Masturbatory Web Design

By Deane Barker • Posted on October 20, 2006

I used a term with a colleague the other day – “masturbatory Web design” – and he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. I use the term a lot, so I don’t think about it, but he thought it was hysterical and completely appropriate for the situation we were discussing.

I’d like to explain, but this is a little risque so send the kids out of the room.

Strictly speaking, masturbation is an inherently selfish act. It is an act meant for the pleasure of the masturbator alone, without regard to anyone else.

It follows, then, that “masturbatory Web design” is an inherently selfish design. It is a design meant for the pleasure of the designer alone without regard to anyone else. These are designs full of stuff that the designer just thought was amazing, but that the customer or the visitor or anyone else on Earth gets nothing from.

You’ve all seen this before. It usually involves a lot of Flash. You can tell the designer is incredibly proud of his or her creation, while everyone else is left just a little confused.

(Mind you, this is not an indictment of all designers. My company has a really good designer. I’ve never seen her engage in masturbatory design practices.)

I’ve seen this type of design described a million different ways, usually involving terms like “sub-optimal usability” and “non-standard interface design.” But I’ve never found a better description than “masturbatory Web design.”

The next time you see something like this, nod your head in wonder and say, “that’s just…masturbatory, really…masturbatory.” The designer will be so taken with himself that he’ll say softly, “Yeah. That’s just what I was going for.”

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