Dribbble and Criticism

An article by David Brooks on August 16, 2012


Andy Mangold wrote a very thought-filled article about why Dribbble isn’t a platform for critique. If you haven’t read it, go check that out before continuing.

All done? I’ll go on.

Certainly there is some merit to what Andy wrote, and obviously there are others who feel the same way about it. In regards to the article my friend Aaron Dodson wrote, “I think this is a perfect summation of my discomfort w/ Dribble. I would love to see concept trump aesthetic.” (Source).

But I think the problem with Dribbble goes deeper than that. It’s a societal issue, and not so much about Dribbble itself.

When I first started using Dribbble it was much easier to get feedback because the number of people submitting work was lower. When everyone follows 25 people it’s easy to see everything that happens. When everyone follows 1000 people you’re only able to see a sliver of what’s going on. It’s not that it’s noise, it’s just that there’s a lot of signal.

Look at any of the really popular people on Dribbble, the comments they receive are almost all pure flattery except when given by the rare thoughtful individuals, or their personal friends. Look at anyone who isn’t popular, and you’ll see the exact same thing scaled down. The people who most often give meaningful comments are the people you either know in real life, or those with whom you hold a mutual respect. And it’s likely you’ve already asked those people for their opinion anyway.

Dribbble isn’t a platform for critique because, well, I don’t think humans really enjoy critique. Walk into any first year design class and it plays out the same way. Someone puts their work on the board and everyone says the same sorts of things that they do on Dribbble, only mixed in with a bit more fluff because the teacher is watching. Only rarely is a piece of criticism or advice actually given, and then, half the time it’s to play to an ego or for self promotion. In short, the critic gains something by speaking up. Sometimes people have something they want to say but they fear being labeled a troll.

During my time in design and photography classes, most of the criticism was useless and really didn’t help me at all until everyone had time to grow as a designer or photographer. Even then, sometimes people just don’t have anything other than flattery to say about a particular design. When I got into the real world I would offer critique and people would shut down. Not because I was being mean, but because they expected me to say that everything was completely ok and nothing better could be done. It took learning on my part to know when to say what, and how to say it.

What does help most of all, is finding people you respect, people who will be honest with you. Befriend them on Dribbble or wherever else you go to show your work. Then, talk openly about your work and be respectful when they do offer criticism. The quickest way to shut down future criticism is to get defensive because really, the critic is doing you a favor and they’re probably already on the fence about whether or not they should offer it.

So while Dribbble isn’t perfect, I think the issue really goes back to the design community as a whole. By saying something meaningful you’ll more likely get a meaningful response next time you ask for it. Some of my best criticism has come through Dribbble, and without that as a platform, a few of my projects wouldn’t have been what they are. Dribbble is a platform that let’s us talk about design and criticism, but it’s up to us to do that well.

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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