The Usability Chronicles

Project Goals

Usability principles -- rules for making websites that satisfy the user while guiding her towards the designer's intended goal -- are often seen as antithetical to web-based art. After all, the Father of web usability, Jacob Nielsen, famously said "Flash 99% Bad," whereas many art sites use Flash. Likewise, usability experts advise one to eschew unnecessary images, to make sites functional rather than cool, and to avoid doing anything just for the "gee-whiz" factor.

It would seem impossible to reconcile these principles with the goals of art, but nevertheless we believe that some usability guidelines are needed for web art. Too often, we have seen sites that have interminable load times, and once loaded, leave one unsure how to proceed. Sometimes the user finds a way in, but can't tell if she has seen everything. Complicated user interfaces rarely have instructions. (In fact, we have even heard web artists say that trying to figure out how use a site is part of the fun, that every site should be a game without explicit rules or goals.) Sometimes a site is easy enough to view, but at the end, one doesn't see the point, and it is never explained. (We've heard people say: "the target audience for my work will understand without being told.") This is elitist, and, from the point of view of artists, self-defeating.

We have therefore constructed a series of mini-web art sites designed to illustrate important usability principles. Each one is accompanied by a list of errors. We urge our viewers to think about what is wrong with these pieces before reading our comments. We would like to think that all of the errors are intentional.