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 fourth article in the series takes a look back at the fourth year of FWA, the year 2003…
2003 and just when you thought the web wasn’t producing anything totally different, tokyoplastic version 1 arrived. One of those rare sites that gave you an adrenaline rush (or was that a fright?) when you clicked on the loaded graphic and the site swallowed you up.
tokyoplastic showed us how to make the most of vector graphics and 3D, fused with awesome sound and FX for an unforgettable, intriguing and almost unnerving surfing experience.
The Digital Security Logistics and Operations Centre Research Department from Germany’s Bionic Systems gave us a glimpse of somthing new and very futuristic. Almost like a scene from the Terminator films, a 3D robot took centre stage in this progressive company portfolio site.
With futuristic music and sound FX, plus the awesome 22nd century voice, this site would be sure to dazzle and almost confuse its users. The font used on this site was so upfront it took a while to lock-in to the typeface before being able to surf the site with ease, intrigue and awe.
Globulos, from the Flash game master producers, GlobZ would take online Flash games to another level. This game was multiplayer, where users could challenge or watch gamers from other parts of the world compete.
The visuals and gameplay of this site were perfect, with a cartoon look and feel, with Los Globulos being referred to as “strange fools” who enjoyed bumping into each other. With the choice of many different games, the themes included having to score goals, knock your opponents “King” down a hole and many more.
Ingenious and totally original and giving web surfers one of their first experiences of playing against humans from other parts of the world, live and on demand.
It was becoming quickly apparent that South Korea was a driving force to be reckoned with when it came to cutting edge web design. This site for a shipbuilding yard in Korea would demonstrate one of the best interactive 3D experiences on the web, as the site guided users through the whole process of shipbuilding.
This cyber tour would harness superb vector three-dimensional graphics and amazing motion, to give users the feeling they were mounted on a video camera that swept through all areas of the shipyard with speed and fluency.
group94 or g94, from Belgium, would make huge impact in the web industry in 2003. With an already impressive portfolio, their new site took the community by storm, displaying advanced skills in design and programming.
One of the first sites to show the user how to use their site, by taking the cursor away and showing where it should move to, to activate the navigation for example. This site had an edgy look and feel, gave usability a thumbs-up by providing the facility to use the back and forward browser button with Internet Explorer and defined a new age of advanced scripted motion and intelligently content managed websites.
g94 very quickly gained respect from their peers and would be one of the few studios whose work would be eagerly anticipated.
The amazingly talented Trevor Van Meter managed to craft a completely unique and unrivalled pixel-perfect surfing experience, together with the programming skills of zinc Roe. Users would become Fly Guy and literally, using their keyboard, fly around and interact with using their keyboard, fly around and interact with items, people and a host of other “things”, being careful to try and avoid certain creatures which could send them right back to the start… the bus stop.
This would turn out to be one of the most original, unforgettable and enjoyable surfing experiences to grace the web and one that was so full of charm and character, you couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed when you reached the end, a beach and accompanying music, as it was an experience you could enjoy for an eternity.
Unfortunately no longer online, featuring the ultimate mouse trailer, this website was a launch pad for all things Xbox and one of the most innovative and cute things we had seen for a while. Using video footage of a mouse to follow the user’s mouse action was a very clever idea and one that was perfectly produced by AKQA.
WhizzBall! was all about puzzles. Play the puzzles provided or build your own. This would turn out to be one of the best Flash games we had ever seen. The gameplay was superb and totally addictive and the ability to build your own puzzles and test them throughout, to then publish them for the entire world to see and play, really took this game to another dimension.
Built by Andries Odendaal, previously one of the main forces behind WireframeYulia Nau, Whizzball! would be initially let down by not being able to cope with the amount of visitors the site was receiving. and sites like
One of those rare sites that raise the bar to the next level in web development. Over a year in the making, more than 300 Flash movies and 10,000 plus lines of code, Theory7’s Flash store would provide a huge array of resources for designers and developers, including 100% Flash forums and was all wrapped up in a stylish and colour customisable interface.
The movie site genre had been dominated by “samey” design, with plenty of movie shots slapped together in an unimaginative way. Only the likes of Hi-Res!Identity from the movie website masters, Big Spaceship and we, the users, were in for an interactive and atmospheric treat, with no two visits alike. had managed to give the user an “experience” before but along came the site for the psychological thriller,
After the launch of the site the film director personally telephoned Big Spaceship to tell them how much he loved the site, a true rarity and maybe a first. The site incorporated excerpts from the film and the magical ingredient of sound and FX, making the user experience eerie and engrossing, a trip into the unknown.
Another South Korean Flash design studio would immediately gain the attention of a mass audience. Specialising in game production and quality animation this site had a wonderfully calm atmosphere, using a beautiful sound selection, combined with complimentary sound effects and beautiful "live" pencil drawings.
The "Animation Station" gave visitors a glimpse of another side to this talented studio, with a change of pace in a 3D environment.
Possibly the most eagerly anticipated new site launch with a mouth-watering prospect, fuelled by a countdown clock that certainly had FWA waiting eagerly to reach zero. As the clock hit zero, some of us were greeted with the classic “The page cannot be displayed” cannot find server page. Yet a couple of hard refreshes had the new “Prophecy” site loading.
With an unrivalled amount of requests being made on their servers, it soon became apparent that trying later would be the sensible option to view the site at its best and that’s what I certainly did.
Forums were soon filling up with 2Advanced version 4 threads with love and hate flying in all directions… a classic 2Advanced hot-topic! However, no one could deny the quality and innovation that Prophecy delivered.
If anyone could be called a genius, then Japan’s Yugo Nakamura would deserve the title. The NEC sponsored website named ecotonoha where users were encouraged to sign the Word Tree to help contribute to tree-planting activities on Kangaroo Island.
Using incredible programming skills, this experience was based around a tree that grew larger every time someone signed it and was also a highly commendable project as it was geared towards reducing the amount of CO2 in the environment. For every 100 signatures on the tree NEC agreed to plant an extra tree on Kangaroo Island, Australia in 2004.
The site for this San Francisco based studio was a breath of fresh air. Using a very simple, colourful and effective site with one of the best ways of displaying a portfolio you could see. Evolution Bureau’s site exuded polish and class, using vibrant colours, complimentary sound FX and an advanced version of the resizing script pioneered by nooflat.
This was an instant impact site with a first class opening sequence that displayed a harmony of sound and motion. The site itself demonstrated a very innovative appeal, through the navigation and the motion used to build each section. The portfolio of work on display was of the highest order, including the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Billy Elliot and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
The video integration on this site was seamless and the interactive features, including “search” and the ability to save your own “film collection”, gave this site an added edge and appeal. London’s de-construct had nailed another impressive website and one that would go on to contend for Site of the Year 2003.
This was a wonderful point-and-click adventure game with excellent atmospheric sound produced by Jakub Dvorsky from the Czech Republic. The game play and interaction was first class and showed a very deep level of thinking from the developer.
Samorost would go on to be another epidemic that would see people all over the world uploading the game to their own servers so that as many people as possible could enjoy it. Overall, it was a very fun and intriguing surfing experience, with exceptional artwork that helped to create awesome and very atmospheric individual scenes.
A master class and prime example of the way the web was heading with seamless video integration in the promotional site for the Ford F150 pickup truck. Another feather in the cap of web innovators, 2Advanced, this site acted like a walkthrough/talkthrough, guiding the user around the vehicle through polished video production and awe-inspiring 3D animations.
Photography sites are personal favourites of teamFWA and this site from Jonathan Clark represents one of the best examples available. Shot in Streatham Cemetery and Lambeth Cemetery, London, over a two-year period, After Life takes its visitors through the four seasons.
The photography on display is of the highest order and conveys an incredible emotiveness and atmosphere as subtle animations, ambient music and sound FX have been added to the photographs, quite literally bringing them to life. An extraordinary website like no other… eerie yet peaceful.
When two unique and very talented individuals, Martin Hughes and Jordan Stone collided, the end result was WEFAIL. Setting their very own unique style that only a few had previously managed to achieve, WEFAIL’s original approach to design could easily be seen through this brand new identity and style they had formed.
Using video animation to create a very intriguing web presence, the user could not help but want to explore this site in its full. A trademark of WEFAIL would be their integration of voice sequences in many of their client’s websites and their own site would be no exception.
The whole personality of WEFAIL was quite extraordinary and rare and you would either love them or hate them and, either way, they didn’t care what you thought, they were not going to change for anyone.
Ingo Ramin’s 247 Media Studios from Germany had quickly established a reputation for extremely lifelike, organic and grunge style websites, a style earlier championed by the likes of Gabe Rubin. 247 Media Studios were capturing an audience who had an eye for attention to detail and the release of Lana Landis’ site would capture the interests of many.
The Lana Landis website managed to emit the perfect look and feel of the fifties, both through the sound, FX and stunning imagery. Lana herself, being America’s number one pin-up model, made this site a truly unforgettable treat, with the addition of a “View Master” to explore her portfolio giving the site that extra clever and apt addition to make it a true stand-out.
Late 2003 and dunun would give us another mouth watering website, one “endowed with independent animal and vegetal lives, stripped with shooting stars, with bees and fireflies, set to music by cicadas and crickets.”
Depending on the time of day you visited this colourful site, your experience would be very different, with the landscape and music changing to fit the mood from dawn to dusk.
An instant huge hit with its target audience, web designers and developers, here we had a unique and completely fresh e-commerce site perfectly executed through Flash from g94. This would be another one of the very few sites who would deal with the whole shopping experience without having to jump out into an HTML window.
The flawless and polished look and feel of this site for the fine typography house from Europe had added interactivity and usability through the “Try” and “Buy” features giving this site an additional dimension.
OurType would go on to set a record at WellVetted, the inspirational gathering, by being selected no less than nine times in the January 2004 edition of the unique monthly list.
An excellent and atmospheric web presence for the film created by Marc Craste, JoJo in the stars used seamless integration of video combined with simple navigation, complimentary sound and FX, to showcase this awesome and dark short film.
This short film would eventually go on to win a well-deserved BAFTA for the Best Short Animation, along with a number of other national and international accolades.
Well known for producing atmospheric and dark websites, My Pet Skeleton came up with the goods once again with the amazing Johnny Hollow site. The eventual clear winner of the FWA People’s Choice Award 2003, this site offered a very dark atmosphere with breathtaking 3D realistic insect graphics/animations used for navigation.
With an added twist of having to solve word puzzles to gain access to extra features and bonus downloads, the Johnny Hollow site would see a talented and complimentary musical trio launch themselves independently to the world with huge impact.
As the web whispers began to get louder with fingers pointing at Flash sites as being unusable, only good for multimedia experiences etc, the FI team placed a large foot stamp on the web for 2003 and made us all realise why we hadn’t heard from them for a while with their new revolutionary site and FWA Site Of The Year 2003 for Time Warner, the all new Road Runner portal.
One of the most groundbreaking sites we had ever seen. FI took a huge broadband community and ran it through a Flash environment and managed to embrace both form and function and deliver an impressive back-end system which managed the content so smoothly that the user was wrapped up in the site to such an extent that it would become one of those rare sites that was not only a daily visit but a frequent feature in their time online.
Road Runner had the trademark attention to detail we had become accustomed to from FI and that extra mile FI’s sites displayed, as could be seen through the flawless graphical detail and animations, combined with the complimentary sound and FX.
The continuity of the Road Runner site was another first, as the user experienced an environment that provided content-at-a-click in the designated area without constant full page reloads (something portal sites always fell short on).
Another rare trait running through the site, especially for the portal genre was personality, something the RR site managed to emit through the warm look and feel, the welcoming voice and the customisable features.
Overall, a site that would surely pave the way for generations to come and one that could not fail to impress its target audience and one that would be the best site of 2003 from over 19300 nominated sites.
2003 saw the maturing of the web through sites like the Road Runner portal, yet still stayed fresh and original through the likes of tokyoplastic. Another long FWA Review, indicating how the constant evolvement of the web and the inspired creativity of many from all corners of the Earth delivered so many noteworthy sites for another year.
We always wonder what will come next, what will be the next trend or innovation but only time will tell…
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.