by Rob Ford
Do you use two or more monitors? I was just settling in to write this edition of my column and found myself with writer's block. I realized I had my Microsoft Word file open on my right monitor, so I moved it to the left and my rambling thoughts started. This may sound like a crazy way to start a column, but you do have to wonder about the creative process and the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain.
Or maybe it was that free coffee sample I just used from a magazine. For centuries, artists have experimented with mind-altering substances, both legal and illegal. I'm sure that happens in the interactive world as well. My body is a temple these days, apart from my addiction to sugar, and that may be why the caffeine has had a big effect on me. Luckily, I selected the sites for this column last night when I was in a clearer state of mind.
Here are eight sites that should inspire and trigger some creative areas of your brain.
On July 20, 1969, a special event took place. My mother gave birth to me in Welwyn Garden City, England. At the time of my birth, nurses were otherwise engaged watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. Since then, I have always felt a special connection to the moon landing—and, needless to say, I was excited about its 40th anniversary.
When I was shown the official anniversary site, We Choose the Moon, I was taken aback. This site featured a real-time recreation of the mission itself and included round-the-clock audio transmissions, coupled with top-quality 3D animations that represented each step along the way. The way the site played out was quite unique. It was like history repeating itself. Luckily at FWA, we have a strong team of more than 30 daily judges who voted We Choose the Moon the site of the month, so my personal relationship with this historical event was not a factor in the accolades it received from FWA.
The uniqueness of the site is effectively lost now that the real-time playback event has passed, but you can still explore and enjoy the site.
Site by Odopod
Ready to get sketchin'? In simple terms, this site gives you the chance to show off your artistic drawing skills on your very own digital canvas. Your sketch is recorded so you can replay how it was created when you are finished. The application itself is truly impressive, but what makes this site a standout is the amazing quality of sketches on display.
The site loads as a gallery and displays featured sketches on the front page, with recent sketches further down. On your first visit, I advise you to click some of the featured sketches and watch them appear before your eyes. As I am writing this, I am looking at some of the featured sketches on my left monitor (yes, I switched back to writing on my right monitor) and I am amazed at the quality. Just click something and watch how it was created. Brilliant creativity abounds.
Site by Less Rain
Many of you will remember the Red Bull Flugtag Flight Lab from last year, which was featured as a finalist for FWA's Site of the Year 2008. This could be seen as a follow-up to that site, but this time you're not flying. You're racing cars — but not ordinary cars. You draw your own car and then hurl it down a steep track with no power — just gravity and Red Bull.
I think this Soapbox Racer has taken the Flight Lab idea to another level. I find it easier to use and much easier to race the car. However, my flying skills in games have always been dreadful. (I remember a flying game on the Amiga where you had to pass a test flight to continue in the game: I could never pass the test flight.) Have we started to take for granted the level of creativity in this type of site? Just try this one and consider while you are drawing your car how in-depth the code, planning, and even thinking must be to make an experience like this possible.
Site by BrandStudio
This is one of my favorite sites recently. Some may argue that it isn't even a website, but as far as I am concerned, if it has a URL it is a website. The idea is simple: Every five seconds, a new Toyota appears in front of you. What makes this simple idea so great is the gorgeous animations that happen before your eyes. This type of addictive experience is similar in a way to some of UNIQLO's sites, like the UNIQLOCK. However, this screensaver site stands on its own extremely well.
Sit back and watch, and don't get too addicted to the way the cars are animated into existence in front of you. Finally, I must add how important sound design is. This is a shining example because new sound effects come with each new car. Quality through and through.
To enjoy this original idea, you need a Twitter account. If you don't use Twitter, I'll give you a sample link shortly. The idea behind this site is to cast a spell over one of your Twitter friends or followers. Sign into the site using your Twitter account details. (It's a seamless and fast process, and with the backing of the Harry Potter franchise and Warner Brothers, I think we can say your privacy will be assured.)
Once you have signed in, you can select a potion. There are four to choose from, and you can preview each one. Once you have selected your potion, choose a message to go with it. Then choose the friend you wish to cast the spell on. Make sure you preview all four because they are really clever.
Here's a potion I just put together: "Check this out, it's simply magical: http://bit.ly/txlRa."
Site by The Upper Storey
We've all seen a thousand sites where you can upload your face and be a part of something. I think the first example of this type of idea was back in 2005 when the Wedding Crashers: Crash This Trailer site went live. This latest site for Intel is the best site of this type I have seen for some time because it enables you to star in your own TV commercial. What a clever idea to make you the subject of adoration and awe, which is something we all aspire to, even if we won't admit it.
One of the things that particularly impressed me with this site is the seamless YouTube integration. When you have finished shooting your video (which is the site's technical term for some encoding that goes on behind the scenes as your video is prepared), you are given a YouTube link as your video gets published, so it's easy to share with your friends and colleagues.
Just upload your face and you too can star in your own Intel commercial, just like me. You can check out my new Intel commercial at http://fit.am/0ft.
Site by Shine Advertising Co.
All hail the cheeseburger. While I am not a fast-food junkie anymore, I was quickly impressed with this site. It might seem simple, but it has a certain something about it that exudes quality and attention to detail. What we have here is a library of cheeseburgers, all of which are introduced verbally. As you quite literally flip through each one, I can almost guarantee you will start to get hungry. My mouth is watering right now.
This site is educational as well. After all, did you know there is a cheeseburger called the Mona Lisa? Look it up: it's number 20. Each slide includes the recipe to make each burger, too. This site is also impressively plugged into Facebook. One thing's for sure, it'll leave you hungry for more.
A great way to wind up this selection of sites is with a tribute to Michael Jackson. Of course, there have been a huge number of memorial and tribute sites created for the superstar, but this one is hands down the best and most creative. It also has the benefit of longevity. The name itself, Eternal Moonwalk, is so apt. The premise is simple: Upload a video of yourself doing an MJ moonwalk and add it to the site. Videos are stacked back to back so where one moonwalk ends another one begins.
The site is slick and works perfectly. You will come away realizing that MJ himself was one of the few people who could actually do the moonwalk. However, the often creative ways to moonwalk give this site tremendous character as well as that addictive quality that keeps you watching because no clip is longer than 10 seconds.
You will see all types of people, pets, and things doing the moonwalk. Heck, I even took time out to do a moonwalk with my dog, Sophie, which was added to the site. Watch Sophie's moonwalk, right after Michael himself.
This site has to be one of the biggest viral ideas of 2009. The stats went off the chart, and even searching on Twitter now — more than eight weeks later — you can find people posting it almost every minute. This site proves how a simple idea that's executed well and in a timely fashion can take the web by storm.
So, the caffeine has worn off and some of you may have noticed the change in my writing style earlier when I switched back to my right monitor. Again, it may sound crazy to some, but I do feel the creative process is about coming up with ideas first (the left monitor) and then executing those ideas (the right monitor). When an idea comes in the blink of an eye, that idea needs harnessing and structuring so that it doesn't get out of control. Once you get into your groove (the right monitor), completing the task — which for me was writing this column — is a simple process.
The creative process is, in my opinion, about accessing the creative part of your mind first (the subconscious) and then using the conscious part to get the job done. Or, in simpler terms, get two monitors and try it for yourself.
Rob Ford founded The FWA Network in May 2000 and since then the network has received over 150 million visits. The FWA Network showcases projects that use cutting edge technology for desktop, mobile and offline, together with showcases for photography as well as video. Rob is also the author of three bestselling books of web and mobile. Check out The FWA Network.