In 1991 the first ever website was published. Web design has come a long way since then. The first website itself heralded the digital revolution. From GIFs and bright colours to other historical web design choices, the entire website development process has brought about a revolution for growing businesses. Here are the takeaways for web designers, based on a 20-year review.
- The 90s: The Dark Ages
Prior to 1991 and during the late 90s, there were no high-speed sites when it came to building internet connections. Either there was a dial up modem or quite simply, nothing. Websites during this period were not build for stellar connection speeds. What is now thought of as design layout had no existence in those days. Websites comprised mostly of text. Later versions of HTML permitted more complex design capabilities, though they were basic, comprising of tags for links, paras and headers. Visual aspects like font-work, typography, navigability and imagery were still elusive as determining features of the design process.
Though the function of these earlier sites was informative, the web pages still have takeaways for designers in the present digital era. Web pages were lightweight, optimising slow net connections. Further, the design considerations also considered user experience, with even faster connection speeds being a creation of a later era. Present-day internet connectivity improves the quality of media rich sites. However, there are limitations as well. Large media files and elaborate graphic designs can increase the bounce rate when local speeds are not what are expected.
- Mid 90s: The Medieval Age
During the middle years of the mid-90s, designers were plagued by on-site page builders and spacer GIFs. At this time, web design had evolved in terms of appearance and structure. Designers also opted for table-based layouts for organizing content, permitting greater creativity and flexibility. Sites were text heavy, though organised into navigational elements. Graphical design elements also rose in popularity. This ranged across page-hit counters, dancing GIFs and animated text.
Table-based design is not the best choice for websites – there’s extensive markup and visual inconsistency. Additionally, the pages load very slowly. This was an important development in the evolution of web design. It was the start of a move towards a page structure.
Different elements could be positioned at different web page sections so designers can consider how to present the information to the user. Page structure, however, remains critical till today when one thinks about content, call to action, trust signals and navigation. How the elements are positioned also determines how users experience and interact with a site.
- Late 90s: The Revival
This marked the renaissance period of web design. Web design and development had its fair share of re-imagining but flash was one of the first to actually be introduced. Developed in 1996, flash opened up a world of possibilities, as opposed to basic HTML. It combined interaction and virtual graphics. Though most design elements of the previous period were evolving, these developed with new features like colour-changing navigations, neon colours, 3D buttons, tiled background images and ever-popular splash pages. It also marked the start of visitor-oriented design. Structure as well as navigation marked an important consideration and design focused on usability and appearance.
- The Start of 2000s: A Time Of Enlightenment
At the start of the 21st century, support for CSS grew, permitting the separation of content from design. This provided greater freedom to content developers and web designers. Content could now be exclusively developed from design and vice versa. This makes it essential to maintain less code and complexity, more flexibility and quickness in loading. Better understanding of colour also saw the rise of white-spaces and a fall in garish colours like neon. Links were attached to icons rather than just text, pixelation and resolution are important concerns. Considerations over the placement of content also grew. Overall, it was a period when usability became more important than other design elements.
People scan websites, looking only for information required. A smart web designer knows that readers take in information and don’t read everything on the site. Intuitive placement of data, links that are visually accentuated and easy navigation form the core of effective web designing. Designing for a user-friendly UX is critical.
- Mid-2000s: Web 2.0
With the birth of web 2.0, the industrial revolution of design began. This was the time that things really moved towards the modern web. Growth of multimedia apps, implementation of interactive content and rise of social web are just some of the important features here. These features dictated the way web designing was carried out. There was more focus on typography, greater use of icons and advanced colour distribution. Design increasingly focused on content. With users at the centre of the design, selling products became a secondary function of sites.
The evolution of web 2.0 saw SEO grow too. Thinking about websites in terms of SEO is central to all individuals. SEO requires content and this is a focus of web designing during this era. Keyword optimisation, outbound and inbound linking, authoring, tagging, and syndication technology such as RSS have become natural design elements, apart from an emphasis on organic rankings as well.
Two decades post the publication of the first website, web designing has become a critical part of not just website development, but marketing as well. There’s minimalism, flat graphics, larger background images and blended typography at play now. UX and UI have become central to good design and so have SEO and security features. Google’s emphasis on quality backlinks and exceptional content have changed the rules of web designing forever. Design features like single-page design and infinite scrolling have also taken centre-stage.
Since the start of the 21st century, websites have integrated rapidly to the lives of people. Changes have transpired in the way people access and use the web, influencing the way websites are designed. Several modern kinds of browsers have been introduced, most being open source in the sense that supports modern standards and faster development. Further innovation has led to the release of new standards for JS API, CSS3 and HTML5 by WC3. Clearly, the future is now for web designers who seek disruptive technologies and design agility to bring new life to your website.