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Web designers, developers and interactive media producers take note, December 21, 2012, the deadline for the prestigious Horizon Interactive Awards is fast approaching. Started in 2002 and now celebrating over a decade, the Horizon Interactive Awards is one of the few international interactive design competitions that recognizes and highlights outstanding achievement in interactive design. Another unusual aspect of the awards is the diverse judging panel, which includes industry professionals as well as non-designers and end-users.

This year GraphicDesign.com is proud to partner with the awards to offer a new award category, the “Award of Distinction” that will be awarded to an outstanding entry in web and graphic design by a panel of judges from GraphicDesign.com and the Horizon Interactive Awards judging panel. GraphicDesign.com Advisory Board members and contributors Neil Tortorella and Rafiq Elmansy will be among the eyes judging the Award of Distinction. Last year the awards received over 1,000 entries from around the world and added a category for mobile applications.

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We asked Horizon Interactive Awards founder Mike Sauce to share with us (and our readers) how the awards started and what makes it different than other award competitions.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the awards—how the Horizon Interactive Award started, how it differs from other interactive competitions, etc.?

Mike Sauce: I was a freelance developer for many years in conjunction with working at smaller creative agencies and in-house corporate communications groups. At the time, there was a shortage of competitions that really sought to highlight innovative and creative solutions in the interactive media industry. So, I started the Horizon Interactive Awards to provide an international stage for talented designers and developers to highlight their work. The competition strives to level the playing field for all entrants, large, small and in between. The awards started in 2002 with only a couple hundred entries. Since then, the competition has gained popularity and today, is one of the most prestigious interactive media awards competitions around.

Q. What made you decide to incorporate end-users and non-designers into the judging process?

Mike: End-users were incorporated into the judging panel because many views from the industry are sometimes sort of “tunnel visioned” and only take into consideration what we look for as actual developers or designers. End-users bring a unique perspective to the judging process because they are often not that knowledgeable about the technology or particular design theory that goes into making an interactive media solution. In order to pass the end-user test, a site really must connect with a non-techie or non-designer audience.

Q. What do you think are the most important factors for a successful interactive experience?

Mike: To make a successful interactive experience it takes a great bend between the overall aesthetics and communication of a message. It is difficult to describe the “It factor” but, projects that rise to the top definitely push the boundaries of what the medium can do and often bring a nice blend of text, multi-media (audio/video), solid graphic design principles while fitting the brand or message that they were developed to emphasize. Another factor is the solution’s originality. Most of the gold level winners, best of category winners and best of show winners from the past competitions have been projects that are very unique in some way or have used a specific multi-media element in a new way.