble is generally fantastic and wonderful to look at, but so are many art pieces in an art gallery.

As I mentioned earlier, I use Dribbble as a source of inspiration. I’m willing to bet many other designers do as well. With so much art being uploaded to Dribbble, coupled with its ubiquity and authoritative standing in the industry, it’s easy to see that it can have an influence on the direction of Design.

The web design industry, in particular, has reached a point where we’re capable of creating such complexity in our work that the edges between Art and Design can easily be blurred if we choose to do so.

With only milliseconds to make an impression, we’re also under constant pressure to produce visually impressive websites to capture the attention of visitors. But is this shift towards form over function good for Design and its users? Are site performance, usability, functionality and purpose being sacrificed over artistic and subjective choices?

This is an issue I’m having to deal with in my own work, and luckily clients are there to keep me grounded. But Dribbble is making it difficult for me not be tempted to jump on the bandwagon of form over function; work that you couldn’t possibly recreate within real-world industry best practices, deadlines, budgets, and demands.

So rather than take from Dribbble the ideas that provide unique solutions to design problems, some designers are instead absorbing the aesthetic beauty and complexity of the designs being posted, instead of remarking on the function and purpose of the design. A quick look at comments on popular snapshots on Dribbble will show you that the discussions are around aesthetics and not about design.

I think the situation affects new designers the most; those not yet experienced with the demands of real projects. They can see the snapshots being uploaded on the site as being reflective of what their peers are doing right now and assume that’s what Design is. They may mistake work being presented on the site as an indication of the work they should be producing.

It’s Not Dribbble’s Fault

It’s not the fault of the fine creators of Dribbble; they created a site that could facilitate the purpose they set out: To provide a social platform that allows designers and creatives to share "small screenshots of the designs and applications they are working on."

Instead, it’s down to the players to use the site under the spirit in which it was created for.

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