FWA Founder On Why He's Selling Awards Program

We talk to Rob Ford about the history of his FWA digital awards and his decision to step aside.

Pioneer: Rob Ford embraced the internet from the beginning.


FWA was established in the UK in May 2000 as the Favourite Website Awards. Since then it’s established a loyal following as a destination for cutting-edge innovation in digital design and development. It’s known for picking the best daily, weekly, monthly and annual projects – as well the unusual PCA, or People’s Choice Award, voted by the public. It has a team of over 500 judges from around the world. Founder Rob Ford recently put FWA up for sale, so we decided to find out a bit more about its background.


How did you come to create FWA and what were you doing before?

I discovered the internet in 1997 and began designing websites using Macromedia Flash. With my first website, treecity.co.uk, I received a nomination for The Yell UK Web Awards, which were an industry leading recognition back in the day. I was up against global brands and found it to be such a positive experience it sent me searching for other awards.

There was an extensive awards community back in the late 90s and I became heavily involved, but broke away to set up FWA and become a pioneer in digital awards. My focus has always been on what’s cool and cutting edge, to showcase the progressive work that pushes the boundaries of technology, to show people what is possible.


Why did you decide to sell the awards?

For some years I have been thinking about selling FWA. My father, who was also a mentor for FWA, died last year after many years of illness. Combining that with a move to a countryside location with land, which has been my dream of the last 20 years, the timing just felt right. You’ll notice the name of my first website (treecity)...that was for my love of trees. I’m now feeling a renewed vigour for life being outside as much as I can with my wife and young son.

I’m acutely aware of how short life is and I don’t want to have any regrets about what I didn’t do. I also feel I have done everything I can for FWA and that it could achieve far greater things with a fresh approach.

How have the awards evolved over the years? For example, what categories have you added?

The main focus has always been a site of the day, site of the month and yearly awards. For the first decade, most daily winners were websites made in Flash but that obviously changed when Flash lost favour and everyone switched focus to HTML5, apps etc. In 2016 we launched a new FWA website and I was very grateful to Google for helping me fund that.

On the launch of the new website we embraced submissions for: 

  • Websites
  • Apps
  • Installations
  • VR
  • AR
  • Other (basically anything cool that doesn’t fit into one of the above)

The great thing about FWA is that it has a reputation for always moving with the times so you can look back at any year and see the trends of the time. You can also be assured that it’s the best place to see emerging trends too as the most creative people, agencies and brands continue to submit their work to us hot off the press. The big award shows are still missing what the internet gives, content on demand, as their yearly competitions are often stale before they have even started.

How are websites faring in a world where most of our access to brands and services takes place via apps on our phones?

As per my answer above, we have moved with the times. Websites dropped off in creativity in a big way from 2010 for almost a decade but we are seeing some really creative and interesting websites launching again.

But the most exciting work is now out of the browser, in real world situations, installations etc. and FWA has been at the forefront of showcasing those. Of course the pandemic has brought a lot of those real world examples back to promotional micro websites. Creativity will always reflect the real world these days.


How is FWA perceived by the creative industries?

In 2017, FWA together with SoDA (the Society of Digital Agencies), compiled international polls to establish what the most sought after awards were and the results showed that FWA was placed in joint first position with Cannes Lions (digital recognition at Cannes):

1. Cannes 83/100

1. FWA 83/100

3. Webby 75/100

FWA has since gone on to receive over 240 million visitors, and has bestowed over 8,000 awards. FWA has had its iconic yellow award ribbon displayed on the websites of 34% of the world’s top 100 brands, including: Adidas; Audi; Coca Cola; Disney; Google; Honda; HP; IBM; L’Oreal; Microsoft; Nike; Porsche; Samsung; Toyota; VW

FWA also has an international team of over 500 judges (50/50 male/female ratio, the only gender neutral jury of its size in the industry), from over 35 countries, who vote daily on submitted projects.


What impact has FWA had on the industry and community?

I made an announcement last week that I was retiring and the following LinkedIn thread just captures FWA in ways I could never explain.

I think Scott Belsky, Adobe Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President, Creative Cloud summed up FWA in his comment: “What an iconic brand and body of work!”