Julie Lasky | Essays

AIGA on the Rebound

Illustration by Steve Zelle for AIGA Voice post

This week, a ruckus erupted on AIGA’s Voice blog when Steve Zelle, a Canadian brand consultant, warned of the dangers that lurk in the practice of sharing design works-in-progress with peers.

Zelle was writing about Dribbble, a website that allows users to post fragments of ongoing projects and solicit reactions from a close community of design professionals — so close, in fact, that designers can participate only by invitation.

Citing AIGA guidelines, Zelle considered potential ethical pitfalls of such practices. Designers might be tempted to share information that is rightfully owned by the client. Or they might leave themselves vulnerable to creative theft. He mused that discouraging responses might be solicited from people who were not well versed in the design problem and whose judgments were based only on partial glimpses of the approach to a solution. “Once you have opened the door to feedback, you have to do something with it,” he wrote.

“Dribbble is not the problem” Zelle concluded. “The problem is how designers are beginning to use it….Professionalism should always outweigh the desire for feedback and sharing.”

After that, the deluge. Several commentators pointed out that Dribbble was unfairly called to task, insisting that the site mostly features personal, rather than commissioned, work, and feedback tends to be positive. (The name Dribbble has since been removed from the post's headline.) Most irksome to the chorus was Zelle’s presumption that designers lack the ethical fiber in any circumstance to protect a relationship of trust with their clients. Given that this article appeared on AIGA’s website and quoted from its guidelines, some respondents were also offended by what they took to be nanny-like finger-wagging on the association’s part rather than one of many viewpoints expressed on its blog.

What have we learned from this outcry? Judging from the rush to defend Dribbble, it may be that design organizations are not providing all of the services their members crave — including feedback from (carefully vetted) semi-strangers stepping into the process at a point, mid-stream, when designers have traditionally labored alone.

But neither should AIGA Voice be slapped for hosting a contrary point of view, or in this case simply issuing a warning of potential abuse. Both websites, however streamlined their adherents, offer room for a rich range of responses.

Comments [5]

That was definitely a deluge - of Dribbbler's who wanted to protect their bubble.

I would have to give a nod to two of the comments made: one by Alex Nelson, and another by Estrel (use your browser's in-page search). They pointed out what a number of us other designers have noticed recently - that a certain circle or "clique" of designers have been noticeable stroking and promoting each other through sites such as Dribbble, or through events that they hold. While uneducated "fans" praise and copy them. Such a disgusting trend.

(Yet, when you compare their work against a number of other designers, they don't hold a candle to them.)


I think this is an opportunity for sites like dribble to provide professional-community services that help careers...but in a private way (for example, Behance.net's inner circles where designers publish projects to a private group of folks).

The problem here is clients seeing the work - let's have an online experience that can be a PRIVATE showcase.
Tim Wright

While every designer hates "design-by-committee" (http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/06/29/why-design-by-commitee-should-die/), they apparently feel fellow designers will have the foresight to find more than just the inevitable typos. If you put out the question of where should the design go to a couple hundred designers, then you will get a couple hundred conflicting suggestions. Subjective opinion is no better from a designer then it is from and editor, marketing person or any non-creative. So why use that as a reason for Dribbble's existence? Seems to be more a "look at me!" from what I've seen. I received several invites to join and saw no purpose or advantage.

The value of a design has only one purpose and that is to communicate the message to the end user. An anonymous collection of "designers" are no more suited to judge anyone else's work then the aforementioned collective of a committee given free reign on verbalizing their personal, and usually slanted views of what makes "good design."

Simply said, please the client and forget about trying to impress one's peers (http://www.processedidentity.com/article/do-you-really-want-to-be-a-design-rock-star/), especially online, where the true success of a designer may be hidden or trumped up by a loud mouth and the time to post nonsense on social media.

Perhaps, stuck in front of our computers too long makes us lonely and we seek connections with our peers? Let Dribbble help with connections, but, as with the point of the article missed by so many who could not comprehend the simple, straightforward writing, honor the vendor-client relationship and professionalism that slips each day from our profession, dragging down rates, trust and great design (http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/08/03/designers-hacks-and-professionalism-are-we-our-own-worst-enemy/).
Speider Schneider

Sites like Dribble and Forrst are inherently problematic but are symptomatic of a larger problem within the design community, which is something AIGA should be tackling. Besides the ethical pitfalls called out in the AIGA article we seemingly have a growing population of people who don't understand what design is. I have yet to comprehend what exactly is the point of a design community centered around sharing a small slice of a project in progress with very little detail given about the project objective. I question the merit of any supposed feedback by an audience armed with a 400x300pixel view of a project in the works and often times no stated project objectives. Dribble and Forrst are born out of a problematic mindset that has invaded the design community like bedbugs in New York.

A very focused design mindset will tend to exclude designers' needs for peer contact, support and feedback. Yet such needs are real - and valid. One ignores those needs to the detriment of designers and design itself.

Design community rules that have evolved ad hoc over the past ten years unwittingly express a new quality of isolation which the web-connected digital studio's efficiency has created, and reinforces.

Private digital (notice no one says digital anymore, it's the state of the design, now) design communities are mostly unconscious attempts to replace the person-to-person support systems that were organic aspects of traditional design ateliers.

The danger to the designer come not from the need for, or provision of, peer contact and support. It comes from the fragile nature of digital design community defenses.

The question should be: is the fertilization and balance that designers receive as benefits from peer community support more valuable than the potential for loss to product and reputation through the easy danger of theft and diluted ethical practices that any digital community creates?

The answer should be, "Yes, but..."

The "but..." is this: active leaders in the design community at large must reinforce and reward best practices, and publicly fight whatever would tear those practices down. That means more work for designers who are also leaders, because the people they must manage are populous, diffuse, distant, non-homogeneous, economically disparate, and, by virtue of those very qualities, hard to manage.
heath quinn

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