I Miss Kong Studios

Programming - Apr 19, 2024

Gorillaz frontman 2-D looks forlorn, wearing a t-shirt with the old Macromedia Flash logo

When I was starting out as a web designer, few experiences inspired me as much as Gorillaz’ official website in the early-to-mid aughts, Kong Studios.

At a time when most websites were long scrolls of text or cramped two-dimensional rectangles, Kong Studios was an interactive recreation of the band’s home and studio space. Instead of navigating a menu, you explored various rooms and corridors. If you were curious enough to venture beyond the typical discography, tour dates and promotional content, you might uncover easter eggs, animations, outtakes, B-sides or even a game.

A decrepit looking lobby with cracked and collapsed walls, rubble on the ground and a demon at the front desk.
The lobby of Kong Studios, as it appeared in late 2006.

It was exciting, immersive and fun. This wasn’t just a document to read, it was a location to visit. Surely, this was where the web as a medium was headed!

(Cue Ron Howard narration: “It wasn’t.”)

Like a lot of the most inventive early web experiments, Kong Studios relied on proprietary plugins like Flash and Shockwave. Gorillaz’ original design team disbanded in 2010, the same year that Ethan Marcotte published Responsive Web Design and Steve Jobs published Thoughts on Flash. As of this writing, the official Gorillaz site is a Shopify storefront.

And that’s a shame. While most websites should be straightforward in their presentation (no one should have to look hard for a store’s hours, a restaurant’s menu or a map to the hospital), surely at least a few would benefit from greater immersion and a bit of surprise?

Seven different navigation concepts are shown using various aspects and input methods of a mobile device to traverse larger imagery
Sketches of responsive navigation concepts from a past Cloud Four project involving immersive digital spaces.

But I think there’s hope. For one thing, our tools are so much better now: A Kong Studios in 2022 could be higher-resolution, more performant, more responsive and accessible. And as our trust erodes in the pillars of web culture we’ve long taken for granted, there’s opportunity to re-embrace the fun, offbeat experiences that defined our medium in the first place.

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