DX Award :: Dreamworks Records


Unlike past reviews, we would like to take a moment and editorialize about this Web thing we’re all in. One of the reasons why we do reviews is that it helps point the way to tomorrow. For this reason, we selected Dreamworks Records for this week’s award. It gives us all a peak at the revolution.  To even consider the full impact of this site, you have to leave behind your preconceived notions of where we are going with this Internet of ours. Brad Johnson and Julie Beeler of Second Story, always a top agency in our book, have yet again headed into the unknown. What is even more spectacular is that they did this some months ago, but we found ourselves struggling with even how to prepare this review, hence the delay in our award.


ARCHIVED DESIGN AWARD PAGE :: 1999 DX AWARDS

This page is republished for historical and archival reasons, highlighting the history of online design and the work of some of the many talented individuals who were instrumental in the early days of online media.


We are honored to select Dreamworks Records as this week’s recipient of the IPPA’s Award for Design Excellence.


Unlike past reviews, we would like to take a moment and editorialize about this Web thing we’re all in. One of the reasons why we do reviews is that it helps point the way to tomorrow. For this reason, we selected Dreamworks Records for this week’s award. It gives us all a peak at the revolution.

To even consider the full impact of this site, you have to leave behind your preconceived notions of where we are going with this Internet of ours. Brad Johnson and Julie Beeler of Second Story, always a top agency in our book, have yet again headed into the unknown. What is even more spectacular is that they did this some months ago, but we found ourselves struggling with even how to prepare this review, hence the delay in our award.

You can look at this site on two levels — think of it as entertainment and marketing online (which is what we usually do) or consider the site on a kind of meta level that pushes us forward as a digital culture. We could have prepared the first review in an hour, but to think about it the other way is far more engaging.

Take a deep breath and point your thoughts to the future. For a passing second, first consider for moment what it takes, design-wise, to put a marker down on the path of the digital revolution and to say, “here. this is tomorrow.” How many of us can do this?

Like it or not, design — not just technology — is leading this revolution. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many simultaneous databases and interfaces you can run, how many gigabytes transfer you can harness, or how cool your back-end programming is: when technology is perfect, it is invisible. Design, however, runs in the other direction — perfection is not simply seen and ignored, but visually heart-stopping. And without design, technology is a black hole, an uncultured mess that lives like a devil on the edge of emptiness. In this darkness (and not to be overly dramatic), design is hope.

Let’s look at Dreamworks Records. This is not just good design, it is visionary and close to pushing the limit beyond today. This site is the sort of thing that is way beyond the final nail in the coffin of those who say that anyone can design a site for the Web.

The DR design breaks through into the next generation of immersive motion, sound, and interaction. You feel as if you are straddling the world of TV media, the Web of yesterday, and the world of the CD-ROM. The design is powerful, yet simple; somehow not intrusive despite the high energy world of the music industry. Furthermore, it is not simply repackaged MTV music videos — for that, we can watch TV. DR is what it is — a digital website.

The design challenge at Dreamworks is that you are dealing with numerous artists and many individual CDs, each of which has its own identity, visual strategy, and color palette. Yet, the design seamlessly ties it together, leaving you with an interesting voyage of discovery. You may not know a single artist in the Dreamworks Records collection, but you will still love the site and you will probably spend the next two hours there.

WARNING:
This site may be hazardous to your schedule.

OK – stop. Let’s break here before the discussion digresses even further into the meta world of design, designers, and the future. Frankly, this is supposed to be a site review. So, let’s move on.

First up, let’s look at the graphics and layout. The strength of this design is that it is intuitive, clean, and direct. Sound, motion, and graphics are seamlessly integrated into a strong, positive presentation. If this site doesn’t move you, you are asleep at the keyboard.

The trademark talent of the staff at Second Story with color, light, shadow, and composition stands out. Most importantly, it holds together despite the wide diversity of music presented therein. Artists like Linda Davis must share space literally right next to the hard razor’s edge of groups like Buckcherry. To accomplish this with such grace and project a single cohesive site is nothing short of design excellence.

Second, let’s examine the underpinnings of the technology. The basic design solution at DreamWorks Records is to divide a dynamic window into FRAMEs, with the bottom containing a selection of CDs (their square dimensions are the key to the effectiveness of this strategy). You can scroll left and right with a set of arrow buttons, and by clicking on a CD you will display an artist’s mini-site in the main content FRAME above. And for each of the artists and CDs, the layouts are compelling, despite their formulaic approach.

There are some interesting and innovative items here. First, you will find that you can select a “default” sound format for your browser. You do it once at the beginning and never have to think again. RealAudio? MP3? WAV? Select your favored option.

As you move past the splash screen, a resolution setting sniffer offers a full-size site window to fit your screen. If you resize downward or upward, the “Resize Window” link at the top gives you a path to adjust your view.

The bottom line? Technology and design have merged through the medium of FLASH 3.0 to give you a glimpse at the future of sound and motion on the Web. It is not movement for movement’s sake (i.e., not just another cool trick or BLINK tag). The presentation is an experience that finally gives full meaning to the term multimedia. The use of sound is especially appropriate because it is a record company site that showcases its artists. Wisely, most sound files are not looped infinitely, rather they are used judiciously to give the user a taste and feel for the musical style of the artist. It is somewhat analogous to a movie preview.

The site is more heavily illustration-based than most, which lends itself to the animation occurring within the changing middle frame. Another standout of the site is its elegant use of all the latest Web technology: FLASH, mouseovers, image swaps, sound, motion, and animation. Most of today’s new era of designers have become entranced with the natural design tradition inherent in FLASH as a technology. Their direction is to create a chaos and a sort of deconstructionist hell. Conversely, the designers at Second Story built a solution that is never so overpowering and pointless — the site is FLASH-enhanced, not FLASH overbearing.

In the end, to not belabor the point, from the perspective of online design, this site takes us outward and into the future. If nothing else, Dreamworks Records provides us all with a peek at the next step in the visual vocabulary of the Web. And for this, once again, our virtual hat is off to Second Story for lighting the way.

   Scoring (10 is Maximum):
Graphics Design…….. 9.3
Programming………… 9.1
Content and Copy…… 9.2