The FWA Review is an ongoing series of articles providing a snapshot of each year at FWA and occasional specials focusing on certain styles and categories. These articles will be highlighting the main focus of the FWA project… websites who use cutting edge technology, together with inspirational ideas, that lead the way for future generations.
The FWA Review will act as a history of cutting edge web design and a reminder of those future-thinking sites, companies and individuals who have paved the way so far.
This second article in the series takes a look back at the second year of FWA, the year 2001…
An abundance of quality
If you were looking for a perfect example of where the web was going and what could be achieved, then this site for one of the World’s great wonders, the Sydney Opera House, would act as that example.
Quite literally, using 360* panoramic photographs and point-and-click navigation, users could explore the area surrounding the Opera House, even the car park underneath, and everywhere inside as well, including the stage, the Auditorium Organ Loft… in fact everywhere, this was an access all areas pass taken to another level.
An extraordinary website and an incredible resource, allowing everyone to feel that they have “visited” the Sydney Opera House.
In April 2001 WebSight’s Outpost took the Flash community by storm with their unique and very progressive website for their six floor Outpost facility (basically a promotional site displaying the company’s talent and vision).
This was one of the first sites to make good use of custom cursors which, when hovered in the right place, changed to represent different interactive areas like stairs, elevators etc.
Another instant impact site that drew the user right into an experience with a never seen before interface that took on the interior of a high-tec building and sound FX and ambient music that set the mood perfectly.
Surfers of Outpost were able to point and click to navigate or use the innovative remote, all of which opened up access to different floors or interactive elements, including the ability to slide open the huge windows in certain areas to view the wilderness outside.
Broken Saints very quickly became a revolution in storytelling and one that soon gained a massive following. The very atmospheric blend of anime style, comic book text and cinematic music and effects delivered something unique.
This project was scheduled for 24 chapters (and would later be released as a 12 hour DVD), all of which were eagerly anticipated and gave surfers a new experience, one where for once, you would turn the lights down, put on your headphones and crank up the volume… if you dared, as this fantasy/horror was more than a website, it was an experience like no other.
When it came to sites with character, WM Team from Germany stole the show. The whole site was built round a building theme, with rather clumsy workman involved in every stage of the site’s transformation. This site oozed charm, innovation and originality and would prove to stand the test of time.
One of the first sites with an organic look and feel to it from Antonio Luis. This site demonstrated what could be achieved through some advanced actionscripting, practically bringing the whole interface alive and impressing visitors with its fast and slick movement.
What would become one of the legendary websites of all time, version 3 of 2Advanced Studios website, known as Expansions. This site would become legendary for two reasons…
Expansions defined innovation and future-thinking websites with its high-tec approach to design. The combination of a progressive look, fast motion, perfect ambient music and superb sound FX, set this site apart from the masses and, not forgetting, the very clever addition of moving clouds, making Expansions come alive.
The second reason this site would become legendary was for being the most copied design ever in the history of the web so far. Some people were inspired by the design and set out to use elements and layout, whilst others literally stole graphics, sound and more.
Being such a hugely successful website that seemed to answer so many question in terms of design, layout and multimedia, many people could see Expansions as the answer to their design dilemmas and would foolishly go on to produce near copies.
Eventually, sites using the same layout would be coined as being “2Advanced” in their design and this phrase would go on to be almost accepted as a style of web design in itself.
The Dream Domain (an anagram for England’s Random Media), was another unique and original website to bless our monitors in 2001. Users entered the site as a red nomad (drone) and were invited to lose themselves exploring a brand new world.
You could even change the appearance of your drone and take up some drone training before entering the site. Visitors would be guaranteed a surfing experience like no other here, with the WOW effect being very high in this almost way-out world known as a website that even allowed users to leave messages by laying eggs and later went on to allow the messages to include video footage as well.
This would be FWA’s first encounter with the amazing talent of Robert Penner whose animation and sound gave this site an X-factor that many others tried but failed to achieve.
Surfing this site made users feel they were in another dimension, almost heavenly in its appearance and atmosphere and possibly the first site to use a 360* navigation.
The self proclaimed “trip of a lifetime” and rightly so, Tongsville by the always impressive Preloaded launched in September 2001 and saw some pioneering back-end programming that utilised live satellite weather reports so that the user would experience the current London, UK, weather live on the site.
A pixel perfect site that had a hidden “God” feature (now active when you enter the site) so that users could change their experience by way of altering the time of day, thus altering light and dark, and the weather, so if you fancied some snow or even a thunder and lightning storm, that wasn’t a problem.
Tongsville rewarded surfers who spent time on the site by way of additional elements like a hive of bees chasing town inhabitants, a UFO abduction, or for those who really deserved it, a special guest appearance by none other than Godzilla!!
An experimental wizard is one way to describe England’s Jamie Macdonald. This personal portfolio/experimental site would become worldly famous for its resizing script that would be used, tweaked and enhanced by designers and developers for years to come.
It’s quite rare for one person’s work to influence so many websites but that’s exactly what happened after the launch of nooflat. Yet again, the generosity of an individual could be seen by the provision of free downloads of all the extremely innovative experiments for the site’s visitors to learn and evolve from.
As more high profile companies started to see the potential by going with full multimedia websites, Virgin music employed the innovators at KNI to produce the official website for Lenny Kravitz, with a unique zooming navigation.
Slick transitions and motion painted each new area of the site perfectly; with back-end programming showing how content could be easily managed through a seamless system of Flash and XML.
A design studio from Canada set a new standard with their super-realistic architectural and spatial reality. The setting for this site was a super-high-tec office with some stunning futuristic imagery that gave a three-dimensional vision and approach unseen before. The office metaphor helped to emit a professional, innovative and powerful outlook for Monoedge Inc.
Starbreeze from FI generated a style and direction we had not seen before and went on to become the FWA Site Of The Year for 2001 from over 3200 nominations. The loading screen itself was unique and, as the site loaded, a "fairy" was there to guide you round the site... a totally progressive idea, perfectly executed.
The multimedia elements of Starbreeze were way ahead of their time, with an awesome atmosphere being created through the ambient sounds and special effects. Here we could witness new levels of graphical/art skills giving websites an incredible visual appearance as if they were straight out of the latest video game releases.
The attention to detail was so apparent with this site, even to the point where an ancient face, built into the interface, would crease its face up when certain areas loaded. Not only was the attention to detail amazing but also the number of visitors to this site was astronomical, with a word-of-mouth epidemic through emails, and instant messengers causing traffic to reach over 15 million hits on the day of launch.
An abundance of quality
2001 saw an amazing wealth of new talent emerge, both individually and as exciting new companies. The above-mentioned sites are only a selection of a number of outstanding sites from 2001 but may be seen as some of the most influential and cutting edge and way before their time.
About the author, Rob Ford
Robert J. Ford is FWA’s Principal. Born and bred in England with a background in finance, sales and project management, working for companies like Halifax PLC and American Express. He has been focused on cutting edge web design and development since 1997 and oversees the day to day running of the FWA project.