In the thirteen years I’ve been on the web, twelve of which I’ve spent doing professional web site design, and the last two of which have sent me to hundreds of artists’ web sites, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that the thing artists want most when placing their art on the web is for it not to be seen.
There are millions upon millions of bad sites on the web, but artists really work at it. Never have I seen such an array of sites in which artsy designs, misplaced cleverness, highbrow concepts, amateur clumsiness, arrogance and ignorance have been painstakingly employed to drive visitors away.
As a result of this obvious desire of illustrators, painters, comics artists, concept designers and other artists not to be seen, I’ve created a collection of handy tips for how to send editors, art directors, gallery owners, prospective buyers, webcomics readers and casual users hastily clicking away in search of some portfolio site other than yours.
Got your note pads ready?
Use a “free” hosting service that only charges by making your site display pop-up ads. Hey, free is free, right? Besides, everybody loves pop up ads. Don’t bother with real web hosting from decent hosting services even though it can cost $8 a month or less, and don’t bother to look for reviews of hosting services on reputable sites like C/Net. Also ignore the fact that blogs, when used with “pages” instead of “posts” can serve as easily constructed, pre-designed and free web sites.
Don’t take the trouble to get a domain name. Art directors will remember “mac.com/users/~joeblow/web/portfolio/intro.html” much more easily than “joeblowillustration.com” when they go to hire their next artist. Plus “tripod.com/members/~janedoe/paintings/gallery/thumbnails.html” is so easy to mention in conversation or recommend to someone else, and it looks great on a business card. Don’t consider the fact that domain names can cost less than $10 a year, and are often free with real web hosting accounts. Hey, the good ones are all taken or squatted on, right, so why bother? And if you do get a domain name, longer names that are more closely associated with your name or studio, and might be easier to remember, can’t possibly be a cool as bizarre, clever, short ones that have nothing to do with you or your work.
Speaking of “clever” be sure to use a clever interface design and enigmatic navigation. All art directors and gallery owners love to play guessing games, and they have plenty of time to click around until they’ve figured out where on your nifty “concept site” you’ve hidden your artwork. They’ll be so impressed with your high concept that they’ll feel the art is that much more valuable when they finally find it.
In fact, make them wait a bit in anticipation. Use an Intro Page, especially with a long, clever animated Flash intro that that can’t be bypassed, to make sure they’re in the right mood when they arrive at your fabulous Splash Page, the entire purpose of which is to force them to search for a tiny, almost invisible, “Enter Site” button and click on it in order to get to the Main Page, which should be as confusing as possible and from which they must choose “Creative”, or some other euphemism for “Portfolio”, in order to arrive at the Gallery Selection Page and be presented with choices for which section of the Gallery they want, hopefully named in some arcane terms only you and the members of your fan club would understand, and then choose a Sub-gallery, and ideally a Sub-sub-gallery, before showing them any images. Make them work for it so they’ll understand just how important your images are! Hey, they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they weren’t, right?
Use lots of bright, intense colors in the design, particularly in the gallery area. You want to make sure the colors in your images are suppressed and overshadowed by the design. After all, the web site itself is the important thing, isn’t it?
Use tiny, square thumbnails with a nondescript crop from some obscure corner of the artwork. You wouldn’t want someone to miss the fun of playing “Concentration” when trying to remember where a particular image is; and if the thumbnails clearly described the images, visitors might actually go to one they like in the eleven seconds they have to look at your site.
Even better, why bother with thumbnails or preview images when clever little dots, squares or enigmatic shapes are so much more artsy? Everybody already knows how cool your stuff is, they’ll certainly take the trouble to click through all the shapes to find an image. Plus if they come back looking for a particular image, they have the fun of discovering all over again!
Be sure to put your site in frames! You wouldn’t want someone to be able to conveniently bookmark a page, or send a link to an individual page to, say, another art director. You want them to go through the entire navigation process everytime. Putting your entire site in a single Flash file is good for this too.
As long as you’re coding, make sure your site is Internet Explorer specific. You don’t want any bums using Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, OmniWeb, UNIX, LINUX or a Mac to access your site. If they can’t get a real computer, they should get lost.
Don’t bother to find out how to make your site search-engine friendly. True artists have always languished in obscurity. If you do go insane and decide you’d like your site to be found, don’t take the trouble to go to searchenginewatch.com, or similar sites, and learn anything about search engine optimization; be sure to hire a black-ops, fly-by-night search engine optimization outfit from a country whose name you can’t pronounce, that has sent you a spam email promising to post your site to “hundreds of search engines”. (Those stories about 90% of all searches taking place on the top four search engines? Just rumors!)
Play some tricks! Use nondescript links, that unsuspecting users think are to other pages in your site, to send them without warning to eBay, your blog, a Flickr gallery or to start the unwanted download of a PDF file. What fun!
Wow ’em with sound. If your visitors are in an environment where music is inappropriate, and only have their sound on so Microsoft Word can seranede them when it belches out a document, they’ll appreciate the welcome relief from boredom that your surprise music explosion brings to them, their unspecting co-workers, and their boss, who needs to loosen up anyway. On the other hand, if they’re in a sutuation where music is acceptable, they’re certain to like what you have picked out better than what’s on their iPod, and they’ll appreciate the surprise mash-up of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Dust in the Wind. Besides, your taste in what music they should listen to is obviously much better than theirs. If you’re creating your navigation in Flash to keep it hidden from search engines, you can add bonus sound effects to the buttons! And don’t let some namby-pamby usability expert talk you into subtle little camera shutter clicks to give user feedback when they click on a button; imagine some art director’s deilght at the button for your “About” page emitting a sound like a Star Wars light saber slicing through a jet engine housing!
Don’t learn anything about usability, information design or good navigation practices. If you’re making your site yourself, you don’t want to stifle your creativity with such things, nor do you want to be aware of them if you’ve hired a “creative” web site designer or agency who has promised to make your site “cutting edge”. All that nonsense about making a site easy to use just gets in the way. Make sure you don’t read books on web site usability, like Steve Krug’s Don’t make Me Think. Don’t try to look at your site like someone who’s never been there before. Hey, you know where everything is, if some newbies can’t figure it out, screw ’em!
Keep ’em guessing. The home page is the first impression visitors have of your site, Whatever you do, don’t set aside a space on the home page, or at the top of your blog, to give first time visitors a succinct description of who you are and what you do, or tell them what kind of site this is. What fun is that? In fact, do what you can to make the intro to your site as enigmatic and obscure as possible; this is très chic. Besides, all the important people have already been to your site and know the score; and the newcomers will love the feeling that they have arrived at the gate of a clandestine private club, and will appreciate the challenge of figuring out the puzzle while they decide whether or not to apply for membership.
Don’t focus! Since everybody important has already been to your site, design your home page for their benefit and fill it with the latest news of your comings and goings, or your insightful ruminations on last night’s episode of Lost. Don’t waste that wonderful home page space on introductions for strangers! Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure to cram as much as possible on your home page. It’s the most important page, right? So everything should go there. Make it long and scrolling and squeeze stuff into every corner. You don’t want any wasted white space! The more stuff vying for attention, the better! MAKE EVERY LINE A HEADLINE! Mix colors! MAKE YOUR HEADLINES LOOK LIKE LINKS! MAKE YOUR LINKS LOOK LIKE HEADLINES! Be sure to underline, italicize and bold all kinds of stuff for EMPHASIS!!. Isn’t this fun?! Don’t forget, the computer gods gave you a milliOn fOntS for a reason; it would be a sin not to use them.
of graphic design that centered text is much easier to read than boring old justified
text. That’s why all novels, magazines and newspapers look like wedding
Once you’ve made your images inaccessible, make yourself inaccessible. Suppress any unwarranted urge you have to include a brief bio. At the very least substitute a clever “fake” bio that’s sure to leave ’em laughing. Or, if you must add a real bio, be sure to write a lengthy multi-pager with your entire life story, your views on all aspects of art, religion and politics and the details on your penchant for eating Oreos dipped in Diet Coke at 4am in your Sponge Bob underwear. Don’t include a short description of your working methods, that might be too interesting or informative. Make certain your contact information isn’t available, or be sure it’s presented as some kind of weirdly arranged interactive form, the location of which is hidden and the page for which makes it clear how much you don’t want anyone to contact you unless you already know them, because they’re obviously “fans”, and as such, beneath your notice.
Most importantly, make sure the images themselves are too small to really convey any feeling for your work. Remember – all visitors to your portfolio site are malicious parasitic thieves, out to steal your precious artwork and print it on millions of knock-off T-shirts in China! Don’t give them anything that makes your work look good enough to steal!! Better yet, keep your work safe by not putting it on the web at all! If your work is in print, you need to write your senators and demand they outlaw inexpensive scanners, which can actually be used to grab a high-resolution, printable image of your art. Now that I think of it, it’s better to prevent your work from appearing in print too. Keep it at home in a drawer so no one can see it but you!
Or just watermark everything. Now we’re talkin’! Make sure your watermark is big and ugly and obliterates any remnant of appeal your tiny images might still allow to be present in your work. The best phrase to watermark across your images is: “I think you’re a thief, you’re not worthy to look at my brilliant work and you wouldn’t understand it anyway! Go away!”
See how easy it is? By following these simple rules, or just a few of them, you too can make your portfolio site as magnificently unappealing as many other artists! So grab your copy of Front Page and have at it!
Addendum: Due to the overwhelming response to this article, and the many requests for information that have stemmed from it, I’ve started a less entertaining, but hopefully more directly helpful, series of articles on the subject of How to Display Your Art on the Web.