The past few days several of my Web site owning friends and I have been discussing the "ins and outs" of what does or does not make good Web site design. We've chewed on the why, what, when, where, and how of site design and I don't necessarily disagree with most of what's been said. But one thing we've not talked much about and which I think we should mention in this discussion of Web site design is demographics, and not of those VISITING the site, but those likely to BUY from the site. It's time we talked about the "WHO."
First of all, NOT artists. We're probably the LEAST likely to buy, given that we can often reproduce a painting style, subject matter, and technique ourselves, for a fraction of the Internet asking price. And of course, what artist has ROOM to hang anything other than their own work anyway. So that automatically prejudices anything WE might say with regard to our likes and dislikes as to Web design. Being at least somewhat EFFETE in our design tastes, it's little wonder most of us prefer the clean, simple, unadorned gallery-style setting for viewing art. We're "bottom line" people, and it's what we're use to seeing in galleries.
What else can we say about Internet art demographics? Well, though this is changing gradually, statistics show that the Internet still remains a MALE domain by a significant margin. And while women still buy most of the art in the REAL world, I have to wonder if that might NOT be the case online. Here is an environment where the male tendency toward control freakiness, with the ultimate remote control device, can run rampant. Speaking for myself, ALL of my direct sales over the Internet have been to men. I've had some indirect Internet sales which were to women, but in each case, the print media was the direct sales vehicle. So, for now anyway, a site designer might want to lean somewhat toward a male "techie" look unless he or she is into selling cute little angels or sweet little Victorian moppets.
Another demographic tells us that the Web browsing art audience is young, but not TOO young, probably about thirty to fifty. Not coincidentally, this is also the prime art buying audience offline as well, though the range extends somewhat on either extreme, down into the 20's, up into the 50's. And I would say, logically, the younger end of this range is more likely to TRUST the Internet insofar as sales are concerned. If this is the case, it could very well tell us something with regard to site "glitz." These guys are USE to that sort of thing. They were weaned on Pac-man, grew up playing "DOOM," and now anticipate a "visual experience" when they hit the Internet. And moreover, they're NOT easily impressed. I don't think "we in the business" understand this mentality very well.
Another fact of life on the Internet is that all buyers (as opposed to lookers) are looking for bargains. They know the Internet reduces the cost of selling goods and services significantly over storefront operations (not to mention the sales tax advantage of out-of-state sales). Though middlemen are constantly seeping in and hawking their services, an artist/web designer looks with a very jaundiced eye at these interlopers. So does the cost-conscious buyer provided they can summon up sufficient confidence in the artist's integrity. A carefully crafted Web site can instill this confidence.
And finally, though there are no doubt other areas, demographics look at what products art buyers are looking for on the Internet. I'm sorry, but seldom does this include nonrepresentational or even highly abstract work. This type of buyer will go to a slick, sophisticated gallery and usually doesn't mind paying big bucks. They may browse the Internet but they don't BUY from the Internet. By the same token, your average low-end art buyer usually has neither the time, hardware, know how, confidence, or money to buy art over the Internet. So, this leaves us with the smarter than average, early middle-aged, somewhat more male than female, bargain hunting, computer savvy, Web browser looking for recognizable art content from an established artist willing to entertain but not overwhelm his senses with an efficient but not necessarily colorless site. And if computer use demographics tell us anything more, it's that the things I've outlined are pretty soon going to reflect more and more the average art buyer in the REAL couch potato world.