Search and destroy

Forget search engines that never find what you want and websites that take ages to load. Check out the digital designers’ favourites.

Stumbling across an exceptionally well-designed website is a rare treat.

Despite the growing number of UK creatives working on Web design projects – new research from Nottingham- based Jupiter Design reveals an increase of 23 per cent since 1996 – we all know there is a lot of rubbish in cyberspace. Finding quality sites without tearing your hair out can prove to be a daunting task.

But a handful of Design Week’s top 20 digital design gurus have made this a touch easier and identified a scratch selection of the most ground-breaking, forward-thinking websites around. Here are just a few turning heads in the design world.

The best websites are usually designed specifically with the Internet in mind, says Steve Howell, creative director at design agency Rufus Leonard. To navigate the Web, he prefers the Google search engine (www.google.com). Unusually for a search engine, the design features a clean, predominantly white home page, with no banner ads and, importantly, it will leave you with your hair intact.

Howell whiles away the hours on the Lexus car site (www.Lexus.com). It is, he says, well-edited and the copy is witty, with more than a nod to Jeremy Clarkson: “Lexus.com – a place where exercise isn’t the only way to release endorphins.” It uses virtual imagery, allowing users to steer their way around the cars’ interiors and exteriors – the boot even opens and fills with skiing equipment.

Jeremy Spiller, managing director of agency Clockwork Web, says designers must design for their target audience but often take things too far. “Unfortunately, a website designed for accountants may not take as much care over design as a website focused on design itself,” he says.

He cites the much-lauded Mathmos lava lamp site (www.mathmos.co.uk) as an example of identifying an audience in its design. Here, colourful Yellow Submarine-meets-the-Teletubbies pop imagery, über-modern fonts and humour are put to excellent use.

Nikki Barton, creative director of Nykris Digital Design, notes how children’s sites such as www.childrensforest.co.uk are pushing the boundaries of design. Is this because our highly e-literate children are the fussiest consumers out there? “Quite possibly,” says Barton. “I love this site for the simplicity of the animation. It is already stretching the limits of today’s connection speeds.”

For sheer originality, few websites can compete with www.soulbath.com or Noodlebox (www.amaze.co.uk/noodlebox), as suggested by Tonic Design creative director Ranzie Anthony. Constantly confusing visitors with pastiches of website features – including an overcomplicated portal and a Java script warning box – and frequently faking crashes, Soulbath is interactive Web design at its most weird. Noodlebox, too, takes stylish minimalism to new, pared-down levels.

Anthony says sites of this experimental nature are not usually commercial or corporate, for obvious reasons, but successful sites in the future should marry forward-thinking design with usability. All the more reason for geeks to carry on surfing, and for the rest of us to keep a full head of hair.

Other sites worth a look are www.badboyonline.com, www.praystation.com, www.designerdock.de and www.derbauer.de, nominated by Digit creative director Daljit Singh.

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