how-we-grew-and-lost-our-agency?s-dribbble-account-with-90,000-followers

This sad story is telling you how we, Norde design agency, lost our team account which was one of the most popular on Dribbble.

I used to work as a freelance designer for quite a long time, and almost all my growth, including the starting of an agency, was revolving around Dribbble. First of all, I want to mention that Dribbble is a unique community that allows any designer to make progress and be in demand, regardless of work experience, place of residence, language, background and education. I cannot imagine a designer who would not benefit from regular posting on Dribbble:

  • Want to test some design ideas or style? Show them in uncluttered and straightforward shots.
  • Want to gain more clients as a freelance designer? Post a lot of simple, exciting and clear works.
  • Want to improve a skill? Practice more in your shots and watch the dribbbler’s reaction.
  • Want to find a job as a designer in a promising US or European company? Create meaningful design concepts.
  • Want to find a job at an agency? Make sure you do diverse work and do a lot of work.
  • Want to sell your design products? Offer them in your shots.
  • Want to understand what your true value is? Dial your ego down and compare the reaction of how people rate your works with how they rate someone else’s shots.

On the whole, Dribbble can be incredibly beneficial to any designer.

You can often come across critical articles and individual opinions about the “dribbblization” of design, that is, about its movement towards primitivization and neglect of the end user. But for me, the community has always been a source of inspiration, and most importantly, it taught me to generate my own ideas in design.

Whether we like it or not, design is a world of copying, borrowing and iterating and here like nowhere else we should value ingenious ideas and the people who can produce those ideas.

I have defined Dribbble as a kind of “haute couture” design, not as a platform for portfolios where designers exhibit their current works but a home for exciting ideas and demonstration of designers potential.

I am still hiring designers and illustrators and I find the best ones on Dribbble.

I’m going to start from the very beginning — will tell you how I was becoming part of the Dribbble community. I am assuming that if you are reading this article, you must be a member of Dribbble community and very likely have gone through or maybe going through the same feelings.

In the beginning, I started posting all my good works that had been accumulated for a long time. Here you go, Dribbble and Behance! So, I posted them. No effect. Whatsoever. No any ‘great work!’, ‘awesome!’ or even ‘I love it! Check out my works’. I was so mad. My designer ego huddled itself up in the darkest corner, and it hardly fitted in. It took my mind a lot to realise that some local success doesn’t give me any right to think that I can be demanded as a designer in a global market.

The start of my grow on Dribbble coincided with my moving to London, so having got over my first failures, I decided to try again. I had to enter the global market; I couldn’t see any other way out: I didn’t want to work in an office, and the fact of living in London and working remotely with Russia seemed to be quite weird.

I started to look carefully at other designers’ works that clients are interested in, and also I watched the growth dynamics of the authors of hot shots. I had mixed feelings, from bewilderment and indignation to admiration (the latter was a rare thing — remember my ego).

I began to make feeble attempts to become part of this world, but it was excruciating to realise that I was not worth anything as a designer at 27.

When I started seeing some results, when the audience began to grow very slowly, I could occasionally fall into apathy, because I believed that no effort or good work could make me popular or at least a little popular due to the fierce competition. But in fact, these are just the realities of the global market, and I lived in my comfortable little bubble and did not want to notice anything around.

Starting on Dribbble was hard, long and complicated, it stretched for many months, and only a couple of years later I was ready to admit that all this was not in vain.

The stage of sustained growth began; I grew as a designer, tried different approaches in design, tried to find my own style. Over time, I began to feel confident as a freelance designer from a financial point of view, as there was no shortage of work.

Soon I began to delegate part of the work to fellow designers, illustrators and web-developers, and it became obvious for me that it is the time to move all my activities from freelance to a full-fledged business. It was a bit scary, but I saw the example of Haraldur Thorleifsson, whom Dribbble helped grow Ueno — one of the best agencies on the market today. This Haraldur’s article about his success on Dribbble inspired me to start Norde.

Several months later, Norde began to grow fast, and most of my time was occupied not by design, but by the search and hiring designers. That was quite an odd feeling: I’m in the design industry but I’m much less dealing with design.

By the way, there is one crucial observation that designers most likely do not know about Dribbble (unless you have gone through a sagnificant growth there): the best clients you can imagine come from Dribbble — the majority understands the design (apparently, they like yours) They are attentive to details, they know costs of a good quality design and how the design process should go and how long it takes.

We worked seven days a week for a year, hired people and worked a lot with designers and illustrators on a contract basis. But even so, I tried to devote much time to our Dribbble account, producing new ideas and concepts for the community.

We were successfully growing until last October when our account got suspended. It was the second and the final account suspension due to some complaints received against Norde. It took me a good deal of time to get the customer support reveal the details and sources of those complaints, but no luck. At some point, they just stopped replying to us. I tried to contact Dribbble’s CEO or founders, but no response. Nevertheless, we did not breach any rules of the community; the decision was private, outside the official rules. And we were not even refunded the fee for the Dribbble team account.

I don’t want to blame Dribbble because the community gave me so much. Six months later, I recall that experience composedly, but at that moment I was overfilled with various emotions. It was excruciating to fire a few of our full-time designers and end contracts with some remote contractors. I was angry with Dribbble because the decision was one-sided; they didn’t give us any chance to appeal. I was hurt that for five years of my constant contributing to the community — hundreds of shots I worked on, the designers I campaigned to become active members on Dribbble, talks at conferences and meetups about the benefits of Dribbble — all that couldn’t give me any right to appeal to the decision and talk to someone from Dribbble.

What you can see today is a dull grey profile to remind of us. Besides, Google Analytics still counts visits on Norde’s shots, and the number of daily views is over 3,000.

I wrote this post for people who supported Norde and who asked us about what happened. Also, it is for designers and design agencies who can repeat our mistakes. I have learned some lessons from this experience and ready to share them with you:

  • Being different is essential.

    In a fast-paced and highly competitive world, you need to be very different from others, and you will be noticed. This very principle formed the basis of the Norde’s growth, and now I will follow it in everything: each aspect of work and life can be done a little differently.
  • Don’t put eggs in one basket.

    I was so much impressed by clients from Dribbble whom I could call like-minded people that I even didn’t pay attention to other sources of leads.
  • Don’t put eggs in one basket 2.

    Hard work on current projects didn’t allow us to raise our heads and think thoroughly about something other than design, or work on our own in-house products and think about something big — more significant than an agency.

Five years of being an active member of Dribbble, five years of posting shots, promoting “designer’s freedom” via Dribbble. This stage of my life has ended. That is why I think I have enough knowledge and can frankly tell you about my growth on Dribbble, its mechanisms, many processes, including financial aspects for designers as well as for agencies. Let me know if you are interested in reading this.

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