Worst websites of 2010: when art goes wrong

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Now that the internet as we know it has been around a while, you'd think that people would have stopped making truly horrible, un-usable, unreadable and downright ridiculous websites. You'd THINK that, but you'd be wrong. The aptly named Webpages That Suck has pulled together their top 25 worst websites of 2010, which is a great place to look for some holiday season laughs. My favourite has to be number one on the list: Yale School of Art (pictured above).

Having been to art school myself, I totally understand that they are doing a post-modern interpretation of a website, parodying those early 90s websites with the same tongue in cheek that Duchamp, Warhol or Koons had when making their art. I get it, OK? But the difference between a website and a piece of art is that a website such as this has to perform a functional duty: to disseminate information to the viewer in an accessible way. Art doesn't have to perform this task. Art can therefore be as sublime or ridiculous as the artist wants it to be, without necessarily infringing on its raison d'etre in any way. Sure, art can disseminate information, but usually this is not essential factual information that the viewer has come to the art piece looking for; generally, the message of art is that of conveying the artist's viewpoint or evoking emotions on something.

[singlepic id=114 w=195 h=153 float=right] Websites are different. Now, I am not saying that all websites have to conform to the norms of usability and accessiblity. But websites that act as the one and only online interface for any business, organisation or individual should. There are laws about this stuff for a reason; defying these on informational websites doesn't make you clever or creative in the eyes of your audience: it simply makes you annoying and stupid. Can you read - or even FIND - the school's address on the page shown in this image on the right? Click it to view a larger image...

Don't get me wrong: I *love* online art. I have contributed to sites such as SITO's HyGrid (one of the earliest online art collaboarations) and I think The Johnny Cash project is a brilliant combo of art and wiki culture. And there are plenty of great sites which push the boundary between art and design. But the boundary between these two areas is really quite important when it comes to websites such as the Yale one. I would have no problem whatsoever if the Yale folks decided to make an online art piece. And I'd be fine with them creating a website as unreadable as the one they have, so long as they made it easy for people to opt out of that design and view the site in an alternate version.

My problem with the Yale site is that this illegible beast is the only place you can find the information, and they have made getting it pretty damn difficult and frustrating. I don't care how cool or PoMo it looks, to me, this is bad design. The goal of design should be to enhance the use of an object, not get in the way of it. If you bought a can opener designed by a product designer, no matter how beautiful it was, if it didn't open cans you'd be chucking it in the bin. If not, you could hang it on your wall and call it art. Art isn't meant to be useful; design is. Anyone who has ever clicked 'skip intro' or 'view HTML version' buttons on a Flash website knows this.

The funny thing is that the Yale site used to be even worse: it used to have a flashing animated background (check it out here - warning: may cause seizures!). I am guessing some poor unsuspecting epileptic made the mistake of visiting their site, and the resulting lawsuit* forced them to change it ;-)

* I don't really think this, but it sounded more intriguing than what probably actually did happen.