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Dribbb-Folio: Between Your Current Work and Portfolio

posted by Matt Ward on Feb 2, 2011.

In this post, I would like to take a look at Dribbble, the popular social networking/sharing site aimed specifically at designers. More specifically, I would like to consider how it can function in relation to and in conjunction with your portfolio.

So I think that it’s pretty safe to say that Dan Cederholm and Rich Thornett have created something pretty special with this designer-centric, social-sharing site they created. Inspired by a love of basketball, they like to call the site Dribbble. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I was drafted into the game about 8 months ago, and with only 21 shots over that period of time, I am by no means one of the most prolific players on the court. That being said, however, I’m still a frequent visitor to the site and love perusing the work of my peers—and those awesome designers who are so much more talented than I am that the word peer just doesn’t seem appropriate!

Yet, as I was was preparing my recent post about the cycle of emotion in design, one of the topics that was front and foremost in my mind was my portfolio. At the risk of sounding redundant, I will note again that with every project that I take on, I go into it with the intention of making it the best work that I have ever done. I don’t necessarily always realize this ambition with every project, but it is certainly the primary goal, and contributes to my continuing growth as a designer.

Combine this with the fact that my portfolio always seems to be at least a few months out of date, and when I look at said portfolio, there generally seems to be a distinct gap between the work that I am showing most prospective clients and the work that I am currently producing, which I usually deem to be more representative of my skill-set and also of much higher quality. This apparent gap can be extremely frustrating. I want to put my best face forward, but even if I was keeping my portfolio up-to-date (it’s been several months since the last update), my very best work is quite often the work I am doing now.

You know, the type stuff that gets posted to Dribbble.

Can The Pink Ball Bridge the Gap?

This thought occurred to me as I was uploading a recent shot of a site that I’ve been working on. Even though the site is still a work in progress, I was still pretty happy with the design, and felt that it reflected my further development and maturity as a designer. In fact, it was exactly the kind of thing that I would want to be showing prospective clients!

A screenshot of some of the most popular shots on Dribbble

A screenshot of some of the most popular shots on Dribbble

Of course, given that the site wasn’t even near completion, I certainly couldn’t add it to my portfolio yet. But I could direct potential clients out to my Dribbble feed. It was an interesting thought that raised all kinds of different questions, with the most important likely being just an issue of practicality. Could a concept like a “Dribbb-folio?” be possible? How would something like that work? What would it look like?

To get a better idea, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of this idea.

Pro: Current Work

Right off the bat, one of the most obvious advantages of Dribbble is that it generally features a body of work that is far more recent than what is likely on your online portfolio (unless you’re really great at keeping that up-to-date). I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this one, since we’ve already touched on it a bit, but if you feel like your best work is usually what you are working on right now, and if you have an unfortunate tendency to neglect your portfolio, then maybe Dribble really could offer some sort of solution for bridging that gap.

Con: Lack of Context

However, one criticism that has been leveled against Dribbble is the fact that many of the shots—especially those from websites or printed pages—tend to exist without context. We’ll see just a corner of a website, and while it might have lovely colours or remarkable use of textures and patterns, we are unable to see how it works in the context of the entire design. Or, we might see a beautiful set of icons, without any indication as to how they will be used (assuming that they are not being designed as a stock resource).

In an interview with that I recently listened to, Dan Cederholm talked about this issue, even going so far as to use the term “eye-candy”. While I don’t hold the lack of context against Dribbble, I do think that there is an important truth here. Design is about more than just making things look pretty. It’s about crafting a solution to a particular problem, and that solution is generally encompassed by the entire design, not just a corner of it. As such, it is difficult to gauge the full effectiveness of a design when we are seeing just a sliver of it.

That being said, many of the shots really are beautiful, and while they may not reveal the entire context of a design (or even a finished design, since they are usually works in progress), I think that these shots do work to demonstrate a designer’s technical prowess—that is to say, their ability to work pull little details together in a lovely and aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Con: Client Privacy

Another thing that every user of Dribbble should be aware of is the importance of client privacy. Frequently, it’s probably not going to be a big deal, as many clients will probably be amenable to having your work in progress posted to the design community for feedback and criticism. After all, it will likely only help improve the overall quality of the design.

That being said, however, there will also be projects and clients who may not be so amenable. Perhaps you’re working for a large corporation that doesn’t want to tip its hand to the competition, or a new venture that is building its initial marketing on a platform of secrecy. Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to be upfront and open with clients about your prospective Dribbble use. If, for whatever reason, they don’t want you to post the work you’re doing for them, it’s probably a good idea to honour that request.

With this in mind, if you’re doing a lot of this kind of this kind of confidential work, then using Dribbble to bridge the gap between your portfolio and your current work may not be the most viable solution.

Pro: Building Hype

On the other hand, there are other clients who will not only be amenable to your use of Dribbble, but will actually embrace it full-heartedly, and possibly even encourage its use. Recently, I’ve been following Brian Hoff’s work on the redesign of MOJO themes. At the time of writing, there have been six different shots, all of which have had over 1,600 views and been liked at least 60 times. That’s a lot of attention, and based on the quality of the work we’ve seen already, I would guess that there are more than a few people who are excited for when the new site goes live.

Hype and buzz are powerful marketing tools, and if you can leverage your influence on Dribbble, it can certainly be a very effective means of building said hype, and might even be enough to help convince a client to hire you!

Of course, the key thing here is that word “influence”. Part of the reason that someone like Brian is able to command so much attention is the fact that he has built a Dribble following of nearly 2,000. That number certainly ensures that his shots are highly visible within the community, thus increasing attention on what he’s doing. In my case, with just shy of 60 (awesome) followers, I simply do not command the same degree of influence, and it would be significantly more difficult for me to build that kind of hype through my Dribbble account.

This is neither a good or bad thing. It’s just something to be aware of.

Con: Minimal Personal Branding

One of the really nice parts of having your own online portfolio is the ability to apply your own personal branding to it. For example, Soh Tanaka’s website showcases an ultra sleek, typographically-minded design, with just a pinch of urban flair thrown in for good measure.

Soh Tanaka's site has strong elements of personal branding

Soh Tanaka's site has strong elements of personal branding

On the other hand, Ryan Scherf’s site, while equally typographically-minded, has a much grittier, earthy feel, with a pastiche of texture in its primary illustration.

Textured and illustrative, Ryan Scherf's portfolio site has a unique and interesting feel

Textured and illustrative, Ryan Scherf's portfolio site has a unique and interesting feel

Both sites are awesomely designed, and each site contributes to the overall branding of the respective designers.

Dribbble, of course, doesn’t have this same effect—at least not on its own. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and definitely isn’t something that I would hold against the site in any way. It was never intended allow for personal branding (beyond an avatar). When weighing Dribble against the traditional portfolio, however, it’s definitely something to consider, especially if you feel that your personal brand is an important context for presenting your work to new or potential clients.

Pro: API

That being said, however, Dribbble does offer a publicly accessible API for the development of third-party applications that make use of the site’s content. This raises some really interesting possibilities for potentially grabbing and posting your more recent shots directly to your site, similar to the way that some people will have their recent Flickr photos or albums from Last.fm.

This would help to alleviate some of the lack of personal branding, by allowing you to present shots within the context of your own website. Surrounded by your own branding, the shots can take on new meaning. Perhaps they reaffirm your personal style, or help show clients that you’re more than just a one trick pony.

Either way, just be mindful of the API restrictions. Dribbble only allows you to make 60 calls per minute. That might seem like a lot, but if you have a high traffic site, or get a sudden spike for some reason, you don’t want to be getting “access denied” errors on your feed. My advice would be to add a simple caching routine to help minimize calls. After all, your feed is probably not being updated more than a few times a day, so grabbing the information even just once an hour would likely be sufficient.


So where does this leave us with this concept of a Dribbb-folio? Well, there are strong benefits in being able to showcase your most recent work easily, and potentially even build a certain degree of hype while doing it if you have developed enough influence. These are both valuable benefits, but with issues of confidentiality, a lack of context and no personal branding, there are definitely some limitations to just how far you can stretch Dribbble.

That being said, however, there are stories out there of designers who have been successful in using Dribbble to land work. Jacob Cass is one example that comes to mind, and he has wrote about his experience of landing a job through posting to Dribble. Stories like this underscore the value of the community as a personal marketing tool (even without personal branding), and cannot be discounted, especially when coupled with the interesting possibilities that are available through the use of the API.

Given all of this, I would come to the conclusion that, yes the concept of a Dribbb-folio is at least partially viable. In no way should it ever replace your own, fully developed portfolio, where you can present your work in much fuller context. As a properly balanced supplement, however, it can allow you to present those small snapshots of what you are currently working on right alongside your body of established work.

For this reason, I really do think that Dribbble can be a valuable tool for showcasing your designs (or illustrations) to clients and helping gaining more work, either for yourself as a freelancer or for the agency your work with!

What do you guys think? Has anyone had success leveraging Dribbble in this way? Or perhaps you’ve had a completely different kind of experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Oh, and before you ask, no I do not have any invites to give out. Sorry.

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Feb 4, 2011

Javier says:

Great article!

When I read the part about showing your clients an out-of-date portfolio, I remembered that mine hasn’t been updated in almost 2 years… 0_0

Usually, when clients ask me for work samples, I show them my portfolio in addition to some stuff I’ve done recently.

I think in the context of Dribbble, it makes sense to do the same thing. You don’t have to worry about client confidentiality, either, if you’re just displaying small sections of the design and not the whole thing.

As far as what you stated regarding personal branding, I’ve always thought that your personality should come out in your designs anyway.

Feb 4, 2011

Keri says:

@Javier “I’ve always thought that your personality should come out in your designs anyway.”

Definitely- in fact, I think it’s impossible for it not to! Any creative act has something of the creator in it. Just as no two people performing a Chopin piece will sound alike—they may be playing from the same sheet music, but their souls are going into the music, and you can hear the difference.

This is somewhat analogous to creating a design to a client—you’re playing by their rules, designing something for them, for their clients (following the sheet music), but your soul is going into it. Even given the same goals and the same resources, two people will invariably come out with very different products. Does that necessarily make one better than the other? Absolutely not.

This is kinda off-topic, cuz I don’t use Dribbble and have nothing to say about it =) But I just wanted to comment on the “showing personality in design” aspect.

Great article, Matt, thanks as always for writing!

Feb 4, 2011

Caryn says:

For the types of clients I aim to cater to, and the types of design I prefer to do, personal branding on my portfolio site is a must.

I don’t use Dribbble, but I do use Forrst for feedback and showcasing some of my work in progress. I find these types of sharing sites fantastic for feedback and remarkably inspiring during any stage of the design process.

But as far as using these sites for portfolio purposes, I would balk at not having enough of my own flare (despite my ‘flare’ not being all that mind-blowing or anything).

Overall I like your article, though. It adds an interesting perspective I hadn’t really thought about with Dribbble and Forrst and other sharing/feedback designer sites.

Oh also – in your opening blurb you have ‘in relation’ repeated. ;)

Feb 7, 2011

Jayson says:

Unless you’re not cool enough to get invited to Dribbble, then it’s not such a great solution.

Feb 8, 2011

Kevin M. Scarbrough says:

I really enjoy the community aspect, I really hate the “invite only” aspect. The model is built into it to follow people who’s work you respect and want to watch. Maybe it is an allocation of resources issue, they want to monitor and closely ease into growth.

In terms of usage, it provides a really neat window into the world of design that is hard to find otherwise. I don’t see it particularly useful for clients (they always seem to be focused on their projects, not the ether), but it can help build roads into the design community.

It’s also a GREAT place to find illustrators.

Feb 8, 2011

Matt Ward says:

Hey Kevin,

Yeah in an interview I heard with Dan Cederholm, he talked about part of the reason for the invite only model was to help deal with scaling issues. It can definitely seem kinda exclusive though.

Feb 8, 2011

Joe Neville says:

I agree with Kevin, the community aspect is awesome. The “invite only” thing makes it a popularity contest.

Talent doesn’t win out over who you may know with invites.

Just my two cents.

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