Website of the Year will be sailing into port again soon thanks to another liquid smooth collaboration, this time with WONDR from Dublin, Ireland. WOTY is world famous for shining a light on the best work in the industry via a new showcase site each year and was the first open-collaboration project of its kind. Combined with CSSDA's unique 100% transparent voting system, WOTY personifies ethics and celebrates the true spirit of positive competition.
Each year a new creative force steps up to the plate to collaborate and each year we are amazed by the creativity and skills displayed. This year we sailed off with the crew at WONDR and are happy to share some insights about the 2018 WOTY showcase site titled "Coral". Coral is the perfect setting for WOTY 2018 and was inspired by the biggest trend of the year - water effects. Our guests on this voyage with WONDR are Dermot O'Shea (DKOS) and Oisin Hurst (OH).
Lets start with a quick introduction. Who is WONDR?
DKOS: WONDR was founded 4 years ago in Dublin, Ireland. The studio is led by myself with support from a strong team, some of whom worked on the WOTY project (Oisin Hurst - Creative Director, Peter Delaney - Product Manager, Clement Grellier - Creative Front End Developer).
WONDR is a very cool name, what was the inspiration behind it?
We took inspiration for our name, WONDR, from the Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. In this book there are 2 tales which imply a similar meaning. In this story, the word 'undr' is used. We loved the meaning of wonderment it implied.
When you visit our studio just off Grafton St in Dublin you'll find we have names and references from this book throughout the building and a picture of the man himself in our boardroom. We previously had a shop that had a picture of the Jorge in the window, we did get a lot of curious tourists asking how a picture Jorge Borges ended up in our shop window, so it's always a nice story to share. In the next main update of our own site, we hope to tell this story in a much richer format to honour his great work.
What did it feel like being chosen as the official 2018 collaborator for WOTY?
DKOS: Firstly I had to check it was real 😀 because I was also getting emails from the Yahoo Boys about being selected for a casino prize! I had a good chat with one of the CSSDA Founders and it was fun to discuss and share projects we both knew and respected. It was also nice to hear positive feedback about our brand and work so we were happy to collaborate. The project was a unique one as each year the best work in the world is featured, so it was a honour to be asked to help create a sense of occasion around this.
OH: Intimidating and exciting.
WOTY has seen some awesome showcase sites over the years. Did you feel the weight of this challenge in any way?
OH: Yes and no. Obviously it was there, but there is a great quote I heard recently, 'comparison is the thief of joy'. You try to creative something you believe in, hope your standards are high and focus on the task at hand.
DKOS: For sure we felt the responsibility, eyes from all over the world will be on this when it launches and it's got our name on it. There will be keyboard warriors out there to prove a point but there should also be plenty of people who enjoy the idea and appreciate our approach. Either way people will appreciate the work that is featured, it's been another really strong year for digital design on the web.
What positive outcomes do you see resulting from open collaborations such as WOTY?
DKOS: Well for us as a studio it's great to be contributing to the community and helping to showcase the best work in the world. It also gives us a chance to step back and revisit some of our favourite projects from the year. I'm a judge so I've voted on a fair few of them and it will be interesting to see which site comes out on top in the end. I'm blown away by the effort and dedication teams give to make these projects a reality.
It’s also great to be representing Ireland's 🇮🇪 digital design community and being part of this bigger global story.
The WOTY brief had a subtle mention of water effects being a big trend. From this you created an entire underwater world theme. Can you share the inspiration and steps involved?
OH: Coming from a creative strategy background my first impulse is always to look at the brand's positioning and proposition. In essence looking to identify what makes a brand compelling and then translate that into a visual concept and a wider digital experience.
Two aspects of the CSS Design Awards stood out to us; firstly the sense of community. At its heart it is a collective of incredible talent, a community of judges, nominees, winners and visitors. Secondly we really connected with the amazing cyclical journey of inspiration that the brand has created. Everything showcased on the website in turn inspires the next iteration of web design. When you think of it like that, you see CSS Design Awards as a living habitat, hence our concept of a creative coral, a neon island of creativity floating in a vast digital environment.
From there we started by looking at the typography. I love playing with letterforms and bringing them to life through motion. For a time we even considered a type-only solution with an array of typographic treatments and animations. But in the end although the typography was intriguing, we felt it was oddly cold. So we decided to kill our darlings and move closer to the original concept.
We created our 3D hero coral by dressing it with neon plant life and lighting it with hues of pink and cyan. We also created a range of secondary corals, the trophy, crystals and our jellyfish (named Squee). Finally we took some of the typographic learnings from our initial creative research into our final typography.
We then took these assets and we worked closely to bring everything to life in browser. We wanted to reinforce the community aspect of the experience, so we created a range of shareable assets for the wider CSS Design Awards community.
Our final trick was in the footer. When a visitor scrolls down to the base of each page, they break the water's surface and discover that the entire experience is actually upside-down.
Did you face any up-stream battles during the project or did it go swimmingly?
OH: A lot of time was spent crafting an underwater world through behaviours, animation, motion and styling. And of course some sacrifices were made to the God of Performance. In the end everything harmonised nicely.
What is your favorite part of the WOTY 2018 site now that it is complete?
OH: It's hard to say. I think I'm a typical creative in that once I've finished a project I swing from loving it to hating it at any given moment.
DKOS: I love the main coral graphic as it worked so well across other applications and I think it would look great as a big poster with spot varnish finish. We might go old school and print this as well :)
Tell us more about you guys. Can you talk us through a typical day at WONDR?
DKOS: So most of your day is based on collaboration both as a studio and with client teams. We're based in the heart of Dublin just off Grafton Street so it's a great area to work from and to invite people to. We're in Dublin's creative district so the vibe is good. We have a great view out the window onto Wicklow Street, so we're always on the look out for different well known people walking by, on any chosen day you can see pop stars, well known UFC fighters and all sorts.
Our day is probably typical to other studios, we usually give everyone a chance to wake up, with coffee or whiskey depending on their night before, in our kitchen called Uppsala. Then it's team stand up to share progress and actions for the day. Then we set about our project tasks and we do stand downs.
We've invested recently in renovating a building to create more spaces to relax and also more spaces to collaborate to this has really added to the team spirit we have been building here.
What was your most successful project to date and why?
OH: The next one.
Producing award-winning work consistently is not an easy task, what are the secrets of your success?
OH: A belief that everything matters.
DKOS: Everyone says hard work, but you needs the skills + the mindset + the hard work to create the beautiful experiences you see on WOTY. A lot of these projects would have had a lot of hours put into them, more often than not well beyond what the client's budget for the project would have allowed for. When you're a smaller studio you can do this and be free to add more expression to projects as you see fit.
How is the digital scene in Dublin & Ireland as a whole? Is it keeping pace with other regions and are there any challenges to overcome?
In Ireland there are a small pocket of independent studios with all the others being large network agencies. I had worked in some of these networks, so I had learned a lot about the front they create, how they do collaborations between departments and other offices that often don't meet expectations.
When we were building WONDR I was keen we did not repeat this and really embraced collaboration.
We've worked hard to develop a culture here where everyone is together, where everyone is open to collaborate with everyone else. There are no departments. There are no client service people. Designers and makers together collaborating directly with clients. There will be agency owners out there cynical of this but we've worked hard to find this balance and have been open to introduce all types of techniques, some borrowed from brand agencies, some from product companies, some from clients... all to build a methodology for all of this.
Anyone who joins WONDR, I always tell them we will have evolved again in 6 months time and need your help to do this. This constant openness for change is what drives us on and we've still along way to go.
Your work inspires others, who inspires you?
OH: CSS Design Awards obviously, but also creativity and innovation from well beyond digital. Fashion designers, product designers, artists, cinematographers, inventors, writers. The further you look the more you see.
DKOS: Well I gave an interview recently on this and both Oisin and I have been around since Macromedia Freehand, Director and the evolution to Flash. I suppose the agency that really connected with me around this time was the North Kingdom. Their work from that area was very inspiring.
Today there are so many agencies, most of whom are French based, that we admire. To avoid looking biased about sites which may be by some of these people I won't mention the names.
There's so much beautiful work coming out of Japan at the moment that is really making me sit up and study what they're doing. I love it. It's all thanks to sites like CSS Design Awards that I even get to see these projects and reach out to those who made them.
Describe WONDR ten years from now.
OH: Still true to ourselves.
DKOS: Probably more grey around the ears. Hopefully less around the waist. I really need to cut back on my chocolate consumption!
On behalf of the crew, the judges, design & dev community, and all visitors soon to hit the WOTY site, we thank WONDR for their collaborative efforts and for taking the time to take us on a cruise through their world!