Now what? Nick Jones on winning awards and judging the Webbys
On the eve of the 2014 Webby Award nominee announcement, McKinney Art Director Nick Jones reflects on this year’s juror experience, what winning awards means, and the Now what? feeling that so often follows a win.
The Webby Awards has been “honoring the best of the Web” for 18 years, and during the last two years, Nick helped choose the winners. When SPENT won a Webby in 2012 for the best game or app, he was asked to represent the agency as a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and, as such, is an automatic first-round Webby Award judge.
A couple months ago, Nick was sent links to about 30 websites and asked to rate each on content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity and overall experience. “When I’m judging,” explains Nick, “I can’t help but think of the people who made what I’m looking at — there may have been 100 people working on it for a year, and I’m giving it maybe a couple minutes.” Along with this awareness, Nick strives to overcome what he calls a cognitive bias. “When I see something made by someone who I know is good, my brain can take a shortcut and convince me that I don’t need to look too closely, because if they made this site too, it’s also good. I make my brain take the long route.”
To short-circuit the shortcut default, Nick approaches each site similarly. First, he resizes the browser window to see if the content responds. “If you designed a website in 2013 that you think deserves a Webby Award in 2014, it shouldn’t fall apart when resized,” explains Nick. He concedes that we weren’t even using the word “responsive” until 2012, and he did not test the sites he judged last year for responsiveness. “But now we expect everyone to be doing it and doing it well. The bar is being raised so quickly now,” he says.
He gives the example of the website that he and another McKinney team built for Urban Ministries of Durham, namesforchange.org, which the agency entered in this year’s Webby Awards. “We ran out of time to make a fully responsive site and ended up doing a separate mobile version so we could split the load between two developers. We’ll get dinged for that if somebody goes dragging the window willy-nilly the way I did. I was really disappointed that we weren’t able to do it in time. I suppose, the same way we notice our own flaws in others, I let it affect my judging.”
He then goes to a subpage. “The front page may be the best part of the website,” he explained. “If it’s beautiful, I want to see if they carried it through. Or, if the front page is the least interesting page on the site, I want to know that, too.”
While viewing photo galleries, Nick does things like hit the forward and back arrows on the keyboard to see if the developers took the extra time to make that work. Nick explains it like this: “When we were shopping for our first house, my dad taught me to check the little drawer in front of the kitchen sink. If it opens at all, even on a slant just wide enough to hold a few scouring pads, it means the builders cared enough to make that space useful, and it’s likely they put that sort of care into the rest of their work.”
Finally, if he hasn’t found it already, Nick looks for something special. “What is it about the website that made someone say, ‘I’m going pay money to enter this thing in the Webby Awards because it’s that good’?”
Entries that make it through the first round are then evaluated by Executive Members of the Academy, who cast final ballots. We’ll know who made the shortlist on Tuesday, April 8, when nominees are announced. Winners are announced on April 19.
Nick remembers winning his first Webby Award in 2012. “When I started at McKinney four years ago, I wanted to help make something that was an FWA Site of the Day winner. As a former Flash guy, that was the ultimate industry recognition. And we did! Three or four of them.” He said he thought it would be the pinnacle of his career, that he thought some lasting happiness was on the other side of an FWA. “And then we won another FWA Site of the Day, and I had a Now what? kind of feeling. There was a hollowness about winning that I wasn’t expecting.”
A Webby Award is different — some people call it the Oscars of the Web. But after the 2012 award ceremony in New York, where Nick and his wife celebrated with a group from McKinney and where he said his famous five words, he remembers that just days later he felt the same hollowness, the same struggle, the same, Now what? “Besides the award giving the project more attention, there’s no intrinsic value in winning it,” he says. “We seek validation from our peers, from our clients, from culture. So when the most prestigious body, the Webbys, validates what you do, you feel really good. For a little while.”
What Nick and other award winners at McKinney recognize and value is the lasting, prestigious impression awards like Webbys and Effies can leave with prospects. “People who don’t know how to judge your work on its own can look to the awards it won as proof of how good you are,” stresses Nick. “It makes a client or prospect not have to dig too hard to understand what you can offer them. They can take the mental shortcut we spoke about earlier.”
If Nick goes to the 18th annual Webby Award show on May 19 at The Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, he says he will do so with the wisdom of the Kung Fu Panda: “The secret ingredient is…nothing!” Joy is where you are right now, what you’re working on right now, who you’re building things with right now. “As a creator,” Nick insists, “you must focus on and enjoy the day-to-day joys of the process, not just those that come with winning awards.”