Good old designer snobbery is alive and kicking

There’s one thing that I hate about being a designer and that’s the snobbery. Most, if not all, designers are a little bit guilty of looking down on other people’s work. Comments such as “Pah! They used Comic Sans” or “Ergh! Don’t they know reflections are so out of date now?”

These are comments I’m 100% guilty of saying, but I think the problem is the outlet. If it’s a quick chatter between friends then there’s not much lost except making yourself look like a bit of an arse, but start broadcasting these harsh judgements to the world and you’ll rapidly give the impression of a big ego, huge mouth and tiny brain.

Dribbble Egos

I’ve been feeling the need to unfollow people recently, when their Dribbble ego has been massively over-inflated. Dribbble is an exclusive community in its nature of being invite-only. However, far too many people see it as owning an invite means you are in some way superior to anybody that doesn’t have an invite. As seen on Twitter:

Hey everybody, I’ve got a Dribbble invite. Send me a link to your portfolio and I’ll give my invite away to the best one.

What baffles me is that not many other people seem to think this is wrong.

What’s the point in a community of elite designers?

To sit and caress each other’s egos,  posting shots mimicking each other and establishing trends, and to gawk at ‘weblebrities’ and instantly hit ‘Like’ on anything they produce without even looking at it first.

Unfortunately, this is what a large part of Dribbble has become, partly due to the attitudes of those that send out tweets like above. There’s no value in a community where everybody is doing the same thing, adhering to the same rules and spending all day telling people how lovely they are. The best and most useful comments on Dribbble are those that offer constructive criticism. The most interesting shots are from previously unheard-of people because we’re being introduced to a new way of thinking, not the same old rut that the ‘weblebrities’ are stuck in.

And who are you to judge?

One of the things that irritates upsets me the most is that the aforementioned tweet comes with the assumption that the tweeter is better than those who are sending them their portfolios. Who are they to judge the quality of somebody’s work?

And even if the work is undeniably poor. Who are you to prevent these people from growing? One of the premises of the Dribbble community that really appealed to me was sharing criticisms with people you don’t know. Having your work critiqued by somebody else helps you learn how other people see your work, introduces you to alternatives that you may never consider, and occasionally gives you a boost in self-confidence.

It works the other way round too. By constructively criticising other people’s work, you challenge your own perspective on design. By trying to come up with helpful suggestions and interpretations, you’re learning to understand more than ‘like this,’ ‘hate that.’ This is how designers grow. Whether the criticism comes from clients or other designers, it’s all of value, and who is the tweeter above to deny other people the opportunity to indulge in such creative and useful practices.

The Gap Logo

Late last night the furore over the Gap logo redesign came about.

The new Gap logo

The new Gap logo

Scrivs puts it way better than I could but it seems like madness. The logo isn’t that bad. It’s average, and thus an improvement on 99% of logos in the world. Get some perspective!

So quick to be rude about other people’s work

Matt coined a great term for these type of people, ‘keyboard heroes.’ The kind of people who are all full of bravado and aggression when they’re hiding behind a keyboard, but would stay quiet when talking to somebody’s face.

Again, we’re all guilty of this from time to time. Twitter is perfect for getting your snap judgements out there and having 140 character tantrums. None of these tweets said “it would look better if they’d put some spacing between the letters” or “a solid blue square would have tied in better with the old branding.” It was straight to spitting vitriol.

Could you do any better?

This is the classic. That the majority of people slating the Gap logo could certainly not do any better. How do you know what the brief was and whether the logo fits it? These people don’t understand the context so it would be very difficult to understand whether it delivers the desired effect. I don’t think it’s a great logo, but I don’t think I could do much better without knowing what Gap were going for. I believe that unless you can do better, then maybe you should use your keen eye to help improve your own work.

35 comments

  1. neil_berry

    @laurakalbag totally agree with your dribbble/gap post!

    Reply

  2. Jack_Franklin

    @laurakalbag when I find some time I'll write a response to that post, a few things sprung to mind when reading!

    Reply

  3. mixn

    @laurakalbag One of the best articles I've read in a while.. Kudos.

    Reply

  4. Hi,
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said about dribbble, keyboard heroes and the like.

    However I feel that commenting on a brands redesign (however negative the comments are) is not a bad thing, after all, it is not about doing better than them, or feeling that you are a better designer, it is about the confusion caused by the release of these redesigns.

    If GAP's logo brief was set, and this ticked all the boxes, then the brief in my opinion was a poor one (but who am I to judge?!)
    They seem to have implemented a lot of techniques that would benefit different logos, but the GAP logo, with all 3 letters of it, does not need to be more legibility, it is still constrained by the orientation you could place it in, it uses gradients which I haven't looked at in grayscale but I imagine don't look as clean as the original logo etc. etc.

    So in my opinion all the bad mouthing of the new design is not about other designers being better, or the logo being un-usable, it is about the confusion how they got from the original logo to the new logo without seeing the brief (after all we will never see it)

    Reply

    • Laura

      If you've got constructive criticisms (like yours above) then I think negative opinions are perfectly valid. It's when people say things like "It's rubbish", "looks like it was designed by an idiot" that they come across as unnecessary.

      Reply

  5. Here Here! I love Cederholm to 'bits' but there is definitely something wrong with building a competitive themed design community with your own name at the top of the 'Leaderboard'.

    I call them cewebrity's btw.

    Reply

  6. Great article Laura!! I feel exactly the same about the whole Dribbble thing and the "weblebrities". What really bothers me the most is that criticizing people has become so easy on the web. Writing harsh things is so much easier than telling someone the design he or she's been working on is crap from face to face and criticizing without adding constructive thoughts about how to do it better is even easier. On the other hand all those "You are so fucking great and I love everything you do" comments are bullshit as well. I guess those comments are a part of the success of Dribbble because everybody loves to be told what a great designer he is. But it's a total waste of time when those comments get so unrelated to the real quality of the submitted designs.

    Reply

  7. It's the iTunes icon all over again.. I'm beginning to wonder whether or not I ever want to join Dribbble – you seem to see a lot of this behaviour there, and it's not healthy for anyone to immerse themselves in that kind of atmosphere.. And honestly, who really gives a crap what Gap do with their branding?

    Reply

  8. Great post Laura!

    On personalities: I think the idea of designer "ego" in communities like Dribbble stems more from outside perception than any inside "celebrity" culture. The very nature of the site is exclusivity, but that's purely for moderation and advertisement purposes. I see no problem with your example tweet, it's a product of the system rather than elitism from the tweeter. I often think those suggesting the idea of "celebrity designers" are the only ones who are labelling people celebrities in the first place.

    Most people enjoy discussing and sharing great design for networking and self promotion. When congregating together they share trends, form a hierarchy, and sometimes disagree. It's socialising, not elitism, though that can manifest is tiny amounts.

    Saying that, I haven't been on Dribbble in a while so perhaps I'm wrong ;)

    Reply

    • Laura

      I don't think that it's just Dribbble that has examples of the designer ego. And these egos aren't necessary those of the most popular Dribbblers, I'd say most are actually incredibly humble. You're totally right in that it's the hero-worshippers that propel them on to pedestals. In fact, in my experience, 'graphic' design has far more dangerous egos than web design.

      However, I still believe reviewing other people's portfolios in such a way is arrogant. By all means, let people know you have invites, but why not invite somebody who is new and could do with some help rather than the best designer you know?

      Reply

    • Maybe I'm optimistic, but I genuinely don't believe most people giving away invites in such a manner actually consider themselves judges or an authority. That would be arrogant as you say. I'd imagine just any many (if not more) people give away invites to friends, randomly, and with other considered choices. Choosing someone because you feel they need help is also judging them is it not? I don't think any reasons are done in an arrogant manner, at least most of the time. The shortness of a tweet often results in more ambiguities and implications than intended.

      Actually I'm being to half-full here. My point would be that the few arrogant eggs over shadow the humble lovely designers.

      Reply

    • I was "refused" (understandably as I'm sure the person had been told to) a dribbble invite when it was locked from public view as I have no work on-line. Regardless of my 'skillz' (or lack of) the person couldn't give me one if I didn't have a high standard of work… and as he couldn't see my work…

      Reply

      • Laura

        I can understand refusing somebody on the grounds of not knowing somebody, not knowing if they’re just going to post stuff that is irrelevant to design (ads, aforementioned photos of cats.) However, I’m still disappointed for your predicament, it must have been hard to be refused just for that.

        Reply

  9. Nice read Laura :)

    I absolutely despise Dribbble – always have. I am a member, but not because I jumped through my own backside to prove my worth, just because a friend invited me. There are some very talented people posting some very good work in Dribbble – that can't be denied – but it's also actively encourages and harbours the kind of elitist attitudes that you've described above (much more politely than I would have) by the way it's invite only system works.

    As for the Gap logo, well it is very average. Just like the iTunes logo is pretty average. Neither are *that* bad. But I think it's just human nature to react negatively to change, especially with something they are so familiar with. In my time I don't think I've ever witnessed a single big name rebranding that hasn't been met with more negative than positive reaction. I think it's the nature of the beast. You need to be tough-skinned to be a logo designer.

    Reply

  10. Laura,

    As being on dribbble from a very early start, nearly a year I think its worth a comment. I don't agree with a lot of what has been said. I know a lot of designers not just on dribbble but from the community.

    Where as I can not talk about other designers as everyone is unique I can talk about myself. Regarding the tweets for invites, I myself do this where people who want in can send me their portfolio to look at. I do turn away the ones that at the moment are not up to standard. The reason for this is not elitism to massage my "EGO" but for the good of the community. People with sub standard work would in fact find it hard to associate with the community in general as if their work is not of a high standard how can they comment on things that they do not know?

    However I do understand that there is a problem with snobbery in the community, this is not to do with the "weblebrities" its more of the jealous people who think that they should be. The type of person who gets Photoshop but not design in general. The same person will visit gallery sites time and time again and be "inspired from x and y design", when in fact they should only visit them for the planning stage at all.

    Also think about the people who are "weblebrities" they do not chose this, it is the same in any area of life. The people who are marketed well at being good at something will always attract people who want to be them. I have talked to a lot of these "weblebrities" and they are some of the most nicest and humble people you can talk to. Just imagine for a second that your workload is putting you under a lot of stress and then a stranger asks a question that will take 20mins of your already busy schedule you wont be able to answer straight away and it sadly gets pushed back to the que. I am no means a "weblebrities" but I get emails daily asking things from "How can I get better", "What books do you recommend", "can you look over my work" etc and it gets tiring but sadly that is life.

    Reply

  11. Guilty as charged. On both counts.

    This is the only reason I may ask for work when giving out an invite is down to this piece of text on the site:

    <blockquote cite="http://dribbble.com/account/invitations">Help keep the league clean. Resist the urge to send invites to folks who enjoy uploading photos of their cat.

    Also! The players you draft will show up in your “drafted list” so we’ll know who to blame for the aforementioned cat photos.

    Re: the Gap logo – yes. It looks bad, but yeah, what the hell would we do when someone like the Gap asks us to redesign? ISO50 is trying to get the 'keyboard heroes' to come up with something better: http://blog.iso50.com/2010/10/05/gap-redesign-con… but is this spec work. And that, is a whole other matter…

    Reply

    • Laura

      It's cleverly worded. It doesn't at any point say "don't invite inferior work." It's saying no LOLcats. However, it implies that you shouldn't invite anybody whose posts would make you feel ashamed. If you're ashamed of inviting somebody because their work isn't of a professional level, maybe that is more significant of your feelings?

      Reply

    • At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter does it? It's just a website.

      Reply

  12. Great article Laura! I've been guilty of jumping on the GAP logo bandwagon my self, its very easy to fire something of on Twitter without stopping to think it through first. As for Dribbble I'm not a member nor am I going to jump through hoops to become one but any site that helps with the creative process can only be a good thing in the end. In any community you're going to get good eggs and bad eggs.

    PS Anyone got a dribbble invite? :-)

    Reply

  13. Thanks for a great post Laura. For those designers that are so busy they can't be bothered here's an idea: put together a canned response with links to your favorite resources, then as you are inundated with questions from strangers aspiring to produce work of a "high standard", you can quickly reply to them and welcome them into the community. Just sayin…

    Reply

  14. The word on the street is that Gap's new logo was not designed under a brief, but was unexpectedly plucked from a presentation by a corporate chieftan who resides outside the marketing department. Essentially, the design & marketing team had no voice.

    Critiques become elitist and petty when people begin claim they can (or have) produced better work. While this may be true, it ignores the reality of the design process as a collaboration between designer and client. When the collaboration fails, the work fails. The Gap logo is a great example of a non-existent collaboration between art and commerce that could cost the company significant brand equity.

    So I think it's fair to criticize Gap's move as a misunderstanding of design. "New" isn't enough. The logo itself lacked a substantive discovery phase, so they ended up with an ill conceived mark for the brand. As designers, I think it's important that we voice critiques of new work as a means of validating (or invalidating) the decisions made by all parties involved.

    Reply

  15. This web celebrity thing is getting out of hand. I find it implausible people are referring to themselves as rock stars and ninjas when we're essentially a service industry.

    I don't see plumbers putting each other on a pedestal, or stepping out and calling themselves rock stars, ninjas and the like. I don't see mechanics putting together Top Trumps-style cards (any one remember Type Faces?).

    It's all, for want of a better term, a load of bollocks. I joined Dribbble earlier this year, and as soon as the novelty wore off grew dissatisfied with it. There's no community feel to the website, but more so establishing trends and a breeding ground for iTunes 10 replacement logos, or GAP replacement logos, or whatever will come along next week that the community at large decide isn't worthy.

    Reply

  16. Another great post Laura! I've always thought Dribbble was or seems elitist. Yes granted the work on there is exceptional but wanting to keep the bar high is for who's benefit, is it just for the purpose of having comments filled with "awesome"? I'm a member on Forrst and its audience is a bit more wider than Dribbble I see good and great designs as well as not so good design and I am sure people may have made that assumption with my own work too. But the "not so great" designs aren't bad they've just lacked direction, same with my own but its the critiquing that what makes somebody better, being able to see somebody's point that you've not seen and improving ones self. Thus being able to then help others. We've all read on blogs about partnering up with somebody or learning from somebody is great and all about a community environment, well these places are the perfect opportunity yet Dribbble users go a little quiet when drafting somebody new or upcoming. If you give somebody a chance they will prove they are good enough.

    Reply

  17. Kie

    Nice Post Laura,

    this seems to confirm your point that a majority "could certainly not do any better?"

    well there's the evidence….

    http://blog.iso50.com/2010/10/06/gap-redesign-con

    Reply

  18. Most "social networks" are (in function) online popularity contests… pretty much the same thing that occurs in many real-life social situations. The main problem that I see people with Dribbble is that of expectations.

    As a non-Dribbbler, I use the site mainly for inspiration, and I usually come away with fresh ideas or approaches. I also enjoy discovering (for myself) other designers and their work through the site.

    I almost never read the comments, by the way (I agree that the dialog on the site is almost comically one-dimensional).

    Reply

  19. Laura, good post and a very valid point :) i agree about the snobbery, didn't really see much point to dribble as you said there's not much criticism there.. but the gap logo – i'm one of those that think it's not an improvement. and i'm not criticising the designers. it was probably design by committee anyway :) just think that it's really awkward and somehow a step down from what they had…

    Reply

  20. I wholeheartedly agree. I have been thinking the exact same thing for some time now, I have just never been able to express it as well as you have.

    My thoughts on Dribbble – I use it the odd time to publish snippets of work for feedback (which is what it should be used for) but rarely receive any – probably because I'm not a weblebrity and even if I was I'd imagine I would just receive a bunch of back-pats and well dones.

    My main issue is that the real sheep mentality of following our weblebrity leaders not only filters down into comments and follows, it appears in the actual work. People quickly lose their own identity and uniqueness on Dribbble to produce work like their newfound idols. The debuts and popular pages contain the same tall-white-sans-serif-noise-backgrounds images as the day before and the day before that. All because of this follow-the-leader mentality.

    Now I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for releasing my own tirade of design snobbery on the designs of most of the Dribbble community, although it comes from a concerned place for fear of a global design trend discouraging individuality.

    Reply

  21. I've got two dribbble invites… send me your portfolio so I can decide if I want to be associated with you.

    hehehe!

    I'm a bit torn about the whole situation, but, at the same time, there's still a lot of rubbish designers on dribbble anyway (sorry, let me rephrase that as designers who are first starting out who need a lot of help to improve), and while I'm not a regular user the system, I think it's good to have a place to show things off to your peers. Snobbery in design is not a new thing (I hung out with some architects recently and oh do they think web design is not a very noble profession!), and while you can claim you don't like it, you're not going to stop it.

    When I'm excited about something cool I've done, what's wrong with showing it to the type of people who might give you compliments?

    Reply

  22. Des

    Hey Laura,

    Great post. What irritates me most about the keyboard heroes tweeting one-line criticisms is that they just don't know enough about what they're criticizing.

    To criticize a creation properly you need to know the designer, the contract, and the client.
    It takes three to tango http://www.contrast.ie/blog/three-to-tango/

    Thanks for writing,
    Des

    Reply

  23. The beauty and uniqueness of Dribbble is exactly in the fact that it is a hand-picked and a 'gated' community. Aren't there a lot of different places that are open for all, like DeviantArt.

    While elitism sounds like a curse word it can be beneficial like I think it is in this case, we could also call it with a name that I find more appropriate in this case – peer review.

    Snobbery is a sad and stupid trait and should be (IMHO) ignored when it springs up, but let's not associate it directly with peer review.

    Reply

  24. Nate

    Holy crap I love this post. Thanks.

    Reply

  25. Excellent article Laura! You have a new admirer…

    Reply

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