Best Snowboard Websites of ’08
So I’ve spent the past week going over every link in the Idiom Life link directory to try and find the Top 5 Websites of the Snowboard Industry. This proved to be quite troublesome. I was actually really surprised to find such a lack of good, clean, useable and valid web design within the industry. There are so many good designers and artists involved in our sport that I figured we’d have a lot more good web design. It’s not to say that there aren’t good sites out there, but they seem to be few and far between. And what’s even more startling to me, a fellow designer, is that I could only find one site that had more than a couple pages with coding that validated to web standards. For all you developers out there, use this link and get valid! Anyway… I know this is suppose to be an uplifting article about the BEST sites, so I’ll get back on track now.
For this Top 5 list, instead of just trying to choose the five best overall sites I’ve decided to feature the very best site in five different categories; Best Usability, Best Flash Design, Best Community, Best Retail (store), and Best Design. Lets dig in.
Best Usability: Oakley.com
I’m sure most of you could have figured out that one of the big corpo’s was going take this honor. With their gigantic budgets they can actually afford to hire big firms to run case studies and do user-testing groups. But I firmly believe that the smaller guys can compete just as well, it just takes some common sense. Start using your brains people!
There definitely were a few sites out there competing with Oakley but they all fell short. Coal Headwear has one of the most simple to use navigations of all the sites I visited, however when I ran the validator on Coal’s homepage it returned 234 errors! That’s absurd. Another big hitter in the industry with the finances to hire out the firms is Burton. They have fairly good usability and are the only site I found that consistently validated. The thing that shut me off to Burton’s website was the amount of clutter. They are trying to use such a small stage to display so many products.
The Oakley site really sets itself apart from the rest when it comes to ease of use. They’ve some how managed to architect every product, every sport, every athlete, every event, and every innovation into four main section. And it all makes sense. The main nav keeps it’s place among the top of the page and although some of the secondary level navigations are in different positions, they stay the course throughout the pages within their sections. Another huge aspect to the usability of the Oakley site is the consistent bread-crumbing in the top right of every page. If you ever forget where you are at or how you got there all you need to do is look up. By and far Oakley is a usability gem, to be able to organize 100+ products in the way they have is simply astonishing.
Best Flash Design: Alycium.com
The features I was looking for in this category were things like a unique interface, quick load times, smooth transitions, and overall design. Alycium nailed all of these. There is an intuitive double-click to open the magnetic navigation feature. Some may consider it a little experimental, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t take away from the overall usability of the site. The flash files are separated properly to give quick load times for each page. There is a smooth and consistent page transition from one to the next. And on top of all that, Alycium’s overall design is very attractive. This is the most solid flash site in the industry.
Some honorable mentions in the flash category also go to Sims and O-Matic. Sims definitely has one of the most attractive and experimental navigations, however that’s also what killed it for me. At first glance and use of the navigation it’s pretty fun. But once you start actually trying to get around the site and search for specific things it not very practical. The animations are also a bit too delayed, I don’t want to have to wait 5+ seconds for the snowboard I selected to turn right-side up. I’ll definitely admit that I may also have a slight prejudice towards Sims. I mean Payless Shoe Source? Seriously?… As far as the O-Matic site goes, it has a great look. I love the colors and I love the scene for the hardgoods page. But the slow load times and generic page transitions weren’t working for me.
Best Community: Snowboard-Mag.com
This was the easiest decision out of the whole list. If you don’t know about Snowboard magazine then you are missing out on a beautiful thing. Not only do they produce the best magazine in the industry, but they also have one of the most active and deep reaching snowboard communities on the web. And how have they accomplished this? In my opinion I’d have to say it’s due to their entire staff’s passion for the sport. Their forum type layout is home to riders from across the world. Home to freshly enlisted riders and the most seasoned of veterans. The Gangster Riderz (good lord, what is wrong with you guys), the Tight-Panters, and the Heshers (ie. mark frank’s pre-gangster era), the Jocks, the Plain Janes, and yes, most likely even some Texans. But the thing that is great about Snowboard mag is it’s ability to bring all these people together under one roof, all for their love of snowboarding.
Snowboard mag is home to the ever growing standard for the SuperPost. The epic rants of Willy McMillion (Snowboarding is Gay). And more active pros and reps than any other site I’ve ever been too. Where else can you make fun of Todd Richards for his yellow speed banana? View all 100+ snowboard video teasers? Or check out the latest sneak peeks for up and coming products? Nowhere!…Thanks for making this category so easy on me Snowboard crew.
Best Retail: WhiskeyMilitia.com
What’s something every snowboarder needs? Good gear. What’s it take to have good gear? Money (unless you’re one of the bastards that knows everyone within the industry). Where can one find good gear while saving a ton of money? Whiskey Militia. And that’s why I’m ranking them as the number one retailer. Sure you have sites like Milo Sport and Evo Gear with amazing inventory and selection, but you just can’t beat buying snowboard gear at 60% off. And no, it’s not all last years gear. Here’s how it works; They have one deal at a time with a limited quantity at outrageous discounts. Once that item is sold out a new product is posted. So if you see something you like don’t hesitate because once it’s gone, it’s usually gone for good. On top of snow gear, they also feature skate and surf gear. And if you’re looking for more all around outdoors gear then visit their sister site, SteepAndCheap.com. So happy shopping, you’re probably going to hate me now because checking for the next great deal is pretty addicting. You’ll catch yourself buying stuff even when you don’t need it. So please, have some self-control unlike me. Ever since I found out about Whiskey Militia my watch collection has doubled.
Best Design: UnionBindingCompany.com
I’m sure quite a few of you are going to disagree with me on this one… But I don’t really care… In the three short years that Union has been around they have been able to make some huge waves in the binder market. The clean and simple line’s of their quality made bindings, are the source of a lot of eye candy for everyone that looks upon them. And beyond the bindings themselves, Aaron Draplin has perfectly captured and portrayed those perfect lines and that clean simple look, for Union, graphically. And the site is no different. From the start you are greeted with the most simple looking of navigations that just begs to be rolled-over and clicked upon. Once you enter the site, you’re sucked into the clean simple layout and interface. Nothing too complicated. Nothing too overwhelming. Just the perfect amount of simplicity. One of my favorite aspects about this site is the beautiful product shots. They really compliment the bindings and make them look as though they are a piece of art. As you probably noticed I am a big fan of clean and simple design. It takes a true artist to make “plain” great.
As you can see, despite my cynical outlook on web design within the snowboard industry, there truly are some quality sites (it just takes some looking). I hope that the designers of the… Let’s see, how can I put this nicely?… Less attractive sites, can look upon these examples for some inspiration and influence to help progress the dire design and usability issues that I feel are plaguing our industry. Come on fellas, step it up!