Masturbatory Web Design

By Deane Barker 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.

Masturbation, as we all know, is an inherently selfish act. It is an act meant for the pleasure of the masturbator alone, without regard to anyone else. (This is not a value judgement. See the first few comments before you get uptight.)

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 desginer 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.”


I asked Joe if this post was inappropriate. Here’s the Skype conversation:

Joe: It’s probably slightly over the line.

Me: True, though.

Joe: Sure. Sometimes my dog eats poop. It’s like recursion. Just probably not an analogy I’d write an article on.

Comments (8)

Rick says:

Yet another much needed laugh – Joe, you need to write more posts :)

Bubba says:

“Masturbation is an inherently selfish act” is one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard in my life. Only a Catholic, Muslim or Republican could say something so fucking stupid! Excuse me while I jack off!

Deane says:

When I say that masturbation is selfish, I mean what I explain: “It is meant to benefit only one person.” In that sense, eating an ice cream cone is selfish too. This is not a value judgement. Lighten up.

Mark says:

Great metaphor Deane. Joe’s metaphor is hilarious as well. And on another note. To quote a professor, Ernie Zimbleman, from the North American Baptist Seminary as he spoke as a keynote speaker at the North American Baptist Triennial. “Masturbation is God’s gift to the single person.” Bubba, I think you are showing your Baptist beliefs.

Christopher Trottier says:

I think Dr Don’s Bizarre Termite Page is one such example of masturbatory website design. I’ve outlined the reasons here.

Alejandro says:

This is Joe’s best so far.

I actually fell to the floor laughing!

Matt says:

Have you seen the Minnesota Vikings website since you and Joe quit working on it? It’s a great example of a Masturbatory website. Now every time I visit the site I’ll be thinking of masturbation. Thanks Deane.

Jason says:

Great point with a good laugh! There are so many masturbating web designers out there, it’s tough to find one that wants to make sweet, sweet love to it’s client.