February 25, 2019 | Evan MacLeod

Judging the Webby Awards: Key Takeaways From the Highest Honour Online

I spent a good chunk of my spare time in early January diving into the Webby Awards and judging a round of submissions. For the unfamiliar, the Webby Awards are an international competition honouring excellence on the Internet.

It led me on a crazy journey through some of the best, worst, most memorable and forgettable that the Internet has to offer. My primary reason for doing this, aside from finding sleep overrated, was to hopefully take away some learnings on how things are trending, and how high the digital bar is set for taking home a Webby.

Content is king

We’ve heard this over and over again, and we know that good content is as important. Websites are first judged on their content. But good content isn’t just text. It’s all of the information expressed on the page.

Does it have a voice? A point of view? Am I getting the message? It’s how the text, music, sound, animations and video work together to tell a story. I’d catch myself on some of the pages just losing interest in what I was looking at and struggling to go on. Some sites completely sucked me in and I would spend the better part of an hour just reading and exploring. Sure, some sites are just not for me and I’m not the target audience, but the key was to keep it interesting and engaging enough that I wanted to keep moving on before throwing in the towel.

Interactivity and functionality are not the same thing

I never really deeply thought about this much, but when the Webbys asked me to judge these two categories separately, it forced me to think differently about the two often-confused terms.

Interactivity is the way that the site allows you to perform an action. Good interactivity is more than just a rollover or what to click on next. It allows a user to give and receive. Interactivity is all the extras that we put onto a site to make it that much more engaging and help the user along the way. It’s the search function, the notifications, and the chatbots. Good interactivity is what separates an excellent website experience from a mediocre one that leaves you feeling like you’re reading a static print transferred onto the screen. It makes you participate and experience, not just spectate.

Functionality, on the other hand, is how the website works. This is the guts of a site and the technology behind it. Am I getting to where I need to be going? Are the links working? Is the technology on the site compatible with the way I view it? Does it load fast? Does it work on my phone?

Interactivity is the boat and functionality is the ocean (or something like that).

Structure and navigation can be stepping-stones or they can be a wall

It’s incredibly frustrating to get lost in a site or end up in the wrong place. Just think how frustrating your GPS would be if all the roads didn’t show up and you couldn’t get to where you needed to be. You don’t fully understand how bad it can be until you see how bad it can be.

Bad navigation and structure are barriers that prevent the viewer from ever seeing what they want to see and what you need them to see. Just because it makes sense to you, doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make sense to the audience it’s intended for. Admittedly, this isn’t something new I learned, but it’s a good reminder of something that should always be front of mind. Developers, designers and content strategists are the guides on their digital journeys.


This probably isn’t surprising — creativity is key. Is it engaging, memorable and relevant?

When we’re using technology and innovation to drive creativity and share a message, we should be asking ourselves if what we’re doing is truly new and interesting. What can we do to take a digital deliverable from a fun and memorable campaign to something that actually goes viral? This is the opportunity we have to work together with our clients to really challenge ourselves. Incremental, meaningful changes can take a website from good to great. It can create an experience, and it can be really rewarding when it works.

Evan MacLeod

Evan Macleod is the Associate Creative Director at WS. Split hairs over the difference between interactivity and functionality with him by connecting on LinkedIn.