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2006 Create: Awards for Excellence in Australian Design

    Matthew Magain

    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!