The Browser: AKQA
Critiquing the Sites of Agencies That Design Them
Agencies have long claimed the best way to get to know them is through their work, an expressway to their souls. AKQA's Web site is all about the work - literally.
Upon arriving at the site, visitors land on one of ten or so pieces of client-y goodness: a Nike True City iPhone app, an interactive prequel to the film Sherlock Holmes, something involving Xbox, "a snow-themed spin on the increasingly popular music game genre," etc. From there, one can explore each of the campaigns by perusing video, screen-grabs and underwritten explano-blurbs ("Consistent and customizable: the holy grail of the global Web site... The swan inspired us. Pristine and elegant above the surface, hard at work below...").
It's a smart approach in theory. Nobody needs to learn where agency partners went to grad school or watch interns' video diaries. But in practice, the AKQA site renders the firm invisible, a disembodied voice dryly relaying that its every thought, program and utterance "captures the imagination." For a self-promotional entity, the site is too subtle. AKQA doesn't have to lean on the horn for 45 seconds, but a few quick toots couldn't hurt.
I'd applaud AKQA for its brevity if it weren't for the duh-speak in the featured client work. From the "Fiat Eco:Drive" program: "Fiat cars produce the lowest co2 emissions in the market. It's the kind of fact we knew would capture the minds of drivers, but not their hearts - much less their imaginations. How could we tell the story of the fuel-efficiency of the Fiat cars in a way that was simple, human and fun?" The answer to this age-old dilemma involved, and I quote, a "USB stick."
Unlike sites for clients like Heineken, the AKQA site is far from intuitive. Despite the cleaner-than-freshly-Swiffered-linoleum layout, the fraction-of-a-point fonts and color-on-color schemes set one's eyes a-squinting. Each large client logo or image is trailed by a tiny arrow-type graphic (to play video content, I eventually learned), another that looks like two subatomic playing cards (for images), a third that's either a super-miniaturized trophy or a smear of charcoal (for campaigns deemed award-worthy) and the trusty Facebook "f" (at last, semiotic clarity!).
The AKQA site designers may have been shooting for elegant minimalism, but they've done the firm's work a disservice. The programs look cool enough - and speak volumes about akqa's capture-the-imagination-itudinousness - but it'd sure be neat to see them unimpeded.