Photograph by Johnny Grim. Used under Creative Commons license
I recently wrote about why there's no excuse for artists not to have websites. If you're still working on yours, here are a few things to avoid like the plague.
1. Overuse of Flash
I'm not a big fan of Flash - it can be useful when used sparingly but it's frequently overdone or used inappropriately. Web designers can start acting like puppies on crack when they get their paws on Flash. You need to smack them firmly with a rolled up newspaper.*
There are other good reasons for avoiding Flash. The web is increasingly moving over to HTML5, so a site thatâ€™s designed in Flash now is highly likely to need redesigning in a couple of years. Flash often doesn't work on mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads. Apple have said that they won't integrate Flash into those platforms. Microsoft have also come out in support of HTML5.
Even if your visitors are capable of viewing Flash, it often slows a site down considerably - I do not care how pretty your site is, if it takes several minutes to load, you've lost me.
*Fret not, it's hyperbole. I do not advocate violence against web designers. Or puppies. Or crack addicts.
2. Choosing Form Over Function
Unless your site is an actual art project and a pretentious design is vital part of your evil plan, please resist the urge to overcomplicate things.
I do not want to chase small objects around the screen. I do not want to have to guess what your obscure labels mean. I do not want to search in vain for photographs of your work. You are not a pirate constructing a fiendish puzzle to protect your buried treasure, so knock it off!
Again, this is usually more of a problem with professionally designed sites because the rest of us simply don't have the skills to complicate things in this way. I have a theory that web designers hear the word 'artist' and immediately start cackling like mad scientists thinking about all the crazy things they can get away with.
I don't want to sound as though I'm picking on web designers - most of them do wonderful work - but I have seen a lot of art websites rendered unusable through 'clever' design. Remember: just because you can do something, doesnâ€™t mean you should. People visiting your website don't care how 'arty' your site looks, they just want to find out about your work quickly and easily. Simple, functional and elegant wins out over complex and difficult to use every single time.
ETA: Artist and web designer iamANT pointed out that it's actually often artist clients who demand bizarre and 'creative' sites. If this is you, stop it, you silly artist! Listen to your designer when they tell you that strangely animated Flash sites are a bad idea. They are trained in their field. You are not.
It sounds painfully obvious but if you want people to read your site then you need to make it readable.
Large blocks of text are hard to read, so break it up with paragraphs and photographs.
Do not use colours with too much or too little contrast. In particular, be very careful of white text on a black background. This has been popping up all over the web recently like a bad case of shingles and I think it's appalling. I find it painful to read and 9 times out of 10, I simply click away. If you must use white on black, there are things you can do to make it more legible.
Do not use hard to read fonts or text that's too small. Websites are increasingly being read on mobile phones and small text that won't enlarge is one of the major problems. If you're on WordPress, there are various plugins that will make your site compatible with mobile devices. I'm currently testing out Mobilize by Mippin.
White space is your friend, people.
Busy backgrounds and animated adverts do not enhance anyone's browsing experience. And you don't need to put hundreds of buttons, banners and widgets on your blog sidebar either.
I understand, I do. Weâ€™ve all been there. There are all sorts of cute widgets and plugins out there wriggling provocatively at you and promising to show you a good time if you'll just take them home. The temptation to tell people what youâ€™re reading; what youâ€™re twittering; how many fans you have on Facebook; what the weather is like where you are and when you last ate cornflakes is enormous. You could fill your entire blog with sidebar widgets. Unfortunately many people do.
But the human brain can only parse so much information at once: you need to be selective or none of the information will register. I've visited blogs where it's hard to focus on the actual blog post because it's lost in a sea of visual clutter. You need to prioritise & put the most important stuff at the top, especially things you want your visitors to actually DO. These â€˜calls to actionâ€™ should be clear. If you want people to sign up to your mailing list, donâ€™t make them hunt for it. If you want people to buy your products, make it easy to do so. If you want them to look at your art, direct them to it. And then get rid of as much else as humanly possible.
And if you still feel the need to tell people about your breakfast cereal of choice, write a FAQ page.
Apparently some artists think that my appreciation of their art will be deepened by tinny elevator music suddenly erupting from my speakers. They are very wrong.
Look, it could be my favourite piece of music in the whole wide world but I still don't want it to start up when your site loads for the very simple reason that I'm usually already listening to music while browsing.
Nothing will make me leave your site faster than music that starts automatically. It also makes me want to hunt you down and stab you but we won't go there...
6. Lousy Content
Are your photographs good enough? Are they properly labelled and easy to navigate? Do they load quickly enough? Is it obvious what things are? Avoid blurry or badly lit photos wherever possible (I do know that photography conditions in exhibitions are sometimes less than ideal but do your best).
What's your writing like? Unless you know you're speaking to an exclusively art audience, don't use art jargon. Use your spellchecker. Read through your stuff before you hit publish. Make a decent stab at using correct grammar, although you can get away with writing that's technically incorrect on a blog because a more conversational style is common in blogging.
Oh, and don't be boring or no one will read it. You have to sign up to a mailing list to get it but I found this free guide to writing 'non-sucky copy' from Laura Belgray of The Talking Shrimp useful.
7. Being Secretive
Do you belong to a secret spy organisation where your identity must be protected at all costs? No, you (probably) do not!
If youâ€™re trying to promote yourself with a blog and/or a website, then you need to reveal something about yourself. Like, say, your name. You don't have to reveal everything but an 'about me' page is a must. Arts business coach Alyson B. Stanfield recommends having a good photograph of yourself too.
A lot of artists also make it far harder than it needs to be for people to contact them. Claire Platt pointed out in the comments that even simple contact information like an email address is often missing.
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