Dribbble is a strange site. It’s not just that it calls itself “Twitter for designers” and restricts posts to screenshots of no more than 400 x 300 pixels. It’s not even that the site then manages to arbitrarily impose basketball vocabulary onto its activities, so that posts are called “shots,” members may be “players,” “spectators” or “prospects,” and replies are called “rebounds.” And it’s not even that the site has a selective membership, with Pro accounts only available to players, and playership only available on an invitation basis. It’s that the site is remarkably effective. Designers win valuable feedback, the commendation of their peers and a chance to see what others are doing. And they pick up jobs. Lots of jobs.
Despite having only around 87,000 members of which just 15,000 are active players, Dribbble has established a reputation among designers as the place to be. Invitations are hotly sought after and there’s stiff competition for the views, comments and fans that help designs to win exposure. The site works by allowing players to upload small shots of their work in progress. Uploads are limited to 24 each month and no more than five per day (to avoid “ball hogging”). Spectators can then follow the designers and projects they find interesting, organize their favorite shots into buckets, become a prospect by indicating that they’d like to be invited to play and, most importantly, they can also scout for talent and contact members about work opportunities.
Players can do all of those things but they can also upload, take part in playoffs by responding to someone else’s shot with one of their own, post comments and indicate that they’re available for hire. They can also pay extra for a Pro account that lets them group shots into projects, change their work availability settings and view stats.
Feedback, Peers and Job Offers
The direct benefit for players is that they get to be part of an elite group of designers who praise and comments on each other’s work. Ricky Linn, for example, is a 20-year-old design student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. He’s been a Dribbble player for about a year, joining after a follower of his Tumblr site give him an invitation.
“It’s a great way to stay updated on what other designers are up to and the great projects they’re doing, track visual trends, learn and share techniques with other members, get some useful critical feedback from other designers about your work, and from a student’s standpoint, I get a broad general view of what kind of projects professionals are doing nowadays,” he says. “I wanted to be part of that community and engage with other designers who shared a similar aesthetic with me, and hopefully maybe get some of my design heroes to come check out my work as well.”
But the site’s vibrancy and its collection of talented designers also makes it more valuable to employers and agencies than a traditional website portfolio which might go months without being updated. Ricky Linn notes that he updates his portfolio every four or five months but in between those updates, nothing happens on his site. Posting a quick shot on Dribbble takes just minutes but shows employers that he’s active, busy, approachable and working in a particular style.
Like any social site though, success on Dribbble depends as much on popularity as it does on talent. The site’s home page shows the most popular current designs, exposure that requires picking up plenty of followers as well as posting great shots. And the rewards for that exposure are very real.
Jeremy Sallee is a 29-year-old UI and UX designer from France who has been on Dribbble since May 2011. When he managed to land a design on Dribbble’s “Popular” page, he found that he received between three and five job offers a day for a week. He even owes his current position to being spotted by a business on the site.
“So I would say more than sending me a lot of work, the site has literally changed my life,” he says.
For freelance designers hoping to reap those benefits too — either in the form of a full-time position or the kind of steady freelance work that can make for a stable freelance business — Dribbble offers three challenges:
- Landing an Invitation
Jeremy Sallee received his invitation from someone on DeviantArt in much the same way that Ricky Linn picked his up from a Tumblr visitor. Morgan Knutson, now the leading visual designer for Google+ desktop, obtained his nearly two years ago after spending a week hunting down someone who was willing to send him one.
The best strategy, says Ricky Linn, is to build yourself up in a different community first, such as DeviantArt, Tumblr or even Twitter, and ask if anyone has an invitation they’re willing to share.
- Gaining Popularity
Ricky Linn found that because he had few followers, the benefits didn’t come immediately after he joined Dribbble. Gaining followers though takes time. It comes from giving feedback, liking the work of others and posting great designs. “Just keep on working, producing pixel perfect work, and have fun!” advises Jeremy Sallee. “The rest will follow.”
- Privacy and Confidentiality
Dribbble encourages designers to upload their current works but those are likely to be covered by confidentiality agreements. You’ll need to get the client’s permission to post, and you’ll also have to strip out any logos or other identifying marks.
“You should never submit something to Dribbble without prior authorization of your client,” says Jeremy Sallee. “If you explain you won’t reveal any logo and important info of the project and it will give them a better idea if the design will be popular or not, they generally agree.”
Meet all those challenges, and you can find yourself playing with Dribbble’s elite team and fielding the kinds of job offers that the site’s top players receive. And that will give you another problem that’s just as strange and welcome as the site itself: having to turn down work you don’t have time to do.