I've been looking at a lot of agency websites recently, as the company that I work for ramps up for a redesign of its own. What I discovered is that many of these sites struggle at delivering a clear and straightforward user experience. That's surprising when you see the quality of the work that these agencies provide to their clients. However, contradictions like this are easy to explain.
Imagine an agency redesign project kick-off. A team of subject matter experts is assembled, and together they begin a journey through creative collaboration. With such a talented group, there is no shortage of great ideas. Things run smoothly until it's time to narrow down the possibilities and achieve group consensus. Client workload stacks up, and the schedule starts slipping. Pressure builds and the redesign team begins an intense debate around features and functionality. In the end, everybody gets to walk away with a little something.
The unfortunate result of design by committee is an agency website that makes it difficult to accomplish simple tasks and fails to address user needs. Smart agencies choose a different approach. They embrace user-centered design and have websites that achieve a balance of usability, emotion, and aesthetic. User experiences like these look and feel like the ones presented below. Here are 10 of the best agency websites out there today.
This may seem like an unusual way to start, but I was inspired recently after reading an iMedia article featuring Kristi VandenBosch, who is the CEO at Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney. Shortly after joining the company, Kristi recognized the agency's website was failing its users, so she decided to take it down -- most of it, anyway. If you look at the site today, all that remains is a single page with contact information and a succinct description of what Hal Riney does. What's great is that Kristi prioritized user experience over novel features and functionality. It's a surprisingly bold yet simple interim solution as the full site redesign gets underway.
Tip: When in doubt, cut content, features, and functionality out.
R/GA's website touts a user interface that is simple, clean, and elegant. I like that it scales to fit the width of a browser window, graphics and all. That's a nice way to take advantage of a wide canvas. Work samples on the site are large and presented in demo reel format. These probably aren't the easiest things to update, but I'm sure that R/GA's in-house video production studio helps.
What I like most about R/GA is that the agency has a mobile site at m.rga.com. No, it's not a fancy app. It's simply a WAP site that provides company contact information, sample projects, service descriptions, and more. Many agencies promote mobile capabilities but don't offer a mobile site of their own.
Tip: Be present when and where people are looking for you.
3. Boone Oakley
Boone Oakley stepped out of the box by going with a YouTube video for the agency website. It's such an unexpected experience that brief instructions are required to let visitors know what to do when they arrive (note "brief"). Functionality is limited, but all key agency information is provided, including a client list, portfolio, and contact information.
I can't think of a much better channel to publish broadcast television work samples in full 720p HD glory. A plethora of viewer comments bring to life what could otherwise be a static experience. Boone Oakley's site conveys a message of originality and boldness, and for that reason, I put it on my top 10 list.
Tip: Go off domain to validate your message.
Red Interactive's website is a well-balanced blend of experiential design and usability. Site visitors can interact with each other through instant chat and take on the personas of Victorian-themed woodcut avatars. The site canvas expands well beyond the browser window exposing a virtual world that characters navigate through with keyboard inputs -- they can go left to right and even toward the sky!
The game-like features are fun and make for an unforgettable experience, not to mention differentiate Red from other agencies vying for clients' attention. On a more practical level, critical information is easily accessible through standard navigation, and well-written copy engages the reader.
Tip: Design for both usability and emotion.
5. Future Now
Future Now is a conversion optimization service provider. True to this competency, the agency's website appears to be a conversion rate powerhouse. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles to be found. Instead, there are informative headlines, case studies, client success metrics, and prominent buttons that encourage visitors to take action.
Visitors can sign up for an email newsletter, subscribe to the agency blog, or get down to business and submit an information request form that displays in the footer of all pages. Future Now clearly understands content marketing. Check out the "Resource Center" to see what keeps visitors coming back for more.
Tip: Convert traffic and build loyalty with quality content.
The Barbarian Group launched its site in blog format several years ago. It was pretty revolutionary at that time, and the site still works extremely well today. Beyond work samples and client logos, perhaps the most effective selling tools that an agency has are the ideas and points-of-view of its staff. Barbarian Group puts those ideas front and center by showcasing subject matter expertise and providing opportunity for dialogue with comments attached to blog posts.
The "Barbaripedia" provides a wealth of information including content such as "The New Biz Process" and "Beliefs on Internet Video." After consuming this information, prospective clients and job seekers should have no surprises about agency process and ideology. That's a good thing -- because nobody likes surprises.
Tip: Share ideas that inspire and inform.
Visitors to Sarkissian Mason's website are greeted with a dashboard of live metrics associated with events and activities occurring within company walls. It's all part of a campaign that challenges quantifying creativity in the midst of economic uncertainty. Some of these metrics are human, like "Corporate Jargon Heard," while others focus on network events such as "Mouse Clicks." Auto-play soundtrack aside, it's a unique way for Sarkissian Mason to express a point of view while engaging site visitors who can choose to skip this experience or spend some time with it.
Tip: Find unique ways to differentiate with a campaign of your own.
Modernista!'s online presence doesn't resemble a traditional agency website much at all. This was one of the first agency sites to fully take advantage and show a mastery of the social web. Modernista!'s Wikipedia entry replaces what you'd expect to find on a traditional "About Us" page and the agency's work samples are displayed as bookmarks on Delicious.com. Google search results replace the company's homepage. The site reflects Modernista!'s ingenuity and confidence to do something new.
Tip: Leverage existing platforms for efficiency.
Attention to visual and typographic detail abounds on SapientNitro's website. Global navigation is minimal, with a majority of content grouped into just three primary sections. This minimizes decision making and encourages visitors to explore more deeply. Work samples are easy to manipulate with filtering controls by industry or service area. Browsing among work sample detail screens is quick with overlay treatment, and a slideshow feature makes the experience effortless. Visitors are encouraged to share content through email and their social networks.
Tip: Encourage exploration by keeping navigation simple.
Organic's homepage displays the latest company news one headline at a time. This single point of focus delivers a powerful message that cannot be missed, while allowing users to orient themselves without information overload. Interface controls allow users to tailor content by article type, change page layout, and manipulate sort order for a personalized experience. Section landing pages are thoughtfully designed and stick to a theme of simplicity.
One section of the site features images contributed by Organic staff for creative inspiration. These images link to staff profile pages, giving site visitors a glimpse into the brain trust of the agency while adding a nice touch of human perspective. It's clear that a lot of effort went into surfacing agency culture, which I'm sure helps to attract and retain top talent. Even agency location contact pages get personal with time, temperature, factoids, and staff directories.
Tip: Get personal to attract top talent.
Well, there you have it. I'm looking forward to learning which agency sites you find inspirational. And if you're interested, be the first to know when Red Door Interactive's new site launches by following @reddoor on Twitter.