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 third article in the series takes a look back at the third year of FWA, the year 2002…
Innovation and reputations
2002, a new year a new style takes grip with Fido from Fantasy Interactive setting the trend. With a site that, quite literally, bounced its way into place with total class and one that used a masking transition that would influence many for the future.
The Fido site saw attention to detail, subtle sound FX and polish set a new precedent and owed a lot to the new wave of pixel fonts largely pioneered by Craig Kroeger from Miniml. This site was also one of the first to use draggable 3D elements, as seen through the phones presentation where users could drag new communication innovations seamlessly through 360*.
With the launch of the Relevare website we saw three individual geniuses come together for the most original navigation we had seen to date. Guy Watson, Andy Foulds and Jamie Macdonald formed a formidable team and produced an incredibly innovative zooming navigation, which instantly won critical acclaim throughout the industry.
Not only was this site very innovative, it was also visually perfect, extremely smooth and very responsive and not bogged down with sluggish behaviour as could be expected for such future-thinking ideas. To say this site was way ahead of its time would be an understatement.
The “classic” mjau-mjau site from Karl Ward, saw another brilliant talent hit our monitors. Packed with awesome motion graphics and superb sound, this site saw mjau-mjau establish instant respect from his peers.
Again, we saw a blend of experimental work and client/personal work, including free downloads and almost essential utilities like the imageVue. This site would go on to become an FWA Site Of The Month and a true favourite with its visitors.
The World Domination through Design Group or WDDG had forged an impressive reputation since their inception in 1998 and the new site for Altoids mints would go on to become one of the main contenders for Site Of The Year 2002 and soon after launch was picked up by the New York Times.
WDDG managed to capture the brand and design style associated with Altoids, that of a retro 1950s, 60s look. The end result being a site full of eye candy with a vibrant colour palette and one that would be exciting to explore and interact with, with the “Ad Gallery” being particularly noteworthy as users could send ads to friends or even download them.
Looplabs, the work of Craig Swann and CRASH!MEDIA, was the first online music mixer we had seen and came with all the bells and whistles you could want, with users able to save their own mixes and load others.
Being very simple to use, it didn’t take long to get sucked into a unique web experience and feel you could soon be gracing the wheels of steel in Gaunt Street, South East London, in the VIP lounge of the Ministry Of Sound.
With hundreds of readily available loops to play with and an extremely easy interface to mix with, it was almost simple to put together something that sounded hip and cool.
The Looplabs audio engine would go on to be incorporated in sites including Coca Cola, Maverick Records, Bacardi and many more and would win accolades the World over.
Here was another innovation that would set a trend for years to come, much like nooflat’s resizing script did. The thing with this innovation was that it was so obvious and logical and I’m sure many designers wondered why they hadn’t though of it before.
So, you’re wondering what it was? Okay, it was the page turn. Yes, present a site like a book and allow visitors to use the site like a book and simply drag the pages as you would turn them in real life. It was perfectly executed, making it an instant success and before long everyone wanted a script for the “page turn effect”.
As 2002’s winners were announced in the May 1st Reboot, Who’s We Studios’ Flash site, version 1 stood out as a true definition of eye candy and was a perfect testament to their slogan “information through stimulation”.
“Do you feel lucky punk? Well do ya?” as their logo orb turned into a massive arsenal of weapons pointing at the user and kindly asked them if they wanted to enter the broadband version of the site. Following up with an original hand rolling-finger loader that seemed so obvious but had never been used before.
Combining attitude, personality, sound and 3D, surfers round the world looked on in awe and fired up their messaging services to spread the word on what they saw. This site saw Who’s We come from nowhere and establish themselves overnight as one of the latest progressive players in the field.
Hi-ReS!, well known for their immersive and original websites, worked with Team One on this extraordinary site promoting the Lexus MAGLEV sports car from the year 2054 together with the release of the film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise.
This website, or experience, is about you, the individual, trying to escape from being framed for a murder to be committed some time in the future. To say this website was futuristic would be an understatement, both in appearance and in content. This would be one of the first sites to use zooming motion blurs between scenes and seamless video integration (rather than pop-up video as most sites were doing at this time).
July of 2002 and Fantasy Interactive dealt another blow to the competition with the launch of the massive Conspiracy Games, a site that fried just about every server that went near it as it served up over one terabyte of traffic in its first month alone.
Here we saw one of the first sites optimised for the screen resolution of 1600x1200, but ran perfectly well for most lower resolutions. The target audience were blown off their feet when they spent time on this site, with interactive features that included an “Emergency System” activation that gave the user only two minutes to comply by finding a certain element in the site or the site self destructed and booted the user out.
Conspiracy also saw the introduction of voice-over sound for areas of the site, particularly navigation that used buttons that appeared to organically move as the user moused over them.
This was a huge site with lots to explore and large amounts of intelligently managed content and 3D, including a robot arm that, once activated, smashed a realistic looking hole in the screen.
Gabe Rubin’s Wrecked – Wreckage portfolio site would see the start of the organic and grunge style. Distressed bitmap graphics and the motion achievable with Flash, launched a new wave of old style meeting new technology, with the end result being an instant hit with designers.
England’s Specialmoves, managed to produce a rare treat for fans of the hugely successful TV show, The Osbournes. Complete with a swear-o-meter, users got the chance to be any of the Osbourne family, including their pets, and to move around the Osbourne house, garden, the beach and even the Tour Bus, whilst interacting with everything and everyone around them.
This site had the look and feel of a Sim style point-and-click game, with the attention to detail of each room/area being unbelievable. The whole production could’ve doubled up as an interactive tour of the Osbourne’s house.
I would think that this site would experience some of the longest session times for any website… addictive, interactive and immersive but you had to watch out for Lola the Bulldog’s calling card.
Fred Perry’s ecommerce site would prove to be a major breakthrough for Flash as, for the first time, we witnessed a complete online shopping experience run seamlessly through a Flash interface, no jumping into an HTML pop-up window to complete the transaction.
Surprisingly, I don’t think this site achieved the acclaim it deserved, as this could’ve been the start of a flurry and new wave of Flash ecommerce sites. This site would stand the test of time however and was, maybe, a little too early to alter the course of ecommerce sites at that time.
2002, possibly representing the most revolutionary year for websites so far, saw another great example for a stunning female German hard progressive techno DJ know as Yulia Nau, designed and developed by South Africa’s finest, Wireframe.
Another instant impact and future-thinking site with hard atmospheric music and a Chinese dragon mouse trailer on the loading screen alone. This site pioneered video enhanced mouse movement as users experienced, for the first time, quality video frame sequences of a tattoo clad Yulia Nau, which reacted to every movement of their mouse.
This site demonstrated progressive with a capital “P” as Wireframe combined a style of music and web design straight out of the future, even allowing users to mix their way into techno DJ heaven with a superb custom built mixing desk.
Another impressive website from FI in 2002, making people wonder if there was something in the water in Stockholm. Dotu, a site for Warner Bros and Swing Entertainment for the smash PlayStation 2 game, Defenders Of The Universe was a highly interactive user experience and made use of FI’s branded navigation system (FI elastic) with bouncy drag menus.
Seeing the new site for Seattle based CrashShop planted an early seed for the future development and brand of FWA. Here we had a site that was using the very latest coding techniques from the recently released Flash 5.
The designers and developers of this site displayed a deep expertise and understanding of where websites were going and an astonishing 5000+ lines of actionscript code held CrashShop’s site together.
This site worked like the perfect operating system should, was fast and efficient, oozed personality, had a fully integrated Flash shop and simple additions like the use of the scroll wheel (as having a scroll wheel on your mouse was now becoming standard) with Internet Explorer giving an added edge to the functionality and usability that many sites were lacking.
Four of the five CrashShop team would later go on to work for DUAL, a world-renowned think-tank located in Seattle, Washington. DUAL would become the first choice for the redesign, development and rebranding of FWA and a long-term relationship beginning early 2003, based on their forward thinking attitude and soon to be developed software and capabilities.
With the arrival of Flash 5 and the ability to easily integrate video into websites, Alexis Trepanier would demonstrate just how easy it was and what a huge difference it could make to one’s presence on the web.
Alexis’ video intro had amazing charm and started with a hairy and full-bearded Alexis, telling visitors his skills and strengths as the site built around him. As the video progressed, viewers could notice Alexis’ hair slowly shrinking and his facial hair disappearing. Eventually, a clean-cut Alexis finished his pitch only to sneeze and regain his hairy appearance.
This was something people had never experienced before on a website and resulted in another server heavily bombarded with thousands of requests as word of mouth and links at every major portal sent web surfers from around the world to Alexis’ home page.
As autumn of 2002 got under way, broadband internet surfing was beginning to take off and luckily the team at FWA were well fixed up with the fattest pipe available at that time. As soon as we saw this new production from the progressive New York team at firstborn, we were excited to be one of the first sites to showcase it.
Sacha Dean Biyan, a fashion photographer and photojournalist, had wisely chosen firstborn to build him a unique and progressive website to showcase his amazing photography. This would be one of those website where one could clearly see deep amounts of planning and interaction between the client and the design/development team.
An original future-proof navigation would combine with excellent music compositions and the truly awe-inspiring photography, with the end result being a website that exuded nothing but innovation and class.
This French agency known as “The Chinese” gave us another example of how to breathe life into a website by incorporating video. Another site predominantly produced for a broadband audience, with a cool game to play with as the site loaded.
Les Chinois’ site had an almost mystical appeal to it, as users would interact with a man in a leather chair by clicking on navigation items or dragging and dropping items on him, for example dropping a packet of cigarettes on him would result in him lighting and smoking one.
A very intriguing site that was initially only released in French but later went on to release an English version. Surfing this site made you feel like you were sat opposite someone in a room and they would react to your actions.
Robert Lindstrom’s Swedish showcase of over 10 years of his top-drawer work would go on to be a huge hit. His crest style logo would be one of the first in a new trend and his vector drawings left many in awe and asking questions as to how they were achieved.
If anyone wanted to define the perfect portfolio site, DesignChapel had just done that.
One of the true innovators of cutting edge web design and one of the most eagerly anticipated launches on the web as we know it, Neostream Interactive delivered 50,000 volts of animation heaven that shocked the world on launch. A total WOW site that deservedly picked up FWA People’s Choice Award 2002 by a huge majority.
The site oozed personality and character right from the splash screen as the Neostream mascot shook his finger at the user. On entering the site users were able to quite literally “slap” the mascot around by moving their mouse back and forward across him.
Each area of the site boasted amazing motion, animation and sound and made for a site that is still the favourite of many web surfers today.
The Site Of The Year 2002 was a very tight contest with the outstanding winner being the official site for the United States Marines Corps, Marines designed and developed by Marine Corps Recruiting Command, J Walter Thompson, and KNI.
This site was flawless and fast loading with a number of Flash treats. As users made their way through the site a progress bar would display how much of the site they had surfed, encouraging further exploration. Motion, typography, design and navigation all gelled perfectly to form a site that was as near perfect as one could get.
Innovation and reputations
2002 proved to be am amazing year with the competition for Site Of The Year being very tightly fought with 9924 nominated sites. This would also see the arrival of the People’s Choice Award at FWA, proving to be very popular and making us think why hadn’t we added it before.
A number of companies and individuals had earned well-deserved reputations this year and we could only wonder if the level of excitement achieved through so many inspirational websites could continue in the coming years.
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.