Back in November I was selected for the judging panel of the Australian Web Awards. Puffy chest moment being up there with a rather stellar panel - big names, web-industry celebs and esteemed web pros.

We'd entered the awards a few times in the past with some success, but hadn't entered 2016 due to the big schedule we'd had for the year.

There's a rigorous criteria in the User Interface (UI) Design and User Experience (UX) design category. I was set about 50 websites to evaluate. We judged on desktop, tablet and mobile, checking against what the entrant thought were the highlights of the website. It took forever!

What came to light was the biggest win of being judge. We're always looking learning, but others work you critique gives you insight to your own work. Sometimes painfully.

A few things that I noticed....

Variation of structure

There's a very wide range of styles for designing a website's elements, but those are elements - typography, colour, imagery, etc. Importantly, there's a more rigid underlying structure that would constitute a 'usable' website. That includes things like:

  • how you access navigation
  • hierarchy of messaging
  • calls to action points
  • how much text goes in a block of content
  • list-and detail relationships
  • interactions and animation
  • and etc

These things really stem from the nineties and noughties strive for web standards - which the Kindlefolk have always championed. While it depends on the website's usability focus, AND while there's been evolution through javascript and css, grid frameworks and device adoption; it's hard to see a case where that underlying structure can be broken without adverse affects to the user.

Regardless, the entrants I judged showed a wide range of interpretation to varying degrees of success. Some that tended towards traditional methods, and some that pushed the boundaries. 

You can make a good looking and working website in both ways, with all the grey's inbetween. But the true winners here were the site's that put the website's objectives and content first. It was glaringly obvious where the functional and content-objectives were either pre-conceived or pushed like a square big into a Wordpress theme.

It;'s a good reason to custom-build websites - get the strategy right first.

Variation in quality

There's a lot of aspects that go into building a website with a client's budget, and so this isn't a criticism so much as an observation.

One thing that's clear, is that many of the website's that I judged weren't very good representations of the top-tier of website design, or weren't locked down enough to make sure they weren't ruined by their owners!!

It's disquieting to see quite large and well renowned web agencies entering quite poorly designed websites into awards. Budget-aside, I think there's a responsibility to produce quality and a responsibility to guide the customer, push back where necessary, and deliver quality even if it costs a bit more (time for the agency or money for the client). Nobody wins if it's a crap website.

We see quality drop a lot with some CMS platforms where there's a lot of options to hang yourself. Keeping a web agency on retainer isn't always possible for budget-reasons, but if that agency puts measures in place to promote and retain the integrity of website styling, data display, device variation etc then it's a lot easier to see a website having longevity.

Kindleman use a set of tools and building blocks that help us with making websites that promote longevity. While (honestly) this sometimes costs a little more it comes back over years. Read now about Our Process and Things we do to make your project better. I'll elaborate on longevity in another post.

What else?

I noticed a lot of websites were rejigged bought Wordpress themes. Most agencies do this at least sometimes to save cost to client, but it's a discussion before starting. It's not something you can really sell as completely your own work, so judging them felt somewhat phoney. (For clarity, I judged them on their end merit). It's a grey area I'd like to clarify for next year.

On the whole, the level of submission was very varied. I think the top tier stuff was excellent and innovative, from a very extensive custom CMS, to online analysis and tools, big data projects, business marketing and government information websites.

Great stuff Australia (mostly). 

Think I might get working on some entries for next year.