“For the last five years, we’ve been telling clients and creative teams not to make microsites; no one was visiting them,” said juror Winston Binch. “But HTML5 and open web technologies like WebGL have changed that. The microsite is back. With it, we’re seeing great examples of emotionally driven and socially connected interactive storytelling that works across devices.”
“Overall, I had an appreciation for storytelling elevated by rich, interactive experiences,” juror Ginny Golden said. “We’re not as limited on bandwidth as we used to be, so creators are realizing the full potential of the medium. Not only is the craft exceptional, but the performance holds true to the vision.”
“The lack of limits might be our most notable limitation,” juror Eric Karjaluoto countered. “In the early days of the web, type was bad, bandwidth was meager and screen resolution was restricted. Designers had to fight to make decent stuff. Now, we can no longer take refuge in the limits of our technology. Nor is it as easy to get away with ‘whiz-bangery.’ Instead, we’re forced to look at that blank page and make something that’s somehow good, useful and wonderful.”
Other highlights cited by our jurors:
“Some of the strongest mobile-first solutions were also the most creative,” juror Jon Jackson said. “Limited space restrictions make designing rich experiences for mobile devices daunting, but we saw entries making the most of the medium in a number of extremely creative ways.”
“There were some really fun and high-quality branded games among the entries,” Binch said. “They were hard to put down during judging. Remarkable game design is really difficult. But when you get it right, there’s almost nothing more powerful or effective.”
“It’s exciting to see some technology platforms becoming so seamlessly integrated into society that success is now defined by a project’s ability to employ these platforms effectively,” juror Tali Krakowsky said. “A project’s ability to infiltrate Twitter, Facebook or a Google search has become the new barometer for engagement.”
Along with the praise came a few disappointments.
“One of the things we witnessed over and over again was parallax scrolling on websites,” Jackson said. “The feature was not core to the concept, but instead added a bit of flare that in most cases distracted from the experience. For the sake of usability, I personally hope we’ll see far less of this trend in the future.”
“I would’ve loved to see more student work,” Golden said. “Where are you students? Show us what you’re working on and what gets you excited!”
“The weakest area that I consistently encountered in entries is the tendency to use a smart, interactive and intelligent medium to create single, long-format, linear narratives,” Krakowsky said. “The magic of digital is its ability to take us to an unpredictable place, to reveal information in as much depth as we dare to explore and to personalize itself based on our interests. Linear experiences, even when animated, make for missed opportunities.”
“The social categories were amongst the toughest to judge, as the work was decent and quite similar in nature,” Karjaluoto said. “It seems like we’ve approached a sort of social maturation, or plateau, at which point the innovation has paused. I think the next few years will be a sort of cooling period, in which many of us seek refuge from social media. We need spaces that screens aren’t always a part of, and perhaps every meal needn’t be posted on Instagram.”
I asked the jurors several questions about possible future directions in digital interactivity.
What business, cultural and social developments will alter the role of interactive media in the future?
“We need to quickly and more relentlessly look past interruptive formats and realize as an industry that we’re competing with culture, not just other brands, and get deeper into the value-creation business,” Binch said. “People don’t care what brands have to say. They want to be entertained and informed and for things to be easier. There’s no getting around the fact that media consumption habits and behaviors are dramatically shifting to mobile devices and YouTube stars, not TV screens and personalities. The future is here, and it’s mobile and social.”
“There is no online and offline world anymore,” Golden said. “The expectation is that we are all connected anytime, anywhere. That means we must design the right experience for the right device, seamlessly and purposefully.”
“Designers are going to have to think more in terms of systems than individual implementations,” Karjaluoto said. “Instead of creating one really great mobile app, designers will need to put more effort into determining an overarching system that can adapt from one platform to the next. Part of this will involve technology selection, but it also extends to visual systems and content strategy—in order to best deploy and repurpose content for relevant devices.”
Which emerging technologies will most impact interactive media?
“The launch of the Apple Watch will make 2015 the year of wearables,” Jackson said. “Consumers’ digital interactions will become less conscious and more automated, enabling a greater overlap between physical and digital experiences.”
“Wearable computing has the potential to impact everything,” Krakowsky added. “Once the social and financial benefits of this new digital world become more evident, we’ll see an even more dramatic resurgence in research and development around this field.”
What breakthroughs will be required for wearable tech to become widely accepted?
“Similar to what happened to mobile when the smartphone emerged, everything will change when wearable tech can do more than just one thing well,” Binch said. “Most wearable tech is still not all that intelligent. The smartwatch may have the potential to bring wearable tech to the masses.”
“We just need to see a use case that makes sense,” Karjaluoto added. “Most people didn’t understand that they needed a smartphone until they saw how useful it was to have web access everywhere, maps everywhere, a camera that’s always with you and the ability to track sports activities. Once we understood how these things could improve our lives, we adopted them en masse. This will happen with wearables, too. That said, we need time to see these shift from being just neat new toys to devices that actually improve our lives.”
I would like to extend our grateful appreciation to our jurors for their conscientious efforts in selecting our 21st Interactive Annual. Selection for this year’s annual required a minimum of three out of five votes. Judges were not permitted to vote on projects with which they were directly involved; I voted in their stead.—Patrick Coyne ca