Trends in architects’ websites

3 October, 2017

Architects are alert to the fact that where the web is concerned they still have a massive amount of catching up to do. But judging from the 2017 Archiboo Web Awards, this has now started in earnest.

Some of the mistakes architects made, such as designing their website themselves are receding. As more of you recognise that presenting yourself online requires different skills than just design and marketing, the swing is towards outside agencies – only 8% of this year’s entries were designed in-house compared to 20% last year.

Architects are learning too that even if they have an impressive back catalogue of projects, a website has to be curated constantly because users get bored and can quickly drown in too much information.

And written content has also come on leaps and bounds and is no longer confined to project descriptions full of superlatives. More of you understand that content has to be engaging, topical and friendly and it needs to be ‘broadcast’ otherwise no one will find it.

Social media is one of the categories where the quality of entries is far higher this year than last. We saw a focus on quality over quantity and a diverse range of content. Most importantly, there was less shouting about achievements and greater respect for the inherent link between community and architecture – something that fits nicely into social media as an approach. Entrants Mae and Archio were particularly called out for this.

The award for the best-designed websites was, like last year, the most popular category.

Marcus Fairs with Sarah Wigglesworth, winner of Best Visual Design

Those that caught the judges’ eye had all been designed in 2016 or this year. This is not surprising as web design thrives on innovation. But the ones that stood out were not seizing on the newest trends but boasted sleek, well-chosen images, and were mobile-friendly, optimised for quick understanding and easy sharing.

When it comes to your homepage people want to know what kind of practice or studio you are – and why should they care?

The winner Gillespies had specially-commissioned videos bringing its major projects to life and communicating the human scale of its work while encouraging you to explore further.

Architects continue to want to explain their work rather than simply show finished buildings through renderings, drawings and photographs. Yet few are exploiting new technologies like 3-D animation and Virtual Reality (VR) for more immersive user experience. But those that did, like David Miller Architects, were rewarded because they make a website seem more like an interactive experience than a simple portal to find information.

Carolina Bartram of Arup with David Miller Architects, winner of Best Overall

This is the year that scale became no barrier to good use of tech. Innovative and cost effective website technology is now so pervasive and it felt that younger practices were leading the way in finding ways to implement it.

While VR was the story of innovation this year, what set the category winners Ackroyd Lowrie apart was its clear approach of how VR improves the client experience and makes projects more profitable.

Video remains a massively underused resource for the architectural community. In the Best Use of Video category entries were clearly meant to achieve different objectives and so their approach varied wildly.

Witherford Watson Mann’s film about Hopton’s Almshouses had a more people focused approach than others on the shortlist and it was this that won over judges. They said the story “moved” them – not words you often hear about films commissioned by architects.

Dezeen’s Aisling Cowley presents the award for Best Use of Video to Witherford Watson Mann

Digital imagery was one of the other new categories where it was felt the standard, despite the quality of the winning entry, IF_DO working with Forbes Massie, could have been higher.

Many architects still grapple with how to use digital imagery. As one judge said: “The default mode of hyper-realist images brushed over with moody weather and happy (almost 100% white) people reduces architecture to a numbing sameness”.

And finally to Best Offline Experience – a category some practices grappled with, unsure what it meant. But those on the shortlist recognised that nothing draws crowds to your website like a real life experience.

In 2018 we expect to see even more innovation but also more emotional storytelling of the sort used by Witherford Watson Mann – films that are not merely self-promotional but engage audiences and lead them to want to find out more.

We hope that architects will continue to invest in their web presence and put more energy into analytics. When looking for a simple change or improvement, the answer will always be in the data.

We would like to see more practices hiring social media managers, writers, filmmakers and others who understand why content is king but always needs to be fresh. Too many websites we looked at are static with home pages that show the same images month after month. And we hope too that more architects learn from Mae that social media is not an add-on – it’s your voice so it needs to be authentic.

Finally we are excited that more of you are putting your website under the spotlight and deciding it’s time for a change. That way by next year we will have a new story to tell.