Somewhere in Northern Europe, there lived an heir to a Dutch-German magnet magnate, Mr. Haas-Website (“hahhsz VEHB-seet”). Mr. Haas-Website had developed a taste for art over his long, indulgent life and accumulated an extensive collection. Not only did he own masterpieces, he had never rid himself of his son’s preschool drawings or the outmoded, faddish art that made up the bulk of his early, less-tasteful acquisitions.
Over many decades, he built new additions to his home to accommodate his ever-growing set of works. But finally, after so many years, he decided the time had come to replace his aging mansion with a state-of-the-art museum.
Having never wanted for anything, Mr. Haas-Website hired the best museum designers he could find. The chosen firm, Einternetz, painstakingly took inventory of each piece. Placing themselves in the shoes of future museum guests, their designers devised a brilliant scheme to organize them and a clean and modern building in which to house them.
Upon entering, a visitor was greeted by a short description of the museum, boldly written on a crisp white wall. She was clearly in the perfect place for a lover of art such as themselves!
Evenly-spaced doorways spread across the full-width of the wall below the museum’s mission, each with a clear label. “Impressionists.” “Cubists.” “Avant-Garde.” And so forth.
After passing through the door of her choosing, she viewed the most representative pieces of that type of art, a short text on its stylistic merits, a list of well-known practitioners, and more doors labeled with the most important movements in that genre. Upon entering a final room, a cohesive set of works surrounded her, complementing each other and satisfying her initial desires.
Once content with cubism or sated by surrealism, she could quickly return to the first set of doors and begin a new path, never to be bothered by those silly Dada-ists she never liked…
The lead architect from Einternetz, Frau Pichtsel, had arrived the evening before to review her work and personally give the wealthy patron his first tour of what had come to be referred to as “The ‘Site.”
Upon entering the completed museum—still in a private “beta”—Haas-Website cackled with delight. It was the museum he had always dreamed of!
“But!” exclaimed Haas-Website, his eyebrows raised, “I have one small request. I am sure it is nothing…”
“You see,” he continued, “each guest must immediately see the best work of each style. I didn’t spend my money for them to sit unadmired in a tiny back room.”
Frau Pichtsel worried for her work, but this small request seemed benign. What’s one small tweak so long as it finally allows the museum to launch its doors wide open and share its beautiful art with visitors?
Haas-Website gave instructions to his assistant, DubDub—the etymology of such a peculiar name, long-lost—who obediently hurried through the first door. He quickly returned with a prized masterpiece; it was possibly the most valuable in the collection.
Haas-Website hung it above the door himself and contentedly smiled. The architect smiled too and kept her thoughts to herself. That’s not so bad. Surely, more visitors to The ′Site will enjoy this work’s exquisite work’s prominent presence where it stands apart from the rest…
Meanwhile, DubDub, following orders, had vanished and subsequently returned through the next three doors with three new works that now hung above the corresponding doors. Soon, every door wore a crown of art.
Yet the perplexed wrinkles in Mr. Haas-Website’s forehead did not recede. “Much improved,” he began, “yet still, so much work remains through these doors. How are my visitors to see the best works? The ones I have spent so many years procuring! The ones that define this collection! I AM MY ART!”
“Thank you for the tour,” he muttered to the architect. “I’ll send for you in the morning.”
Worry crept, then trotted, and soon arrived at full sprint in Frau Pichtsel’s mind…
Frau Pichtsel returned at 8am sharp to find poor DubDub, a human beast of burden, hanging the very last piece of the art in the museum’s collection on the entrance wall. Through the night he had labored, as directed by his employer, to remove each and every artwork from its previous, carefully-chosen location and reattach it to the front wall.
“Now, my first and last visitor, each, will see these great works with minimal effort!” Haas-Website proudly proclaimed. He stepped back to enjoy his work, but suddenly threw up his hands.
“But what about their necks, straining from side to side and back again! How weary my visitors will be as they take in the full glory of this collection! We must place the works so they are seen immediately by every visitor to my museum!”
Frau Pichtsel, defeated, voiced no objection, and DubDub, obediently, began to move each work to the center of the wall…
With so many works on a single wall, the frames wrestled for space; many were entirely obscured. The succinct statement defining the purpose of the museum, was a long-since-eclipsed afterthought.
“Just right,” thought Mr. Haas-Website.
Weeks after opening, thousands of eager visitors had already entered the museum, briefly attempted to make sense of the wall, and quickly decided to bounce.
One visitor, though, wished to get in touch with the museum’s namesake in hopes of offering a few friendly suggestions for reducing the museum’s clutter. She scoured the front wall and aimlessly wandered the many now-empty rooms. The well-meaning guest was never to find the small telephone—attached as an afterthought—to the back of the building.
For Mr. Haas-Website had not considered the full spectrum of his guests’ needs nor seen the opening day visitors’ eyes glaze over as they attempted to make sense of the monolithic entrance. His museum, built to inspire a world-wide love of art, was incomprehensible to anyone not already familiar with its entire catalog. Artists had little hope of contacting The ‘Site’s owner regarding a new commission. And even if they could, where would the new work go?
- Nothing is important if everything is important.
- If your audience is everyone, it is no one.
- Clearly organize your content; then, trust your visitors to find what they need.
Permissions & Sources
Text and original illustrations from “Priority: An Allegory” by Mark Root-Wiley are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at https://mrwweb.com/priority-source-images/. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://mrwweb.com/contact.
Thanks to Emily and Kat for the feedback!