Web page design a blue-ribbon category at fair

By Ken Stone

June 19, 2001

No doubt about it. The county is a hotbed for Web page design.

San Diego boasts an active chapter of the World Organization of Webmasters.

The region's mailing list for HTML jockeys -- http://www.websandiego.org -- has 350 members.

So when Del Mar Fair officials Chana Mannen and Donna Cosentino began deciding what to include in the fair's infant e.Arts competition, Web page design was a no-brainer.

"There are so many people out there doing it," Cosentino said. "They're quite wonderful and quite good."

Last year's event clicked with the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and the Western Fairs Association.

Both groups awarded e.Arts first place for "best new or unique class of competitive exhibit."

"They've gone far beyond what most fairs have," said Roy Rohrbach of the international fair group, based in Springfield, Mo.

"No fair that I can think of (has a Web page design contest)."

Only one problem.

Someone forgot to tell the county's Webmasters.

Only 13 Web sites were entered last year, the contest's first.

Just 10 sites were entered this year -- six in the professional class, four in the nonprofessional class.

"Your e-mail is the first I've heard of it," said Joe Crawford, 31, a respiratory therapist who founded WebSanDiego.org two years ago, and "I think I have a finger on some sliver of the pulse of the Web community."

Different apples

Ironically, e.Arts was created to satisfy a local demand.

When digitally altered photos began cropping up in the photo contest several years ago, exhibits manager Mannen and photo coordinator Cosentino tried to find a way to honor this burgeoning new computer-aided craft without forcing judges to choose among apples and avocados.

The result was e.Arts, which also honors the best in digital art, animation and video.

Web winners can be seen in the Veranda Cafe on the second floor of the east grandstand, adjacent to the photojournalism exhibit.

This year's winners -- as chosen by photographer, graphic artist and Web instructor David King, the lone judge -- learned of the contest through low-tech word of mouth.

Graphic artist Michael Esordi of San Diego took first and second place last year and repeated the sweep this year in the professional class.

Esordi, 33, heard about the contest last year from his wife, Renee Lamm Esordi, a photographer and computer artist who had entered the fair's International Exhibition of Photography, now in its 52nd year.

First place for Web page design by nonprofessionals went to a team from the city of Escondido led by Anne Elpin and Melanie Winkelman.

The city had entered the fair's video competition in the past, so it made sense to enter the Web contest as well, says Joyce Masterson, who works in the City Manager's Office.

And after Escondido took fourth last year with its public Web site, Masterson entered her city's intranet site this year.

Some 800 full-time and 200 part-time city employees have access to the Escondido intranet -- with an interface playing off a Monopoly game board. (Railroads are replaced by search engines, and cash icons link viewers to budget information.)

"It's done in a very playful way," says Masterson, who admits she doesn't know much about HTML.

Esordi, the professional-class winner with a classy site devoted to a La Jolla beach rental property, is a self-taught Web designer who isn't much of a propeller head either -- he call himself an artist first who avoids flashy bells and whistles and doesn't surf the Net for ideas.

He also "avoids some of that (competitive) stuff," but couldn't resist the $10 entry fee in a local contest that took him only an hour to prepare an entry for.

Esordi operates the graphic arts and Web design company Duotribe.com. Its Web site was runner-up last year to an Esordi-designed site for the San Diego Zoo's Ituri Forest exhibit.

He didn't have much trouble with e.Arts rules requiring that the Web site be delivered on a CD-ROM or Zip or floppy disk.

(All sites are viewed on stand-alone computers with no Internet access.)

Esordi also managed to squeeze his site down below the 2-megabyte entry limit.


But Crawford, the founder of WebSanDiego.org, sees problems with a contest that doesn't allow viewers to follow links to the wider Web -- or one that penalizes sites with large multimedia files or data-heavy interactive features.

Such a contest, he says, would "skew toward things that are self-contained presentations" -- sites that are static rather than dynamic.

For her part, Mannen says, "These are the kinds of things that we need to look at."

She promised that her department's annual review of contests will take such comments into account.

She also might share the deflating feeling of winners who learn they haven't faced much competition.

At its convention last November in Las Vegas, when the international fairs group presented the Del Mar Fair a plaque for best new exhibit, one fact was probably played down.

In its attendance class, the Del Mar Fair was one of only four entrants.

Ken Stone, a Union-Tribune sports copy editor, won honorable mention for masterstrack.com in the nonprofessional category of the Web site contest of e.Arts 2001. Don't remind him he came in last.

Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.