Thursday, June 04, 2009

Web Design Tips for Artists

I look at a lot of artists web sites, and a lot of them are unnecessarily difficult to navigate. I thought I'd write up the common design problems I find, based on the opinions I developed as a web and interface designer for 11 years.

If you are an artist and you want your artwork to be seen, make sure your site follows these guidelines:

  • Number One Rule: Keep it Simple
    Create one neat row of buttons down the side or across the top. Every page should show all the buttons to get to every other section of your site. The navigation buttons should never shuffle, move, or disappear.

  • If you are not sure how to solve a navigation problem, look at other websites. Chances are someone else has solved the problem already, and there is probably even a standard way users are expecting to navigate. Don't re-invent the wheel.

  • A button to get "Home", that says "Home" and nothing but "Home" should be on every page, in a logical place like the upper left or right corner.

  • Your name is your logo. If it clicks, it should go back to your home page. It should not open my email program and begin to compose an email to you.

  • Make it as easy as possible for a visitor to see your artwork. The gallery should be no more than one click from the home page.

  • Gallery should be a page of small thumbnails of each image. Do not make the thumbnails tiny square crops of the larger painting. The thumbnail should be the whole painting.

  • If the user clicks a thumbnail, the painting should expand to a size big enough to comfortably see the painting. Between 500 and 1000 pixels on the long side.

  • When the image is big, the user should be able to click "Next/Previous" buttons to see the rest of your paintings. Don't make the user go back to the Thumbnail page to see the next image.

  • The "Next/Previous" buttons should be big enough to click easily, and should not move. Do not make your visitor reposition the mouse over and over to click the Next button.

  • You can separate your artwork into different galleries or categories, but let the visitor scroll though ALL your images with the Next button.

Why sites made completely in Flash are a bad idea
  • Search
    Search engines cannot read the text in an all-Flash website, so your site will not be catalogued and presented in search results as often and as well as it could be.

  • Bookmarks
    The user can't bookmark individual pages to save paintings they like. Allow users to find you again!

  • Back button
    Most users use the back button a lot while they navigate. Since an all-Flash site is embedded on one browser page, the back button takes the user not to the previous page within your site as they expect, but back to your entry page or completely out of your site to the previous site visited.

  • Images are too small
    I don't know if it is a template that Flash site builders are following, but you all make your images too small, and don't allow the user to make them bigger. The "zoom" feature is annoying because the visitor is forced to peer at the image through a keyhole.

  • Difficult to update
    Flash sites are the most stale sites out there. That's because they require a lot of work to update, a lot more work than a non-Flash site.

Miscellaneous Tips
  • Frames=BAD
    For about 10 minutes in 1994 a software engineer somewhere must have thought frames could be a useful navigation tool. They were wrong. Don't Use Frames Ever.

  • Web design is not print design
    Things that may look pretty in print, like tiny grey text and icons, simply do not work on a web page. Above all your site should be Clickable, Visable and Usable. Attractive is good, no one wants a goofy site, but you CAN make a clean and attractive site with buttons a user can easily click.

  • Branding
    Your name is your brand and it should be on every page and in the title bar of the browser of every page. Even better, type your name in text (not a graphic) at least someplace on the page (even the copyright), so a visitor can copy and paste your name. Make it easy for visitors to see, remember and record your name.

  • Location
    Say where you are! Don't share your address online of course, just include your city, state and country. Visitors to your website are coming from everywhere, orient them to your geographic location.

  • Email launching
    Don't make your "Contact" button launch my email program and compose an email to you. The Contact button should go to a Contact page.

  • Launching browsers
    Don't launch multiple browsers/tabs as the visitor clicks around your site, keep your site all within one window.
Final Word
Don't attempt to "be creative" with web site design. Your artwork should be what makes your site unique. Visitors who like your art will remember the art, not the decorations and cute buttons. Clean, professional, and organized are more important to communicate than "arty". Sometimes a few tasteful design elements work, but only if you are, or you hire, an experienced professional designer. Otherwise, just keep it simple.