10 Great Websites And What Makes Them That Way

We build websites for companies that usually fall within certain parameters.  They need to be agile and easily updated.  They need to be ready to change at a moments notice as our client’s needs change.  And generally they serve a technology startup or a financial services company.  But we love to look outside our niche to the rest of the web for inspiration and ideas.  Here are some great websites that may not be the kind of sites we’d build, but places we can learn from to make our work better.   Design studios and ad agencies not included (they’re in a class by themselves).

http://www.khanacademy.org/
Not a pretty site, but truly great for one reason:  The quantity and quality of the content.  Site founder Salman Khan hold degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, computer science (MS from MIT) and an MBA (Harvard Business School).   What began as online tutoring of relatives evolved to a YouTube channel to a website viewed by millions with funding from Google and the Gates Foundation among others.  Recent improvements to the site include software for students to practice the work within the application.  The instruction is clear and engaging and best of all, free to anyone with access to the internet.

http://www.dangersoffracking.com/
Now for something more aesthetically pleasing (although not uplifting!)…who doesn’t love a website that tells a story.  Narrative can play an important role in getting users to understand and react to your message.  While this is not a commercial example it is well done in an infographic-y way.

craigslist.org
Another website that is not pretty.  Clean, deceptively simple looking, organized, but not fun to look at.  But think about the sheer volume of data and information offered on this site, yet how easy it is to navigate and find things.  Think of the millions of users worldwide.  The user interface is ridiculously simple, but it works.  No one ever complains about the site being difficult to use.   An underrated masterpiece of usability.

http://www.lattrapereve.fr/
This french art gallary offers a nice example of the full screen video backgrounds we’re seeing more of lately.

http://qz.com
It’s a news website, but updated.  Perfect, clean, clutter free responsive design.  Web app style navigation (very 2013).  Large consistent images.  While I’m not usually a fan of endless scrolling it works here.  Perfect execution of crossover web/mobile delivery.  “Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy. We publish bracingly creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview, built primarily for the devices closest at hand: tablets and mobile phones.”

http://www.maerskfleet.com
Who would think a global shipping company would have such a beautiful, clever, creative, interactive website?  But that’s the Dutch, if they’re going to do it, they’ll do it well.  This site is exceptional for making use of a lot of new HTML5 features you won’t see used on other corporate sites.  The photography is beautiful too.  Love the live maps and timelines.

http://www.chicoco.fm
Almost everything about this site is very nicely done…the use of photography,  color, sound, storytelling, the scroll effects, the typeface selections.

https://storify.com/
And speaking of stories… this San Francisco based tech startup site is kind of like if Pinterest and YouTube had an unexpectedly good looking baby.   Not only is the technology super cool – but they make it look pretty good too.  “Storify helps making sense of what people post on social media. Our users curate the most important voices and turn them into stories.”

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/
Full disclosure:  I love visiting the real thing.  The site is a bit plain jane, and not modern or edgy in any way, but they do a fantastic job of organizing and presenting a huge amount of information in lots of different formats in a very tidy, readable way.  They also offer a web app with lots of cool features, and they should get points for plenty of social media integration.

http://www.twentyfour.me/
Short information site for a task manager iPhone app.  Nice use of full screen video background, the scroll, and a very Apple website looking content area.  Great job of explaining the product in pictures (and a few words too).

I love to see the inclusion of all the cool html5 features, and it’s fun to see trends take shape and grow and think about ways to incorporate new ideas and techniques in our work.  There are so many great artists and developers out there.  If you have great website recommendations, please share in the comments!

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