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 thirteenth article in the series takes a look back at the ninth year of FWA, the year 2008…

2008 has been an interesting year in more ways than one. The global financial crisis combined with the credit crunch has seen a wave of fear engulf many industries. Luckily, I believe the web is about the safest place to be right now and I’m pleased to say that FWA has had another record year with over 14 million site visits to thefwa.com alone.

I’ve also finally envisioned the new FWA website, something that has been whirring around my brain for around 18 months. I have mulled over so many different ideas with the team here but never been totally happy with what was planned. Then, in the blink of an eye, I saw the new site! Fingers crossed we can start building it early 2009 and take FWA forward yet again.

So, here we go, the best 50 websites of 2008!

The following list is in chronological order, with the first in the list being the earliest release of the year.

Happiness Factory - Now Hiring (http://www.coca-cola.com/template1/index.jsp?locale=en_US&site=../happiness_factory/index.html)

January is always a tricky month to find a site worthy of a site of the month award but AKQA managed to release this wonderfully interactive site in January.

Breaking Bad (http://bb.amctv.com/)

This site, or journey, for AMC's series, Breaking Bad, is completely random, so each visit is different.

group94 (http://www.group94.com/)

The eagerly awaited site for Belgium’s finest did not disappoint. The added twist of allowing users to see and test their CMS made this even more noteworthy.

Vermeersch (http://www.vermeersch.ca/)

This is quite literally a life-sized portfolio. Simple ideas will always have the most impact.

See My Dress (http://www.seemydress.com/)

Colour coordination doesn’t come much better than this campaign site for the Salvation Army.

Microsoft Office For Mac (http://www.firstbornmultimedia.com/websites/150_mac_office/index.html)

Simplify your work by exploring the intriguing animated world that houses Microsoft Office: mac 2008, office software for Mac users.

Red Bull Flugtag Flight Lab (http://www.redbull.com/flightlab)

One of the best uses of Papervision 3D to date. This site allows you to create and then fly your own 3D plane.

The Scruffs Game (http://www.scruffs-game.com/)

A charming promotional site for a downloadable game. Find 20 bones to succeed.

Coke Zero Game (http://www.cokezerogame.com/)

One again, North Kingdom takes production levels to new heights in this online game for Coca-Cola.

Motorola City (http://motorolacity.soulpolice.com/)

One of the best examples of a 3D fly through you will have seen online to date.

Activoo (awaiting archive url)

As an overweight pig, you need to be able to fit into a hot new outfit to impress the other pigs, and you can achieve your goal only by working out.

Publicis & Hal Riney (http://www.hrp.com/)

This site showed us something new for a corporate presence, navigating a website using a webcam.

Dodge Quest (http://dodge-quest.com/)

Some pixelicious work for role-playing fans. Not what you would expect for an automotive site.

Get out and Play (http://www.get-out-and-play.com)

Nokia has really ramped up the quality of their promotional sites in the last 18 months and here’s a classic example.

Lowe’s Sunnyville (http://www.firstbornmultimedia.com/websites/sunnyville/)

Firstborn was definitely one of the top 3 interactive agencies this year. This site from them and Tribal DDB Chicago just shows you what attention to detail and quality is all about.

Volkswagen Snake (http://www.volkswagensnake.nl/)

Everyone knows the classic snake game, right? Well here’s a modern version with a twist. Very creative indeed!

Alfa Romeo 159 Experience (http://www.experience159.com/)

Soleil Noir, also flexed some serious skills in 2008. Here they delivered an amazingly polished automotive site.

The Eye (http://www.judgingishard.com/theeye/)

An eye, looking at you. One that moves with you. What could it be about? Find out for yourself…

UT LOOP! (http://www.uniqlo.com/utloop/)

Without sounding like a Uniqlo fanboy… I’m incredibly impressed with all of their promotional and campaign sites. This is another fine example.

Got Milk? (http://www.gotmilk.com/)

Another exceptional site in the “got milk?” campaign. Loads of clever and thought-provoking games, made at the highest level for you to get stuck in to.

NOLAF (http://nolaf.org/)

A lot more than just another fullscreen video site. Spend some time exploring this one as there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

Haze (http://hazegame.uk.ubi.com/experience/)

I read an interesting article on Smashing Magazine about the lack of quality game promo sites this year. They even referenced The FWA as not showcasing many. Shame they filtered to the wrong section of our site and missed the “games promotional” section with amazing sites like this one.

Spectra Visual Newsreader (http://www.spectramsnbc.com)

Browse, play, and interact in a 3D visualiser that also features a webcam colour sensor and the ability to filter and store your favourite stories, videos, and blogs.

Music in a Bottle (http://www.music-in-a-bottle.de/)

Loving sites like this that take the obvious and make it something new. Scan the barcode on your beer bottle with a webcam to experience Music in a Bottle.

The Eco Zoo (http://ecodazoo.com/)

One of the first sites for some time that created a word of mouth viral effect. Super impressive custom built 3D engine makes this site a true stand out for 2008.

Julian Velard (http://www.julianvelard.com/)

A year without WEFAIL? Never! Playing out as a point and click adventure and loaded with Easter Egg surprises.

Nike Lab (http://www.nikelab.com)

Launched just in time for the Olympics, the global portal for Nikelab has to be one of the most accomplished of its size for many a year.

Base-X (http://www.luchtmacht-experience.nl/home)

This site for the Royal Netherlands Air Force features superb interactive 3D combined with video, quality animations, and the perfect ambient sound and effects.

Pencil Rebel (http://second.pencilrebel.com/)

We are lucky that people are still prepared to spend incredible amounts of time putting together treats like Pencil Rebel. Unique and unforgettable, not to be missed.

Lexus RX 350 (http://www.lexus-rx350.ru/)

A site that works on the dontclick.it philosophy to match the TV campaign about a vehicle that adapts to you. Top quality presentation.

Mercedes SL 65 AMG Black Series (http://www.mercedes-amg.com/SL65BlackSeries/)

A site that caused controversy both as a winner and also for the winning agencies but one that I believe stands out as a prime example of what to do when you want to sell a luxury vehicle… make it look good.

Red Issue (http://www.red-issue.com/)

Original navigation wins this site a place in this year’s Review. Draw shapes and navigate. Simple but cool.

How Music Almighty Are You? (http://europe.nokia.com/musicalmighty)

Choose a phone, grab a lead, plug it in and be prepared for some extremely creative visuals.

Sour Sally! (http://www.hellosoursally.com/)

I’m always harping on about getting personality into websites and this site sums it up perfectly.

Carphone Warehouse X Factor Challenge (http://www.xfactor2008.unit9.com)

Another site excelling this year by using hand drawn animation. The X Factor is the UK’s version of American Idol, but better as we have better looking female judges.

U-Le-Chang (http://www.ulechang.com/)

A surreal experience with beautiful artwork. A bit like the zoomquilt but in a different direction.

Luke Buda - Special Surprise (http://www.specialsurprise.co.nz/)

Again, simplicity making for something unforgettable A music site with a head and some eyes that watch your every move.

CrappyCat (http://www.crappycat.com/)

Total crazyness, as we have grown to love, from TVM Studios. This is indeed an “abnormal journey to the bottom of a bottle and into another dimension”.

Barcinski & Jeanjean (http://www.barcinski-jeanjean.com/)

If you haven’t got any 3D glasses next to your computer, you really must get some. The occasional site that needs them make it worth the effort getting some as sites like this one always give a totally new experience.

Bigman Comunicacao (http://www.bigmanbr.com.br/)

Take a man, make him big, add lots of text and links and this is what you get (except this is far better than my poor attempt at a description).

Hotel 626 (http://hotel626.com/)

Possibly my favourite site of the year and one that put B-Reel in the frame also for best agency of the year. If you like being scared you’ll love this site that only opens between 6pm and 6am.

The World of Harujuku Lovers (http://www.hlfragrance.com/)

Delightful characters, colours and more made this site for a Gwen Stefanis fragrance stand out for me.

Farcry2 Experience Site (http://www.farcrygame.com/experience/)

Another amazing game promotional site that lets you get about as close to playing the real thing as is possible.

Energuy (http://www.aee.gouv.qc.ca/en/energuy/game/)

An educational game with unique controls. Gran the character’s hand and drag him about an energy efficient house.

Volkswagen Autopilot (http://www.vwinnovatie.nl/en/)

One of the most original automotive sites I have seen to date where you actually get to experience the car’s capabilities rather than just reading about them.

Come in to the closet. Let’s Dance. (http://demo.fb.se/e/ikea/comeintothecloset2/site/default.html)

This site lets you control all movements on the site by sound and music, even allowing you to upload your own music.

Kontain (http://www.kontain.com/)

The long awaited project from Fi that was codename “Propod”. This free blogging site already boast a lot of cool features but also promises a lot more throughout 2009.

Fox. It’s More Fun from Above (http://www.vw.com.br/fox/)

I’m sorry to keep using words like original, unique etc but that’s what this article is all about. Here’ a new way of looking at a site, from above. Also, people are your navigation buttons and content. Sounds strange? Better check it out to see what I mean.

The Turn (http://www.theturn.tv/)

An interactive toy-like site framing Fredo Viola’s music and visual work. Very experimental but also perfect for the artist.

Nvidia Speak Visual (http://www.speakvisual.com/)

Very slick and smooth delivery for Nvidia with seamless integration of video content makes this is a great way to wrap up the top 50 sites of 2008.

Final thought.

What stood out for me in 2008 were the amazing levels of production we are not seeing. I often wonder if things can get any better and they continue to do so. Can things get any better in the future? Can production levels get any more impressive? Is there a limit to the quality that we see?

I don’t think we can ever answer these questions because technology always moves forward. How long before you are looking right at me without me being in front of you? I’m not talking via webcam... I mean, actually being there but not quite!

Something else that stood out for me when preparing and writing this Review was the amount of sites that were no longer live. I’ve had to track down archived versions of sites that are not even a year old. Are websites becoming like newspapers, where they are a waste product not long after going “to print”?

Some of the sites I’m referring to are huge projects with, I’m assuming, big budgets. I would guess that the agencies who sweat blood and tears on these are quite downbeat when sites they make for clients go offline. At least some of them are allowed to be archived in portfolios, which helps us to keep track on the history of the web.

About the author, Rob Ford
FWA Founder and Principal.

Robert 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 oversees the day to day running of the FWA project.

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