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.net Awards 2013: side project of the year

Side projects like the ones that follow make the web design community much richer, and this award seeks to honour the contributions of those who created them.

To arrive at this shortlist we asked you to nominate web design and development side projects that have made a splash recently. We whittled down the the long list of suggestions we received to a final 10, and we're now asking you to vote for the one you think is most deserving of this award. The three nominees with the most votes will be submitted to our panel of experts, who will pick a final winner.

Read on to find out more about the 10 nominees, and when you've decided which one you'd like to support head over to the .net Awards site to submit your vote.

The East Wing

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Creator: Tim Smith
Job: Director of design at Rocket Lift
Based in: Saint Paul, MN

.net: What inspired you to create The East Wing?
TS: I wanted the chance to talk with people I admired. I wanted to get to know their story, and what they were working towards. Also, I've always had a love for broadcasting. I hosted a morning show at a college radio station for a couple of months. It was the perfect way to merge two passions of mine: design and broadcasting.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
TS: I'm very grateful that people happen to have liked the show. To a lot of people, the show serves as an inspiration to what they can accomplish with their career. Hell, sometimes it helps them just get through the day. I've seen the show inspire young ones, as well as people who are making a career change. I love doing this show, but knowing how people have benefited, that brings me a lot of satisfaction.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
TS: It's a huge honour to be nominated for this award, but my real mission is to sit down and record a show that was better than the week before. My hope is that people continue to find the show educational, inspirational and entertaining.

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Form Follows Function

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Creator: Jongmin Kim
Job: Interactive developer and designer
Based in: New York

.net: What inspired you to create Form Follows Function?
JK: I find inspiration in my favourite things, in particular, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Rene Maggrite, time, space, minimalism and typography.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
JK: I get a lot of emails and tweets from people who love my work. It's very exciting, and a surprising experience for me. It's great to have the chance to talk with people who love my design style and interaction.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
JK: I'm still working to launch other experiences within the project. I'm working a full-time job now, so I don't have enough time to make everything, but I'll never stop.

Form Follows Function is a collection of interactive experiences built in HTML5

Form Follows Function is a collection of interactive experiences built in HTML5
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A Student's Guide to Web Design

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Creator: Janna Hagan
Job: Student/freelancer
Based in: Toronto, Canada

.net: What inspired you to create A Student's Guide to Web Design?
JH: A Student’s Guide to Web Design started from my personal experience at college. As I progressed through my design course, there was a disconnect between what I was learning and what was actually being required by employers in the industry. Many things I was being taught were either outdated or irrelevant. I felt dissatisfied and decided I wanted to help by starting a blog.

Web design education is lacking in many areas, simply because it's impossible to keep up to date with current technologies and techniques. Although there are many design blogs out there that do a great job for designers, Student’s Guide specifically focuses on beginners and students; everyone needs to start somewhere.

These young designers are the future of the industry and if they don’t learn and develop these habits early on, it can be detrimental to their future. I hope that Student’s Guide helps and inspires young designers to succeed throughout college and after graduation.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
JH: So far, the response has been wonderful. Starting a blog has definitely been a lot more work than anticipated, but it has been the most rewarding project I have completed. Many students have voiced similar dissatisfactions about their design education and that it doesn’t teach many of the fundamental skills needed to be successful.

Student's Guide has a pretty solid following on Twitter and Facebook, and for only being a year old, we get almost 800 page views a day. I’m really excited to continue to grow this project because I believe it has the potential to become a large community.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
JH: Over the next few months, we have a complete redesign of the site planned. Also, we are releasing more ebooks to add to our collection, which will hopefully include all kinds of topics specifically for students in the future. Winning the .net Side Project of the Year would be a total honour, not only because I’ve worked really hard on the blog itself, but because it would be wonderful to help spread our message to all young designers who are looking for help.

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Creator: Chris Armstrong
Job: Designer
Based in: Belfast, Northern Ireland

.net: What inspired you to create niice?
CA: Whenever I’m starting a new design project, one of the first things I’ll do is search for good examples of what I’m trying to design (whether that’s interfaces, logos, typography, etc). However, if you search for ‘logos’ on Google Images you’ll get a lot of trash returned, so instead I find myself trawling the same few sites — Dribbble, Designspiration, Behance — looking for ideas and inspiration (and ending up with about six dozen browser tabs open). Niice was an attempt to make this quicker, easier and, well, nicer.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
CA: We've had a fantastic response, in the first month there's been over 200k page views from over 50k designers worldwide. A lot of our traffic is return visitors too, so people do seem to be finding it useful enough to return to. It's definitely encouraged us to try and keep the momentum up and make it better.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
CA: I think there's a lot we can do to help designers find great inspiration on the web. In the short term, we're adding more sources (we now have Behance, Dribbble and Designspiration), ironing out bugs and responding to all the feedback we've been getting. As well as improving the quality of results and adding more ways to search (e.g. colour, username), we're working on a feature that enables you to add images to an easily sharable moodboard. There's something about the act of creating a physical moodboard that inspires creativity and encourages serendipity, and we're hoping to replicate that experience.

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Creator: Sacha Greif
Job: I'm a designer at heart, but I also develop and run my own business. So I'm not what that makes me! A designvelopreneur, maybe?
Based in: I live in Osaka, Japan. I moved to Japan with my wife because she got a scholarship to study here, and also because we both love this country!

.net: What inspired you to create Sidebar?
SG: I'm a big fan of Hacker News, a social news site for the tech crowd. When a new tech story breaks, you can usually be sure it will be trending there long before being picked up on tech blogs. I always thought it was strange that there was no such a place for design-related links, so I decided to create it myself!

.net: What kind of response have you had?
SG: The response has been great! Not only is the newsletter getting close to 10,000 subscribers, but people tell me how much they love it every day on Twitter. Just search for @SidebarIO mentions to see for yourself! I've also made some deals with great sponsors such as MightyDeals and CreativeMarket, which shows that even much bigger companies believe in the project. And that's always a good sign!

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
SG: I would like to keep growing the site and bringing in new contributors, but one thing I'd really like to do is start featuring original content on Sidebar, and not just links. I'm not exactly sure yet what form that will take though! Maybe something like Medium for design? Or simply enabling select people to comment on each links, like Branch? I feel like the online discussion space is really experiencing a lot of changes right now, and I'm wondering where Sidebar can fit in.

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The Pastry Box

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Creator: Alex Duloz
Job: When I'm not teaching French Literature and Cinema, I design and build web applications.
Based in: Geneva, sunny Switzerland.

.net: What inspired you to create The Pastry Box Project?
AD: I could tell you a lot of serious things to answer this question, that I built the Pastry Box to be a legacy for the future, a door to a specific area of our day and age with a view to understanding it, dreaming about it, and reconstituting what it really is through details and anecdotes which, when put together, draw a precise, vivid landscape of an era, as opposed to the vague, always inaccurate myth coming times will retain. And I could go on and on. But I have to come clean: I'm a damn slacker who was looking for an excuse to spend more time in front of his computer.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
AD: Truly awesome. People have been very ... benevolent, and very encouraging. It's hard to describe how well the project was received, as if people were waiting for something like that to be published. I still have a hard time believing that folks around the world, that I've never met, actually take the time to say "thank you for what you do". It's a great honour to work with all those wonderful bakers and see wonderful people read what the Pastry Box publishes. Makes you feel very humble. And, of course, I would be nowhere without the almighty Katy Watkins who's running the show with me.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
AD: We will soon leave WordPress and use our own publishing platform, which will allow for greater interaction between the project and its audience.

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One Minute With

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Creator: Conor O'Driscoll
Job: Freelance designer, writer and interviewer for One Minute With and The Industry
Based in: Cork, Ireland

.net: What inspired you to create OneMinuteWith?
CD: Back in the summer of 2011, I had been listening to a whole host of design podcasts, which had interviews with excellent designers about their life and their work. I really loved them, and wanted to do something like that. However, my voice is by no means fit for public consumption, so I decided to make my interviews text-based. It would also allow me to showcase their work at the same time as their opinions. At the time, there were very few text-based designer interview sites out there, and none of them were doing what I wanted to see, so it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to grab a little piece of that market. I honestly think timing and persistence have been the only things keeping One Minute With alive!

.net: What kind of response have you had?
CD: The response from the public has been fantastic. Every week, I get a bunch of nice tweets from people saying that they've just spent an hour or two on the site, or that the site has got them inspired for the day. That's great to hear, because it means that the site is serving its purpose. However, for me, the most important reactions I've received have been when interviewees have said that they've enjoyed doing the interviews. That truly makes my day. I know full well how much of a chore answering interview questions can be, and so I try to make it as painless as possible, by asking fun, interesting questions that the interviewees don't automatically know the answer to. To hear that that's paid off is just brilliant. If absolutely nobody was viewing the site, but both myself and the interviewees were having fun, I'd still keep doing these interviews. That said, please don't stop visiting the site, everyone.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
CD: Essentially, more of the same. The formula's been working for the past 18 months, so it'd be a shame to change it now. However, I have got a few ideas for interview formats that I think would be fun to do too. Not as a replacement for the current stuff, but simply as a little extra. I won't say anymore, primarily because I haven't really got much else to say, but yeah, be excited.

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Creator: Stephen Radford
Job: I'm currently a web developer at Three Thinking Co., a marketing agency in Leicester working with technologies like Laravel and Backbone.js. I'm also a staff writer for Nettuts+.
Based in: I'm in Oadby, a small town just outside the centre of Leciester.

.net: What inspired you to create FTPloy?
SR: Having used cloud hosting solutions such as Pagoda Box, I wanted a similar deployment solution for the servers at work. Unfortunately, we were unable to install Git on them so I started looking for a solution. I could find anything so developed a small script to deploy via FTP when I pushed to Bitbucket. After getting a fair bit of interest I decided to turn it into service that everyone could use.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
SR: I never really expected anyone to use FTPloy but the response has been more than I could ever have hoped for! I think this tweet from @jon_amar sums it up:

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
SR: I'm looking to add SFTP and SSH support along with several more improvements to projects. The majority of the plans are outlined on the roadmap.

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Creator: Daniel Erickson
Job: Lead engineer at Getable
Based in: San Francisco, CA

.net: What inspired you to create Scotch?
DE: I was looking for a blogging engine that used markdown, didn't get in your way, and was simple. I couldn't find any, so I built Scotch.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
DE: I've had what I would call a modest response. Most people who come across it tell me that they like how simple it is. Its lack of features is a feature.

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
DE: I'd like to:

  • Add a command line interface to generate a static website with Scotch
  • Make the admin interface responsive like the reading interface is
  • Add vim-like keyboard shortcuts to make creating ideas and editing posts really efficient
  • Polish the install process to make it easy for anyone to install

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Am I Responsive

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Creator: Justin Avery
Job: Technical consultant
Based in: London, UK, but I was in Buderim, Australia when this was built

.net: What inspired you to create Am I Responsive?
JA: I have two other side projects and I often spend time creating responsive screen shots of featured RWD sites for both of them.

This involved taking a screen shot at each viewport, importing them all to Photoshop, positioning them on the canvas, changing the order/arrangement of the devices … it took me ages!

One Friday morning I had a few sites to catch up on and I decided started playing around with some iFrames. By the end of the day, I posted the first draft and at the end of the weekend I'd added most of the features that you see there now.

Just a quick note: it should never be used for testing, only for screenshots, testing should be done on real devices.

.net: What kind of response have you had?
JA: The response has been amazing!

After I released the first version at the beginning on February I shared it with a few friends and colleagues who gave me some really great initial feedback. It wasn't until I ran it in the RWD newsletter the following week that the visits started to pick up.

From there it just grew organically until it was being tweeted multiple times a day and featured on blogs and online magazines across the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Germany and China.

Some Tweets:

I'm really excited because the tool created to reduce my workflow has now previewed over 20,000 URLs for over 25,000 people. Hoorah!

.net: How do you see this project developing over the next few months?
JA: One of the great things about the web community is it is always willing to share ideas for improvement, and I've had a few. The four things I'm focusing on over the next few months are:

  1. Add a Save & Download button which will use Phantom.js and to take a screenshot and optimise the image for you for download.
  2. Double click to rotate the iPad and iPhone devices for a different viewport perspective options
  3. A colour picker to update the background colour to better suit where you might be including
  4. Fixing the damn iFrame bug that breaks this tool on tablets and iPhones.

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