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2015 Webby Award Winners: Going Beyond Consumer Brands

When it comes to noteworthy design and innovative functionality, consumer brands usually get the most recognition. Luckily, The Webby Awards, the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet, categorizes its web submissions so that nonprofit organizations aren’t competing directly with the Volkswagens and Samsungs of the world.

In choosing winners, the Webby committee judges websites on the following merits: content, structure & navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. In 2015, the Webbys honored superior web achievements in over 60 categories.

Here, we examine winners in four categories that go beyond the consumer brand: Education, Nonprofits, Associations, and Activism.

2015 Education Winner


Infoguide: The Sunni-Shia Divide
Council on Foreign Relations

When designing this Infoguide about the Sunni-Shia Divide in the Middle East, the Council on Foreign Relations was faced with a challenge: somber, academic subject matter and a ton of it.

They deployed multiple tactics to divide and present the content, most of which were very successful. The result is a digestible and navigable reading experience.

What We Love:

  • Use of infographics to highlight important information and break up content sections.

  • Interactive Visuals. Upon closer inspection, graphical section breaks include an interactive timeline and map in which the user can customize their exploration of the content.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Fixed top navigation. We found the fixed menu a bit distracting for such a long-form piece, but acknowledge the importance of keeping the dense content navigable. We might suggest a ‘hide on scroll down, show on scroll up’ approach, or making the navigation accessible through a button like on many mobile sites.

Also Noteworthy:

  • The site is built using Angular JS and utilizes tools like Timeline JS for the interactive elements.



2015 Nonprofits Winner


More than a Costume Ebola Campaign landing page
Doctors of the World

There is a growing movement in the web design community toward a clean and simple aesthetic. Not necessarily toward sparseness – although without great care that could easily be the result – but rather the stripping away of information and design elements that could be considered extraneous. This site does just that, leaving the user with a clear, uncluttered journey.

Created as a piece of the integrated More than a Costume campaign, this donation site was built to give potential donors an easy portal through which to donate to Doctors of the World’s efforts to combat the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.

What We Love:

  • Clean Design. As mentioned above mentioned, this site is an excellent example of a pared down approach to design.
  • Easy Donation Interface. Donations are powered by Stripe.js – It’s simple, easy to set up, and appears seamless and straightforward when integrated.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Kick the story up a notch. Simple design can let copy and calls to action really sing. As straightforward as the campaign is, we might have provided a bit more explanation and urgency to the narrative. This could have included an introduction to the cause and an appeal to donate.

Also Noteworthy:

  • The site uses Foundation, a very advanced and complex responsive front-end framework, which is a bit surprising due to the simplicity of the content and the one-page layout.


2015 Association Winner


Visit California
California Travel & Tourism Commission

For 2015, the California Travel & Tourism Commission set out to create a digital home for their “Dream Big” brand marketing platform.

Created in Drupal, the site emphasizes beautiful photography and conveys a light, airy feel – an excellent fit for the subject matter. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the top navigation style. The site was almost certainly designed mobile/tablet first, and the designers made the bold choice of keeping a mobile-style navigation even on the desktop version.

What We Love:

  • Interesting Functionality. The only content featured in the top nav is an interactive California map. Clicking a region unveils background information and clickable content.


  • User Experience on Mobile & Tablet. Designed with these users in mind, the site is suitable and intuitive on smaller devices.


What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • The mobile-style navigation is slightly problematic here. The navigation is both the gateway to the content and the only way for the user to filter what otherwise feels like an infinite scroll of information. It would have been beneficial to customize the navigation for desktop users.

Also Noteworthy:


2015 Activism Winner


Last Days’ End Ivory Funded Terrorism campaign page

When Oscar-Winning director Kathryn Bigelow partnered with WildAid to create a short animated film exposing the connection between elephant poaching and terrorism, they also decided to create an online home for the campaign.

What We Love:

  • It’s all about the art. This site relies heavily on the visual to do the talking. The hero area features clips from the film, and the motif (which manages to strike the very difficult balance of somber, but not depressing) is carried consistently throughout the site.
  • The Story. Kept crisp and persuasive, the copy informs and complements the video.

What We Might Have Done Differently:

  • Organize the Calls to Action. After digesting the information and enjoying the beautiful art, there are a whopping six ways for a user to take action. Presented in a tile format near the bottom of the page, the result is slightly overwhelming. We might have prioritized or focused this section to give the casual user a bit of direction.


Also Noteworthy:

  • No CMS. The site appears to have been created without using a Content Management System. For one-off sites with only a few pages, it’s sometimes easier to do away with the CMS.


Learning from the Best: Key Takeaways

Nonprofit, education, activism, and associations can be tricky subject matter to translate to web. Design, UX, and programming need to be customized to address industry-specific challenges such as long-form content, serious subject matter, potentially limited budget, creative restrictions, and more.

But these challenges also provide ample opportunity for deploying of-the-moment trends to great effect. Here’s some learnings from this batch of Webby winners:

  • Simplicity is good but don’t go overboard. Make sure your content is accessible and your story is being told.
  • Unsurprisingly, excellent artwork will turn heads. But exercising restraint, giving it a branded and uncluttered home in which to shine is just as important.
  • If you have a ton of content, break it up and allow the user to easily filter through it.
  • Interactive tools, from the most simple to the most complex, can be utilized to keep the user engaged and attentive.

With the right strategy, a website in any industry can be beautiful, functional, and intuitive. If your curiosity has been piqued, have a look at the Webby winners in other categories here.


NBCNEWS.com Succumbs to the Grid

When the Mashable site was redesigned into the now familiar grid layout, I wrote a blog post bellyaching about the infinite scroll, various usability issues and somehow Jakob Nielsen. I’m still not a big fan of the grid approach to website design because it’s not design, it’s the process of dumping content into boxes that descend like fish food over time to the bottom of the page and I find that solution lacking creativity. Mashable does the grid better than most because they follow basic principles of usability and the content is presented with as much care as possible given the constraints of the layout. There is actual white space between content blocks and the text is always readable in its low contrast, smart presentation. It may not be a web designer’s favorite arrangement but it works serviceably and I never rolled back my enthusiasm for the site content when they made this switch.

NBCNEWS.com has made incremental design improvements over the last few years but hasn’t committed to a redesign for as long as I can remember. A full redesign is in place now and it’s a hefty one.

The grid is in place and the usability is out the window. As much as none of us liked that last sentence, we are appreciating this new homepage even less. The good news is the infinite scroll that some users (Me. I’m talking about me.) disliked is not part of this redesign. Also not part of this redesign unfortunately is any white space between stories, ads or my gigantic personalized weather. The only break my eye gets is where the TODAY show promo is involved (tagline: Rise To Shine. Someone wrote that). The content and in particular the photography on the site is more often than not compelling but lost in a sea of cropped boxes, garish contrasts and text overlays. The site feels as though it belongs on a bigger canvas. With some room to spread out the content would get the presentation it deserved.


Where Mashable pays close attention to readability, contrast, fonts, eye-strain and the basics of the user experience NBCNEWS came up with this slap in the puss…


When a user clicks through to the article, things ease up of course, but in a lumbering, unfinished manner. The sub level pages look like a beta launch to me. The text is laid out in a lifeless manner. The call-outs are unpolished. The sidebar ads are sized/placed clumsily.


Navigation on NBCNEWS.com is plentiful. A click on the menu icon opens a nearly full screen of options which is weird but understandable given what they’re trying to accomplish here. The fact that the options look almost identical is a problem for me. Sections, Top Storylines, Featured News, local options are all treated the same and could use some variation.


I’m a firm believer in the iterative design process and I have no doubt that the team behind this redesign will be making adjustments as they go to improve usability. However, like I apparently did at our Christmas party last year, the grid layout is likely going to overstay its welcome if it hasn’t already and for web designers that’s not great news.


Yahoo! And the Art of Branding Gibberish

As I’ve mentioned more than once, designing logos is an awful way to spend your time. There’s no hiding. You’re out there in front of the client with your brilliant idea on a white sheet of paper as the marketing director and his recent and eager grads wait to ask probing and pointed questions about things they read concerning logo development last night.

I’ve always thought the best way to solve the logo question was to get an honest and trustworthy designer to provide a handful of strong concepts, let he or she present them without interruption and choose one. I’m in the minority with this approach and I know it. Creative types like to let other creative types do their jobs and be left alone. We also would take 6 months to design those logo ideas if you let us, so I understand why I’m in the minority on this. Even so, the more isn’t the merrier in these cases.

Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer unveiled the new Yahoo! logo yesterday with more explanation than I thought we might get. Or deserved. Or wanted, really. We also were treated to a really well produced quick video of the creative process, although I believe it’s just an after the fact marketing fluff piece. Cool though.


The new logo is an updated version of the old logo, not a redesign. It’s a good upgrade and needed I suppose after (Google tells me, let’s see…) 18 years. It is beveled though and that’s just weird. Marissa calls it chiseled, but it’s beveled to anyone who’s familiar with Photoshop, which is just about 100% of Yahoo! users. The font bevel is the hard-drinking wingman of the font drop shadow, but Yahoo! didn’t take the bait and double down, thankfully.

Like all modern logo reveals, Yahoo! and Marissa had the uncomfortable job of explaining what we were seeing, because logos are art and art requires some deep background before commoners like us can understand it.
Some highlights include:

  • “We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo.  Straight lines don’t exist in the human form”
  • “We preferred letters that had thicker and thinner strokes – conveying the subjective and editorial nature of some of what we do.”
  • “tilt the exclamation point by 9 degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy”

She nailed it. Nothing says whimsy like an exact 9 degree tilt.

So that’s a pretty impressive load of hogwash, and it’s only a small sample of her creative vision. She included this phony little gem as well; as if it was discovered in some darkened conference room on a whiteboard next to other great ideas like talk to Jerry about hygiene issues and casual Friday does not mean you don’t come in.
So congratulations to Marissa Mayer, her new logo and the weekends she spent with her logo team. According to her it was “a ton of fun weighing every minute detail”. Logo team members have not been heard from.

Five Worst Sports Team Logos

Yesterday, Tom and I brought you our list of the best logos from the four major North American sports leagues.  Today, we bring you our list of the worst.

Before diving in, we would just make the point that the people who actually designed these logos are likely not to blame for the end product.  These logos reek of design by committee, where the best options were likely discarded and various concepts were merged.  No matter how talented a designer you are, it is nearly impossible to design something good for someone with bad taste.

5. Anaheim Ducks



Mistake Number One: In the spirit of “marketing synergy” you name your newly formed hockey team “The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim” after a Disney movie franchise starring  Emilio Estevez.

Mistake Number Two:  You somehow create a logo that is even more ridiculous than the team name.

Mistake Number Three:  In 2006 you finally decide to rebrand, but you inexplicably keep the “Ducks” name and create a logo that conveys absolutely nothing.


The palette here is an improvement. Gold is a big color in Florida. Every other Chrysler you see in Florida is gold (and is moving at 32 mph in the freeway passing lane). The biggest issue with this logo is the readability. Actually, no. It’s the duck foot. That’s a duck’s foot for the D.  How dare you.

4. Minnesota Wild



This one just sort of left me confused and angry.  I don’t get it at all.

Tom went to art school or whatever, so I’ll let him try to make sense of this one.


Let me help Todd and you with what you’re seeing here. A stream inside a forest with a shooting star under a full moon all inside a coyote skull. This has client interaction written all over it. Imagine the hateful creative meetings. The resentment. Sadly, the designer hanged himself minutes after approval.

3. Miami Marlins



I’m from San Antonio and have been a Spurs fan all my life.  Back in in 1989, the Spurs abandoned their bad ass black and white logo for a “fast breaking Fiesta version that supposedly represented San Antonio’s multicultural identity or whatever.  I immediately purchased a bunch of t-shirts and hats featuring the old branding and never bought a single piece of merchandise featuring the fiesta logo.  The Spurs finally killed the fiesta colors in 2002 for an updated take on the classic original logo.

The Marlins new logo reminds of those bleak “fast breaking fiesta” days for the Spurs.   If there were any Miami Marlin fans out there, I would feel sorry for them.

I actually think the logo itself might be ok if the palette was good.  But the palette isn’t good.  It really isn’t.


Todd’s heart-warming story of that festive Spurs logo falls by the wayside to this unfathomable acid-washed jean clothing label from 1985. Baseball logos on the whole are so much better than any other major sport. Where’s the baseball? Where’s the retro type face? Pitchers and catchers reported Monday. Grown men are wearing this Crockett and Tubbs-inspired disgrace right now as you’re reading this.

2. Vancouver Canucks




Nothing screams “Canuck” like an angry whale breaking out of a letter C that has apparently imprisoned him (her?) for years.  Damn you, letter C. I will have my revenge.

Wait.  What just happened?


Very angry, very tough and I’m guessing (but I don’t feel like googling) the whale is from some Canadian totem. This is pretty dismal as a logo and even as something you might recognize as a C. With that fin sticking down it’s an E. The most basic challenge of the assignment was missed.

1. Toronto Raptors



The Raptor is wearing basketball shoes that have special holes cut in them for its claws.


I remember when this nickname was conceived and at the time I figured it was in reaction to the popularity of the Jurassic Park movies. Not that this has anything to do with the logo, but naming your franchise after a monster no one had heard of before a movie came out is like naming your baby Nemo. Or Cloverfield. You will be mocked.

Everything went wrong here. Toronto running across the top of the mark looks tacked on and was highlighted with a silly, out of place triangle pattern. The Raptors font looks cheap and drawn sloppily in Adobe illustrator. The head of the raptor looks strong and should have been the only illustration within that black field, but fleshing out the dribbling figure was forced down someone’s throat and as Todd mentioned, those sneakers happened as well. This is really an unfortunate final product because although I think the name is ill-conceived, with a Raptor as your subject matter, there were some great possibilities to explore. I’m hoping for a much more impressive redesign sometime soon (I refused a movie coming soon joke here).

Five Best Pro Sports Logos

A few weeks ago the New Orleans Hornets underwent a rebranding, unveiling a new name (the Pelicans) and logo.   Given the catty nature of the Internet, it comes as no surprise that the logo had its share of critics.   I , for one, love the Pelicans logo as does our CCO Tom McCormick.  Tom wrote a post explaining why he thinks the design works.

The conversation about the Pelicans rebranding got Tom and I thinking about which of the major U.S. pro teams had the best and worst logos.   Following is our list of the five best logos from the NBA, MLB (AL and NL), NFL and NHL, along with witty and insightful comments from Tom and I. The list of the worst will follow later in the week (Update: our post featuring the worst logos is up.

5. Detroit Pistons



If you look through all the NBA logos, you’ll see the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit PistonsLos Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers all have similar ball-centric logo layouts.  They are all good, but the Pistons logo is the best of the genre.  I love the colors, typography and relative simplicity.  This updated version of the classic Pistons logo is a huge improvement over the weird horse thing they had going on from 1996 to 2005


I don’t really know what a piston is. If the mechanic tells me I need some type of piston replacement or maintenance or something, I will nod my head and say, “yeah, I assumed that was the issue, but I don’t have a lift so I need you boys to take it from here”. The mocking, as usual, would begin as I was just out of earshot.

awkward transition

What I like most about this logo is the clear nod back to the ABA. Big, bright and fun without having to play tough guy with some goofy, menacing mark. It’s not like this is the Paris Pistons. It’s Detroit. We know you’re tough.

4. Texans




When I started out reviewing the logos I never would have though the Houston Texans would make my top five.  The logo just wasn’t on my radar.  But the more I looked at this mark the more I appreciated it.  In addition to just sort of looking cool, as a Texas native I like how it evokes the horns from the University of Texas logo and the star from the Dallas Cowboys logo.  It nicely creates a new brand while tipping the hat to the long history of football in the state of Texas.


I’m sure Todd’s heart is fluttering at the horns here, and would love them in orange, but for me, it’s just a flat out perfect logo. Red, white and blue with a star is easy to screw up. I’ve done a ton of campaign logos to prove that, but here the colors are not traditional 4th of July, they’re a bit cooler. If I were some hillbilly from Texas and 25 years younger I could see this as a tattoo. Not on me of course. I was thinking Todd.

3. Nets



I love the shield concept for the logo and the use of black and white.  That is also a great font they are using.


The black and white is instantly cool and the font is right on the money. I was surprised when it came out, and even more surprised at the backlash it received. Weird, but expected these days.

2. Yankees



The Yankees are a bit confusing, as officially their logo is the ball/bat/hat thing that I don’t love.  This brilliant mark is  still used on their uniforms and caps so we’re counting it.  There is something really confident (arrogant?) about this logo, which is pretty much what the Yankee brand is about.


The weird N Y design was created in 1877 for a medal to be given by the New York City Police Department to Officer John McDowell, the first NYC policeman shot in the line of duty. That’s a pretty decent back story. The mark itself is the most iconic in sports. Simple. Immediate. Perfect.

1. Raiders




The branding here is so good that Oakland fans have devoted themselves to looking as depraved and frightening as the raider in their iconic logo.

As an aside, you think the Nets design team might have been a bit inspired by the Raiders?


Somehow this incredibly old school, macho, insanely cool logo hasn’t been upgraded ever, as far as I can tell. One of the few things Al Davis didn’t get his hands on.

Update: Check out our list of the worst logos.