Agency websites: do they practice what they preach or suffer Cobbler's Children symptoms?

The Drum invited Sam Chatwin, creative director at London's Clock and former DADI judge, to review some agency websites. Do they practice what they preach?

http://www.chunkdigital.com/ (Glasgow/Digital)

Chunk Digital has used WordPress to build a site that is modern and kind of chunky (the clues in the name). It’s easy to navigate with a clean pastel palette and friendly illustrated characters. They have committed the cardinal sin of only having one solitary news story on the site, which was uploaded in 2010, but overall it has a unique visual identity and is a good example of what you can do with WordPress.

http://www.crushed.co.uk/ (Brighton/Design)

I hadn’t heard of Crushed prior to this and their site introduces a creative agency with a nice mix of design, illustration, marketing, motion and digital – reflected in their stylish and well-presented site. The site is easy to navigate and well built - a great platform to display their work.

http://www.graphicalhouse.co.uk/ (Glasgow/Design)

A custom build with a clean layout, these guys obviously know their columns from their gutters. The focus is clearly on presenting their work rather than any digital wizardry, which makes sense for a design agency working largely in the Arts & Culture sector. It looks professional and is very intuitive with some nice details like the sliding image viewer on the case studies.

http://www.leith.co.uk/ (Edinburgh/Advertising)

Built using WordPress, leith.co.uk is a simple blog style site for an advertising agency based in Edinburgh. The emphasis is on showcasing their work and thinking, which they achieve. They use Vimeo for all their video and have Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo profiles, although direct links to the profiles are somewhat hidden within the blog section.

http://www.uniform.net/ (Liverpool/Design)

Uniform are a Liverpool based brand agency, their site is built using WordPress but it doesn’t feel restricted by this, as can sometimes be the case. Nice use of video and social media with a stylish and consistent tone of voice. They have the lovely Johnny Ball doing the voice over on their show reel, which is an unexpected bonus.

http://www.bjl.co.uk/ (Manchester/Advertising)

The BJL site puts the emphasis on the visitor to seek out key information as all content is hidden behind a fairly restrictive navigation system. The homepage is a simple list of links to the six sections on the site - whilst this gives you a clear idea of the sections of the site it doesn’t give you much insight into the content ensuring any new uploads are hidden.

http://madebyfudge.com/ (Manchester/Digital)

Nice to see some HTML5 being used - the only agency on the list that does. It’s a fairly basic site with a handful of well laid-out case studies and some contact info but all nicely built and with some very graceful degradation. The only site that has a mobile version and a slickly designed and built one, at that. The only negatives are it’s a bit light on content and on the iPad it automatically displays the mobile size site, which doesn’t look good.

http://www.clusta.com/ (Birmingham/Digital)

Clusta.com is a full Flash site and has all the well-documented problems that full Flash sites do, for instance; poor usability, poor accessibility, bad SEO, difficult to update (the news section hasn’t been updated for nearly a year) and difficult to maintain. In their defence the site is slickly designed, well-built and there is a fallback site for those who don’t have Flash. But really Flash should no longer be used for full web builds unless there is a good reason.

http://www.sumodesign.co.uk/ (Newcastle/Design)

Sumo is a design agency focusing on the arts sector, their site utilizes a pared back visual language that focuses the user’s attention on their work and thinking, and infers an ordered and professional approach. The site is well built and intuitive, it’s clear that a lot of preparation goes into everything they do.

http://elmwood.com/ (Yorkshire/Design)

During the process of writing these reviews Elmwood launched an entirely new site, gone is the slightly tired Flash site and in its place is a very customised WordPress build. The new site delivers a much more accessible and extremely slick and engaging digital presence that ably reflects Elmwood’s approach and obvious talents. My only criticism is that it uses a lot of JavaScript which makes some areas quite slow, and with such a recently updated site it would be good to see more new technology being used - there is no HTML5 and a very small amount of CSS3.

http://www.brayleino.co.uk/ (South West/Advertising)

A new site for Bray Leino, and an extremely pared back one built using WordPress. It’s just three sections – Blog-style news, Jobs and Contact. There is more content, like case studies of their work for the 2011 Census campaign, but you have to find them by clicking on a link from within the relevant blog story. There is no other way of navigating to this deeper content and no way of telling which blog items have more detailed information linked to them. By doing this Bray Leino are hiding their most interesting and arguably important information. They also have a video that autoplays on the homepage, which is commonly accepted as bad practice.

http://numiko.com/ (Leeds/Digital)

Numiko is a Flash site powered by Drupal, like many Flash sites it is fairly slow going with poor accessibility and difficult to find the information you want. There is however an HTML version of the site that has most of the content on and the Flash site is nicely animated and well-built with a 3D version, which is fun. As a whole, the laboured navigation and reliance on Flash let the Numiko site down.

http://www.taxistudio.co.uk/ (Bristol/Design)

Taxi Studio is again a Flash site, which you can probably tell by now I don’t like. Not only that, it also has no blog, no social links, no browser navigation and worst of all absolutely no fallbacks if you don’t have Flash or JavaScript. But despite all of this it also has a engaging and personable tone of voice with a light visual style and a novel means of navigation, which meant I looked in every section on the site and read a great deal of the content, meaning they managed to get across their work and personality well.

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