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 eighth article in the series takes a look back at the most creative web agency websites ever to have launched on the web.

There are some people who would say that a web agency’s website should be simple and informational. In some circumstances they could be correct, especially for established and industry known agencies.

However, those who push the creative edge over the limit leave a virtual tattoo in their wake and can draw huge amounts of eyes in a Tipping Point style effect.

Some new agencies become known globally almost over night just by dropping a major WOW factor site; some of these sites are mentioned in this very article.

The following list represents the twenty most creative web agency sites ever to have been featured at FWA since 2000. The list is in chronological order, with the first in the list being the earliest featured at FWA.

David Gary Studios v1 (http://www.davidgarystudios.com/v1/)

If you’re an FWA regular you may well be aware of David Gary Studios as we often trumpet the site as it was the first we ever featured.

This site actually launched last century… 1999.

A lot of people reading this won’t have even been surfing the web back then and it won’t be long before there will be people reading this article who were not even born then!

An all time classic site that was most definitely one of the first to push the envelope. Made with Flash 3 and used Flash for exactly what it was developed for at that time… vector animation and multimedia overload.

Lookandfeel New Media (http://www.lookandfeel.com/index.asp)

Site Of The Year from 2000, an agency whose creativity hit the front pages and won them industry acclaim with their unique and original site intro, a personality packed affair with two characters that would run through the whole site.

Not forgetting the gravity bouncy drop-down menus, the first of their kind ever to have been seen.

Outpost (http://www.wsoutpost.com/index_detect.html)

This is one of those rare sites that I can honestly say is a personal favourite of mine. When it launched in May of 2001 I was totally blown away.

The levels of interaction and the explorability really took the creative web up a notch.

The use of a custom cursor was one of, if not, the first we ever saw, even though some people struggled with the concept.

The site allows users to explore the six floor Outpost facility.

Unfortunately, some of the floors were never completed due to time and budget limitations but the essence is still there and just revisiting the site now whilst compiling this article gave me that hair-curling feeling.

WM Team (http://www.wmteam.de/intro_swf/index2.html)

I can’t imagine there are many people who haven’t seen this agency site from Germany.

This site demonstrated the importance of adding personality and character to web presences, not forgetting humour as well.

The site rocks out with a group of workmen, building the interface to a cool beat and then pretty much destroying it in the process.

Dream Domain (http://www.randommedia.co.uk/flash/index_flash.htm)

This website for the UK’s Random Media was entitled Dream Domain, an anagram of their company name.

Users enter this highly interactive website as a Drone and explore all aspects of the company through a vector and organic world.

The actual visual and unique experience to be had here were not the only outstanding factors. The site also boasted the first instance of multiuser website interaction, as users could see other site visitors flying around in real time.

2Advanced Studios v3 (http://v3.2a-archive.com/)

I tread lightly when using the term legendary but now is the correct time to use it.

You could write a complete article on this very site.

Possibly the most impactful element of this site was the rapidly moving clouds which could be seen through the skylight of a futuristic building. The whole blue tone colour theme, whilst simple, was very powerful.

The sound effects, button rollovers, page transitions, everything all worked in total harmony and showed incredible attention to detail as well as an insightful and creative thought process.

This website took 2Advanced from being an up and coming small agency into a household name in the creative web scene and would power and supply site traffic for a number of years.

How could I mention this site without mentioning the fact that not only is it one of the most legendary creative agency websites of all time but it’s also the most copied, ripped and plagiarised site as well.

Even five years on and you can still bump into sites that have copied all or some of the site or hear those 2A futuristic sounds…

Perfect Fools v1 (http://www.perfectfools.com/book/)

Sweden’s Perfect Fools created one of the simplest ideas imaginable, the page turn. Their simple yet highly original website started a whole new trend of sites, still flowing out of the factories today.

A definite, “why didn’t I think of that?” site that would see them win industry acclaim almost over night.

So, whenever you see a site that uses a page turn or page flip effect, you know who to thank, or blame!

Who's We Design Studios v1 (http://www.whoswestudios.com/flashsite.html)

If we are going to talk about WOW factor or instant impact or about an agency that appeared from nowhere and overnight became an established player then we have to talk about Who’s We.

Unfortunately the company is now defunct but luckily and thankfully they have kept their pioneering site on line.

The 3D used in this site and the way it was handled and presented, with total attitude, is what gave it an unruly edge and an unforgettable one at that.

The menu button says: “Who we are” and a UFO appears and beams down “The Best” just about sums up the attitude that would win over lots of fans immediately.

Such a creative site and a full-on multimedia experience that can not be missed.

Neostream Interactive (http://www.neostream.com/)

In 2002 after a long and highly anticipated wait, Neostream unleashed 50,000 volts of pure adrenaline at us.

Again, huge amounts of creativity could be experienced, right from the opening splash page.

The ability to punch and slap the site’s main navigation character was the first time we had experienced anything like this.

What made this site so special and the eventual FWA People’s Choice Awards was the incredible transitions from one section to another. Jaw dropping for their time and still very impressive years later.

Les Chinois (http://www.leschinois.com/)

This agency site from France may not be familiar to all but its creativity and progressive nature makes it a must for this article.

In fact, the site was so progressive that I can remember struggling getting to grips with the site when it launched but soon found my way.

The innovation of this site is particularly apparent with the video integration and the way the user selects items from the menu or drags and drops items on the site’s human navigator.

Blitz Digital Studios v1 (http://www.blitzds.com/v1/)

The first thing to strike you about this early version of the Blitz Agency site is the totally unique enter button. A couple of hands throw it around to each other as the user tries to click on it.

Annoying? Possibly but also very creative and one of those ideas that once seen you can’t forget.

The site boasts an innovative menu that organically grows in front of your eyes.

An example of the futuristic wave of sites that launched back in the days and one of the best at that.

tokyoplastic v1 (http://www.tokyoplastic.com/tokyoplastic1.html)

I have a signed print in my office from the guys at tokyoplastic but that is not why I added their first web presence to this list.

Version 1 of tokyoplastic gave a new essence of life to the web in early 2003. There was definitely a sense of boredom and lack of originality late 2002 but that all changed when the vector geniuses behind tokyoplastic revealed themselves to the world.

It’s very hard to even begin to describe tokyoplastic… it’s intriguing, dark, mysterious and captivating and has an essence of the land of the rising sun.

A classic example of what happens when you build an amazing website whereby you become known globally almost over night.

Pure Pulse Studio (http://purepulse.co.kr)

Korean web design is certainly some of the most creative and the Pure Pulse Studio site is the epitome of this.

Subtle yet beautiful graphics and animations combined with elegant ambient music set this site apart from a swathe of other agency sites.

Don’t be fooled though, it’s not all relaxation. The Animation Station cranks things up a gear or two with some hard paced 2D motion.

WEFAIL (http://www.wefail.com/)

When two charismatic personalities collide. Jordan Stone and Martin Hughes have to be two of the most interesting minds on the web, as can be seen through the WEFAIL web presence.

The site plays out as a gritty movie to Somewhere Over The Rainbow but also allows users to explore by following the navigation.

This forward thinking agency has been responsible for a number of creative ideas that are regularly mimicked online now.

It’s always exciting to see what comes out of the WEFAIL camp.

Fantasy Interactive (http://www.fantasy-interactive.com)

This was a highly anticipated launch and saw the whole web agency thought process change.

Instead of trying to get one up on their competitors, FI took a whole new direction and went for a professional website that boasted maturity and not bells and whistles.

The hot property of this site would be the large amount of streaming videos that would bring the client nearer to the company by way of familiarity with the staff, the way they work, their thought processes and the rare, and often hidden by most companies, behind the scenes footage.

The FI site has since grown even further into quite a huge site in terms of its depth.

Not only is the site visually superb but it also has a personality factor that is quite unique.

FI have developed a brand that is unique on the web and their client base is as good as it gets.

Also, if you ever get to deal with a company like FI you will soon realise that it’s the passion behind the wheel that makes a company like this so sought after and so successful.

AgencyNet Interactive (http://www.agencynet.com/)

Enter 2005 and enter another of those overnight success stories. Yet again, a simple idea that had people thinking “why hadn’t I thought of that?”

AgencyNet built a 3 dimensional office with the added treat of interactivity and, even better the look and feel that you were actually looking at their offices live from above, as very clever and creative video clips breathed human life into their site.

You certainly get to feel the atmosphere of the day-to-day life at this agency whilst also feeling like a VIP guest.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that a visit to this site will leave you thinking that this agency must be fun to work with and above everything else, very creative and progressive.

web burza (http://web.burza.hr/en)

This site for one of Croatia’s finest is a total visual treat. Great colours, slick, funny and clever animations and, once again, a site oozing personality.

Not forgetting that this site is an HTML/Flash hybrid site and one that is fully Web Standards compliant. For a standards site it’s head and shoulders above the rest, which can often appear to have that CSS template look and feel.

The vibrancy of this site is quite incredible and the whole light-hearted approach gives off an upbeat and friendly vibe and that can’t be a bad thing when pushing forward for clients and accounts.

Leo Burnett (http://www.leoburnett.ca/)

Hands down, the best site in 2005 and one of the best creative agency sites ever made.

The site is a full on point-click and zoom experience and finds the user delving deeper into the portfolio of this immensely creative company.

The technical achievement alone is something else, with the concept being fully realised without compromising the company’s ability to show off their work in a very original environment.

It’s not all about the interface though, the showcase of work is equally creative and worthy of acclaim in its own right.

Kinetic v4 (http://www.kinetic.com.sg/)

Singapore’s Kinetic have been innovating for a long time and each time they launch a new version of their company site it raises the bar again.

The level of animation on this site is extraordinary and spending some extra time enjoying it all is well worth it.

There’s a lot happening on every click as each scene seamlessly evolves into the next one.

Creativity at its best and a real eye opener at that.

LitFuse Design (http://litfusedesign.com/)

James Dvorak and Scott Ichikawa were two names we were familiar with but when they joined forces and launched LitFuse in 2006 they would instantly gain the respect of a huge part of the creative industry.

A site turned into an interactive world of designer action heroes, with attitude and tongue-in-cheek comedy.

Crazy or creative minds? I guess that’s for you to decide.

Final thought

Personality is the underlying and common theme seen through most of the sites in this “best of” list.

Why do people enjoy sites with personality? Quite simply because they leave you, the user, with a feeling that you know the company immediately. A bond is instantly created as emotion is stirred inside you.

The web is such a dry place where it is very difficult to really connect with individuals. You could be exchanging emails with a person for years but one phone call and you feel that you know them. That’s because personality is so hard to communicate without real-time human contact.

Many of the sites mentioned here are impossible to forget. Some of you might want to forget some of the sites for whatever reason you may not “like” them but you’d have to agree that originality and innovation is something that they all possess.

Some people will say that an agency should only be judged on its work and not their own website and maybe that if the agency was so successful with their clients that they wouldn’t have the time to build such future thinking sites.

Well, that can apply in some cases but I’ll leave you with this scenario…

You are walking down a busy high street and you see a group of beautiful women, provocatively dressed handing out free bottles of water and plenty of smiles.

You get closer and one of them approaches you square on… you can’t side step her even if you want to…

She beams a smile and offers you a free bottle of water…

You want to marry her but accept the bottle and carry on walking with a grin and spring in your stride…

BTW, I forgot to mention that the guy handing out flyers in the grey suit wasn’t impressed when you brushed him out of the way.

About the author, Rob Ford
Founder & Principal, FWA

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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