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DEVELOPER SPOTLIGHT: Chris Nation/ Phil Williams - Hitcents / “Draw a Stickman”

First and foremost, the Horizon Interactive Awards would like to congratulate Hitcents on their 2011 best of category win with the animation web site “Draw a Stickman.”  In this developer spotlight, we will learn more about the project and the producers of this award winning site and will include comments from Chris Nation, Creative Director and Phil Williams, Sr. Developer / Lead Designer on the Stickman project.

Chris and Phil, thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

CHRIS: Thanks. We appreciate being selected and winning the Best of Category for animation. We are grateful for the recognition and our staff was very excited to learn of the accolade and look forward to discussing some of the ideas and background behind this project.

HIA: So tell us a little about your company.  Specifically, what types of work you regularly produce, industries, solutions, how you got into the business, etc.

CHRIS: Hitcents is a creative and interactive agency. Those two terms “creative” and “interactive” really sum up our expertise and focus. We have over 53 industry experts within our agency that focus on any solution that is digital and online. We have a complete design staff that focuses on creative design, branding, marketing, strategy and graphic design. They produce anything from a logo, business card or a full on integrated digital campaign. Additionally, our development team provides web development, software programming, technology support, app development, social media customization and animation.

HIA: Can you give us a background of the project, “Draw A Stickman,” and tell us a little about the overall objectives, creative inspiration, background, etc.

PHIL: We came up with the idea all the way back in January of 2010. We started with just one simple idea – what if you could draw a stickman and he would come to life? The idea just grew from there.

HIA: Based on the project objectives, was it successful and why?

PHIL: The project was extremely successful. Our initial goal was to create a viral website that would promote Hitcents. The website quickly went viral and generated nearly a million page views in just 24 hours! Since that time we've had over 20 million   unique visits to the site. It's also lead us to create several very successful mobile apps. We feel that the key to all of this was just creating something unique that people wanted to share and talk about.

HIA: Over the past 10 competitions, we have seen animation on websites transition from Flash “Splash Screens” to more integral components of the user experience. Can you talk about how you see animation from a user experience perspective and how it has evolved over the past few years?

CHRIS/PHIL: Animation on the Internet has evolved from being annoying and sometimes pointless to playing a critical role in a site's presentation. Flash created the notion that animation was a separate element from the rest of the page. Now that animation is moving more into the realm of CSS, designers are finally starting to view animation as part of the actual page. With this new mindset we feel that animation will begin playing a much larger role in web design.

It is also important to note that the animation on a website or other platform should serve a purpose. It should be used to enhance the presentation of the content or main idea and not serve as another digital item you have stashed away in your digital closet. Everything needs to be well thought out and positioned.

HIA: Where do you see the use of animation for web going in the coming years? Also... if you would, talk about the technologies used to create websites that have animated components. 

PHIL: We feel that animation on the web is still in its genesis. Even today animation is sometimes viewed as something that distracts or gets in the way of the user's experience. As HTML5 and CSS continue to mature I hope that animated elements become the norm across nearly all websites. The key is to create animations that contribute to and enhance the user's experience.

HIA: We couldn’t help but notice that the “Draw a Stickman” project was not created in Flash (the traditional method for creating web site animation)... is Flash dead?

PHIL:  Short answer: Yes. We initially began developing Draw a Stickman using Flash, but when Apple released the iPad, we immediately switched gears and re-wrote it in Javascript. Flash had amazing potential, but Adobe made a series of very bad decisions that led to Flash's downfall.

HIA: So, where do you/your team turn for inspiration?

CHRIS/PHIL:  We are starting to look more at mobile apps, specifically iPad apps. The iPad has had a huge impact on the Internet. We believe mobile apps are leading the way towards new trends in web design.

We also have various internal creative brainstorming meetings, afterhours strategy meetings, lakehouse and golf outings to really let the creativity blossom. We constantly want to keep our staff and our work innovative and unique. We want to create products and services that offer a different approach to the way digital is normally rendered.

HIA: What does it mean to win the Horizon Interactive Award?

CHRIS:  First it’s exciting. Winning this type of award that recognizes exceptional work in the interactive industry is rewarding. Since at the core Draw a Stickman seeks to provide an environment where creativity and interactivity are encouraged, winning the Horizon helps reinforce what we have been developing and over many months and even years mean a lot more. Second, having won the Best of Category means a great deal to know that there were multiple winners that were all very well development and designed and that our project was considered in the top of these winners, it’s very rewarding and humbling.

HIA:  Do you have anything else you would like to add to our interview?

CHRIS/PHIL: We have one simple piece of advice that we would like to give to all web designers: Be creative every day!

Thank you again for taking the time to be a part of our developer spotlight.  We have enjoyed sharing more information about the great work you all produce and look forward to having you back in the 2012 competition. Best of luck to you now and down the road!