netmagInterview

Rich Thornett on Dribbble

Dribbble co-creator and developer Rich Thornett answers your questions on the invite-only policy, private shots, community policing, the site’s core design principles, how it got its name and whether it's making any money

@marcofolio:  How did you come up with the name? And why the ‘bbb’?
Rich Thornett: I’d love to take credit for the name Dribbble, but that was co-creator Dan Cederholm’s idea. He was drawn to its denotation of a slow leak, which evokes Dribbble’s theme of leaking your work (as screenshots). Why the ‘bbb’? The dribble.com domain was taken. I’m an ardent fan of puns and basketball, so the double entendre has been a treasure trove of metaphors. I think the basketball analogy helps convey the fun, game-y vibe we wanted. Dribbble is not a static portfolio site, but a lively pickup game with verve and improvisation. We wanted users to not only post, but to hang out. It’s a local court for creatives around the globe.

@tigertoosh: What were your core design principles when developing Dribbble?
Rich Thornett: Sharpness of focus and simplicity of form. People think Dribbble is simple – and it is – but we spend a hell of a lot of time trying to keep it that way. Dan’s reputation precedes him, but he has a gift for composing minimal, yet compelling design that allows content to shine. I obsess about UX/IA issues – user workflows, consistency of interface and language, copy, and site architecture. We have complementary skills, but strong and similar sensibilities about UI, features and Dribbble’s direction. I think that sense of shared vision within a team is essential to building a good product.

@cole007: Have you seen the dynamic and use of Dribbble change since moving the site to public? Are there plans to introduce private shots?
Rich Thornett: We might offer private shots some day, but there are no plans at this time. Many members asked for private shots when we exited beta and made the site publicly visible in April 2010. We considered it, but waited to see how things played out. I’m glad we did. We still occasionally get this request, but users quickly got acclimated to Dribbble as a public place and saw the benefits that came with that visibility. That’s what we were after. A private option might have been an affordance that became preferred. That alternate universe would have made for a profoundly different Dribbble. It may have thrived, but the current version is closer to our original vision and we’re happy about that.

In general, I think it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions to feedback. Wait until it’s proven that you need complexity before you commit to it.

@chrisdaaaaay: There are a lot of talented designers who can’t get on to Dribbble. Do you think 2011 may be the year that they can get involved?
Rich Thornett: For those who don’t know, Dribbble uses an invitation system. Members who post screenshots have all been invited by other members. We’ve taken some flak over this policy, but it’s been incredibly effective. The goal is not to exclude people, but to place the burden of maintaining quality squarely on the community. We’re a two-person operation, so if our community can’t police itself, it can’t scale. We’ve suspended less than 10 of approximately 75,000 screenshots; that’s a remarkable statistic. It speaks volumes about the quality of the community.

Having said that, our challenge is to make Dribbble more inclusive. We recently released ‘Spectator’ accounts, which allow anyone to sign up. Spectators can follow and like the work of their favourite members, but can’t upload or comment. I expect that we’ll continue to open features to more people. But we need to protect the existing culture.

@netrunnerIT:  Does Dribbble make any money? If so, how? Or is it a vanity project of sorts?
Rich Thornett: Dribbble started as a project for fun, but it’s now a business. I work on it full-time and Dan works half-time while continuing to do client work. We make money from advertising. It’s enough that I quit my job to be on Dribbble, but not for the long run. We recently announced plans for features that earn revenue so we can sustain the site.

To our astonishment, we’ve had lots of encouragement and haven’t seen any negative reaction to this. We took great care to convey that features for pay will be extensions of activities happening on Dribbble today. I think that demonstrating that alignment went a long way towards building good will.

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