2006 Create: Awards for Excellence in Australian Design

Matthew Magain
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The 2006 Create: Awards are on again, run by Desktop Magazine.

From the awards site:

Who’s the best Australian designer in 2006? Find out at the Desktop Create: Street Party, graphic design’s hottest party of the year! 7 category winners will secure $3000 each and one person will be crowned the winner by the end of the night, and will take away $8000!

Of particular interest is the fact that the two finalists in the website category represent a classic showdown: Flash vs. CSS. The pure-Flash brochure site for Elwood Jeans, complete with all its animation and in-your-face music, is up against Eric Fitzgerald’s clean, less showy portfolio site, which is built with web standards (it even validates XHTML 1.0 Strict!).

Niche Media, the folks behind the Create: Awards, have contacted me and informed me that Eric’s site in fact is not a short-listed site for the Create: Awards, as I incorrectly stated above. The three finalists are See for Elwood Jeans, the Tourism WA site and BMF, all of which are pure Flash sites. Apparently there were a few non-Flash entries but none of them made it into the final three. I’ll leave the link to Eric’s site and the surrounding commentary in place, because I still think it’s a site worth checking out.

Like many fashion sites, the elwoodjeans.com design is built entirely in Flash and is clearly an accomplished masterpiece from an artistic perspective. The colour and imagery are beautifully grungy, and the interface pushes the medium–it has that MTV “wow” factor, but unfortunately it fails spectacularly in the usability department. To begin with, there is no option for turning off the disastrously distracting soundtrack that assaults the user from the word go; the categories use labels that are unintuitive (“backstager?” huh?); it is unclear what areas are clickable; the content moves around the screen under the user’s nose; and the interface is cluttered, unclear and impossible to use.

Fitzgerald’s site on the other hand, is astonishingly simple. The fact that it degrades beautifully aside, the central-page structure allows his work to shine–as it should–and the subtle highlights give the site a real polish. While the site may not scream “look at me” visually, importantly it doesn’t get in the way of the user–a true accomplishment in design. After browsing through, it’s not long before you stop “seeing” the site and instead begin really admiring the enormous number of beautiful web, print and illustration projects that Eric has had a hand in.

My bias might sound a tad predictable, but to me the winner in this category is cut and dry. However, I do believe that this award is a real victory for web standards being recognized in the mainstream, regardless of the outcome. Traditionally the graphic design industry in Australia has almost had the view that ignoring web standards was “cool”, because Flash offers less restrictions on a designer’s creativity. Hopefully this year that myth will be dispelled in the context of what is appropriate for the medium.

Go take a look through some of the short-listed finalists in the other categories for a bit of inspiration. And if you’re in Melbourne, get along to the awards night on Friday the 25th of August (tickets are $95, bookings close August 18th). You can either book online or download the application form (PDF, 59KB) and fax it in.

If last year’s photos are anything to go by, it should be a good night!

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  • Dread_

    Theres nothing i hate more than flash sites. I really hate having to work out how to browse a website, i dispise music being played on a website and most of all i REALLY REALLY hate it when i cant view the site without a plugin.

  • patrikG

    Theres nothing i hate more than flash sites. I really hate having to work out how to browse a website, i dispise music being played on a website and most of all i REALLY REALLY hate it when i cant view the site without a plugin

    !

  • tayf

    Well I honestly don’t know what to say here.

    The Elwood site is bollocks, its that recycled aviators and tatoos shin dig with a terrible interface (I was frustrated in a record time for 5 seconds). Then we have a 1 page portfolio site (well ok, if you’re going to be picky – each portfolio item has a page too). I like it, it looks great, there’s nothing wrong with it, but giving a design award for another CSS porfolio site just seems like scraping the barrel to me?

    Are there no other contenders?

  • kungfukenny

    When it comes to adding that professional touch to flash sites, I always think that ‘Click to activate and use this control’ that springs up with the cool border effect around the flash really does it for me, ha ha ha.

  • JoeBlow

    These sites are garbage, along with this post. As if anyone would pay $95 to see these awards.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    I once saw a documentary where the doco makers captured monkeys by drilling holes in termite hills and allowing the monkeys to watch as they poked colored beads inside. When the men left, the monkeys, intrigued by the pretty colors, would make their way down to the hills and reach in to get the beads.

    However, as the holes were no bigger than their wrists, they weren’t able to remove their hand while it was closed around the beads, leaving them trapped. Obviously this left our curious monkeys screaming, panicky and bewildered as our doco makers nonchalantly wandered back to catch them.

    Using the Elwood site, I identified with those monkeys.

  • http://www.fruitysolutions.com philwilks

    There’s nothing like a well designed Flash site to blow away the competition ………. and Elwood Jeans is NOTHING like a well design Flash site!!!

    Corny but apt, me thinks.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    giving a design award for another CSS porfolio site just seems like scraping the barrel to me?

    It should probably be viewed in the context that this is an award being given by a graphic design magazine, not a web magazine. Concepts like semantic and accessible markup have been largely ignored by folks (either on purpose, like I mentioned, or out of ignorance) in this industry in Australia until now. It might sound sad, but the fact that there is a site built with standards even listed as a finalist is a step forward in terms of educating old-school designers about modern techniques.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Update: Niche Media, the folks behind the Create: Awards, have contacted me and informed me that Eric’s site in fact is not a short-listed site for the Create: Awards, as I incorrectly stated above. The three finalists are See for Elwood Jeans, the Tourism WA site and BMF, all of which are pure Flash sites. Apparently there were a few non-Flash entries but none of them made it into the final three. I’ll leave the link to Eric’s site and the surrounding commentary in place, because I still think it’s a site worth checking out.

  • anonymous

    any ideas who won?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    The Elwood Jeans site was the winner.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Y’know, this is the first time I’ve ever regretted not having access to one of those head-slapping animated emoticons.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Matthew.
    Do you (or anyone else) know who won the other categories? :-)

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    The winners are published in the September issue of Desktop magazine. I don’t know if they are planning on publishing the results on the awards site or not, maybe keep an eye out there.

  • Stephen

    Hi Matt, I think we met on the awards night, when SEE won the award for best “designed” website. You were most complementary towards the Elwood website on the night, so I was very interested when I came across your blog.

    I quite enjoyed reading the rants of your tarnished audience, so bitter at the Elwood website.

    I think the internet is a communication medium which is customisable to perform varying functions and displaying messages. It is much less about “educating old-school designers about modern techniques”, and more about achieving the communication objectives for the brand, tailoring the experience for the target audience.

    When working with brands like NAB, GSK, Yamaha, Sensis, and Vic Gov, we at SEE are constantly producing sites that use tableless CSS, are highly accessible with well developed and intuitive user interfaces. This is done because the content and the user experience require it, not just to be compliant (or to marvel at the site when viewed without page styles).

    However when designing a site for Elwood, the communication objectives are quite different. You and your readers seem to be criticising a site for which they have no understanding of the brand or the brief. Below is a very short extract of the client brief:

    The objective for creating http://www.elwoodjeans.com was to create an Elwood destination online, where the story and history of the brand was able to take focus, over and above the product itself. We wanted to create a place where Elwood devotees could discover the philosophy behind this great Australian ‘rock n roll’ denim company.

    This is clearly a destination website, it’s not transactional, it’s not content driven, it’s not even product focused. It is an experience-based site, where story was to be “discovered” by Elwood “devotees”.

    So to fully explain, it is a site where people who already love Elwood, (a demin company with it’s history routed in “Rock’n’Roll”) could visit to explore its story through images, animation and interaction.

    You guys need realise that every brand doesn’t need to adhere to the same guidelines. This site is very successful with it’s targeted audience, and quite frankly the fact your readers think it’s “bollocks” means we have probably done something right!

    But Matt you make a good point though, the Create awards are for excellence in design. Perhaps next year, instead of the create awards, SitePoint should consider being involved in awards more focused around accessibility and information design.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Hi Stephen. Thanks for chiming in, the discussion has indeed been very one-sided thus far, so I’m glad you’ve offered up some views in the site’s defence.

    Please be sure not to confuse comments posted by other readers of this blog with my own – I don’t represent the views of the readers of this blog. As I mentioned in my post, and to yourself on the night, I had a lot of good things to say about the Elwood Jeans site.

    However, as stated, I personally didn’t think it was very usable. To elaborate, I had real trouble navigating the site and finding anything; and when I did locate some information, the paragraph that I was in the middle of reading shot off-screen without any warning, and then disappeared when I returned to it. I was also amazed that there was no facility to turn off the soundtrack. These are not things that have any relation to whether I am a customer of Elwood Jeans.

    Good on SEE for pushing the boundaries with this interface – I applaud the attempt at exploring new ways of interacting with the Web, and the recognition that you’ve achieved with this award is confirmation of that. But these are issues that transcend the target market of a site; they have nothing to do with the business’s target audience. Art may be subjective, and design can be also. But there are some basic usability principles that are very black and white and have nothing to do with opinion or with a site’s target market.

    Sites like jkrowling.com go some way to dispel the myth that a site cannot be good-looking if it is made to be accessible or usable. They are not mutually exclusive criteria.

    You make note that the site is very successful with its target audience, because of the design. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind elaborating on how the success of the site is measured, and whether it was usability tested with any representatives from the target market? I would suggest that by addressing some of these issues it has the potential to be even more successful.

    I hope you find this feedback useful; congratulations on winning the award.

    Matt

  • Stephen

    Hi Matt, You can turn the audio off by hitting the stop button (next to the Elwood logo in the nav). Music is the corner stone of the elwood brand so it was important for the client that it be there, however the track is a 20 second sample which fades out, so not to continue to distract from the site.

    As for usability, I have not been able to replicate the issue of text shooting off the screen, nor did it show it self in testing or feedback from users. We have only had positive feedback in the enjoyment of exploring the picture map and discovering the fun connections between images and text.

    Thanks for your comments, clearly there is grey. But I’m sure we can agree to disagree.
    Stephen