Creative Fuel: The Webbys Win Over 'Net Designers
Every year, after the groundhog gives us his opinion of the season to come, it's time for awards and awards shows. Maybe it's a sign of 21st century living, but for me the Academy Awards are more a sign that spring is near than the crocuses in the front yard. This year, as I watched the film version of a decades-old fantasy book win almost every award, I found myself wondering why we in the graphic arts don't do more to showcase our best work.
Feeling inspired by the Oscars, I have sought for, and found, a number of the most respected and innovative of awards programs for our industry. In this, and columns to come, I will tell you about some of the programs and talk with some of the award winners. I urge you to take the time to visit the Web sites for these various awards; creative fuel is difficult to manufacture alone, and we all run low on internal resources from time to time.
The Origins of the Webbys
Almost a decade ago filmmaker and print designer Tiffany Shlain launched The Webby Awards and a few years later founded the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, an international non-profit organization dedicated to the advancing the Web as a digital medium. The Webbys, which Time has dubbed as the online Oscars, recognize excellence in technology and creativity in Web sites of all kinds. Nominations are announced in April and winners recognized in June.
Recently I talked with Shlain, who is now Creative Director at the Academy, and Maya Draisin, Executive Director, about the awards.
creativepro.com: The Webbys have be around a long time. Are they still relevant today?
Tiffany Shlain and Maya Draisin: Interest in the Webbys, and enthusiasm for the Web, is only growing. Every year, we receive thousands of entries and every year they come from a wider range of countries. Last year, we received entries from 36 countries, including Brazil, Vietnam, Slovenia, and Poland and 42 states.
cp.com: When the Webbys first started, the awards were given out at a big awards event on the West Coast. Now, though, the announcements are made online only. How has this change affected the contest?
TS and MD: Actually, last year's event included more people around the world than ever before. There was an online presentation of the awards, but 190 local parties were held in from Paris to Cleveland. . . with an estimated attendance of 17,000 guests celebrating the winners.
cp.com: Tell me about the nomination and awards process.
TS and MD: The Webby Award nominees and winners are selected by members of the Academy from the sites entered through the call for entries and sites encountered by the judges. Evaluated against six criteria, sites undergo a rigorous six-month, three-tiered process and all voting is tabulated by PricewaterhouseCoopers to insure fairness and accuracy.
cp.com: A three-tier process -- that sounds thorough, but does that mean each site is seen by the judges?
TS and MD: Thousands of sites are submitted for nomination, and in the first tier of the process, site reviewers (Internet professionals who have demonstrated familiarity with Web site design) examine each site and rate the site on the basis of six criteria. The criteria are: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. The reviewers create a short list of sites for the five judges to review.
In the second tier, the five judges (new media and technology journalists, editors, Web developers, and other Internet professionals who possess comprehensive knowledge of the range of sites that fall within their area of expertise) review the sites and draw up a list of nominations in each category. There are five nominations in each category, and there are 30 categories, including print and zines, health, education, government and law, and commerce.
Finally, the list of nominations is released and each Academy member votes for one of the five nominees in each category. The votes are tallied and the winners announced online.
cp.com: Why did you create the Webby Awards?
TS and MD: When they started, the Web was really a fringe medium and it was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the best of what was around. We were able to set a standard of excellence online, which helped to push the industry forward.
cp.com: What are the most important elements of Web design, as compared to print design?
TS and MD: The most important elements of Web design are interaction, structure, and navigation, as opposed to visual design in print. While visual design is important, the Web is ultimately a more functional medium; it's important to make things easier, faster, and more engaging for the users.
cp.com: What can print-only designers do to learn to design more efficiently online?
TS and MD: They should study sites they think are great, and ask questions about why they make an impression. Can people find what they need quickly and easily? Does the site help you do things that you can't do other places? We suggest you start by looking at all of the Webby Award winners.
cp.com: What kind of a future do you see for designers? Will they be asked to do print and online more often?
TS and MD: Print and online design will merge more in the future. Designers will be required to understand how each medium works and will need to know when and how to use them both appropriately.
cp.com: Do you know of any Webby Award-winning designers who also work in print?
TS and MD: Sure. . . most of the best designers work in print, because almost everyone has a traditional design background.
cp.com: Does the Academy sponsor any other awards?
TS and MD: We have the People's Voice Awards, an annual awards program in which the winners are selected by online votes from the same list of five nominees per category used for the Webby Awards. Also, we recently started The Webby Business Awards in order to recognize the best in companies using the Web as an effective business tool.
Read about Molly W. Joss.
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