Picture the scene:
You’re a Creative Director looking to hire a new designer. You’ve found two potentials who have both created designs for a weather app. Based on the following designs, which one do you hire?
Without a doubt, the designer on the right.
Why? Because there is absolutely nothing about Design A that indicates how you should use the app and the information architecture is all off; our attention is drawn to the blue chart, but it’s not clear what it actually means. While Design B is a little plain, the basis for a useful, intuitive design is clearly there.
Yep, it’s another article laying into “dribbblish design” — the growing trend promoting beautiful but pointless design. While the design community has been very vocal about the problems of pursuing form at the expense of function, we still see so many portfolios studded with the stuff — in a recent design recruitment round, about 70% of our applicants took a dribbblish approach to showcase their life’s work.
A ton of young designers clearly believe this is the right way to pedal their talent, and they probably keep doing so because it actually leads to a hire. But we need to discourage this two-dimensional treatment of design — and as recruiters, we have a huge responsibility to curb its influence.
A broken concept
Let’s be clear — we mean nothing bad against the founding purpose of Dribbble or Behance platforms. They both aim to help top designers hone their skills through meaningful critique of each other’s work in a private online space. All very noble.
It’s just their concept has become completely bastardized. The “invite only” quality control has essentially failed, transforming the platform into an ego-centric exhibition of design on steroids. Instead of sharing insights on design problem solving, users upload “visual porn” — taking individual designs out of context to pimp up their aesthetic presentation.
It’s effectively reduced the assessment of “good design” to a popularity contest. Designers chase likes and follows to boost their rankings, and comment sections have become a hunting ground for reciprocal endorsement, instead of a space for debate and critique.
It’s a chronic case of surface over substance, and many designs don’t even seem to be grounded by a real use case or problem. Far from being a platform to analyze useful, innovative product design, it’s become a playground to promote pixel-perfect digital concept art. And sadly, this misconception of design is fast becoming the new standard in the competition for new work.
The dribbblization of portfolios
But what exactly is dangerous about all this? Surely a dribbblization approach to portfolios helps candidates show you all their skills? What’s the shame in indulging in technique?
Simply put, dribbbilization fundamentally misunderstands the point and purpose of design. While drawing visually nice concepts is a good way for a designer to train their hand, it doesn’t say anything about their actual design brain. At best, they come across as an egotist; at worst, an amateur with no real grasp of design.
We need to remember that design exists to solve real problems. It’s what makes products useful; a design doesn’t actually become a design until it meets a consumer need.
Designers need to be able to understand what their users are trying to achieve and provide the most useful and easy route to help them achieve it. So without a tangible product behind their work, your design candidates aren’t really engaged in design at all.
This is what portfolio should be showing us — real designs. We need to know that our candidates understand and design to solve real problems (beyond their own sense of grandeur).
Hire for promise, not polish
As recruiters, we need to focus on the ideas behind the final image. You need some basic indication of how your candidate ended up with their final design. Has the designer explained their thought process? Is the business problem behind the design clear?
Always ask for evidence of how they approached the problem, how they considered the business ecosystem surrounding it and how they iterated their design.
For us at Memory, a fresh, interesting approach to a problem will always beat beautiful pixels. Your visual designs don’t have to be brilliant, but your thinking does. That’s not to say aesthetics aren’t important; it’s just for us form should always follow function, and function itself needs to have the courage to experiment.
For inspiration, take a look at these examples:
- This app has a pretty basic design, but contains a ton of awesome new ideas. It’s brilliant design work in its purest form.
- Likewise, this app is pretty plain, but the interaction design is really thoughtful:
- And take a look at this website — they’ve presented their “future living” concept so interestingly that you only half-way through do you realize you’re answering survey questions: