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Learn From Frank Lloyd Wright: For Gallery Web Sites, Simplicity is Key

"In a gallery Web site there should be nothing to detract from the focus on the art...”

When was the last time you went to an art museum? Living close to New York City, I have several museums readily accessible. The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are among my favorites.

Many museums are works of art in themselves. The New York Guggenheim Museum, designed in the late 1940s by Frank Lloyd Wright, somewhat resembles an inverted ziggurat or winding pyramid. Hilla Rebay, the art advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim at the time of construction, wrote Wright that she wanted “a temple of spirit, a monument” to house the Guggenheim collection. She required that he be “a lover of space.” Contained in this statement is a lesson for all of us.

Professional Web designers are just like any other artist. We take pride in our work. We like to give our clients the best appearance possible. Sometimes we may go overboard trying to announce our creative abilities loudly by cluttering our projects with unnecessary graphics and animations. Consider a lesson from Frank Lloyd Wright. While his museum is beautiful in appearance, he did not overcomplicate the interior. Paintings are not hanging on psychedelic walls. Once inside, the focus is on the art, not the building.

If you are designing a gallery Web site (a Web site featuring someone’s artwork), you must be "a lover of space." The art should be presented proportionally; with dimensions large enough to be easily viewed, but not so large that a person utilizing an 800 x 600 screen resolution has to scroll to see the entire thing. Accompanying text should be kept to a minimum. The background should never be textured. Solid colors are best. Some artists may prefer an off-white background. Others may prefer darker, muted colors such as taupe or sage green.

Tony Ricci, abstract artist from the Hamptons region of Long Island, NY, recently launched his online gallery ( "In a gallery Web site there should be nothing to detract from the focus on the art,” says Ricci. "Muted colors do not offend the presented work. The Web designer has to fight against being clever. So many art Web sites have too many gimmicky things going on - and that's only going to annoy people. Access to art should be quick and easy."

While frames may not be popular in Web design these days, they can be beneficial in simple environments. utilizes a simple frames structure. A series of works is represented by thumbnail images in a 1 1/2 inch wide scrolling navigation bar on the right side of the browser window. The rest of the window is dedicated to art display. A typical art image is approximately five inches wide and is surrounded by several inches of off-white background. The result? Viewers leave thinking about the art, not the Web site, having enjoyed the experience.

Frank Lloyd Wright said of his design for the Guggenheim Museum, “It was to make the building and the paintings an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before.” May Web designers remember this goal when designing gallery Web sites. The resulting experience is well worth it.

Jake Gorst is President of Exploded View, a new media advertising and design. Gorst heads development of information architecture and graphical concepts for new media Web sites, print and multimedia projects. He also is a frequent contributor to various publications on topics related to art, music, and Web site design psychology and trends.

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