Evolution of Web Design

Posted by Helen on Wednesday September 20th, 2017.

Web design and development has come a VERY long way over the years and in today’s post we are going to span right back, looking at the history and evolution.

What exactly was the first ever website?

Making it’s debut on 6th August 1991 and created by a gentleman known as Tim Berners-Lee, the first ever website was text based for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. Purely informative, these pages that included hyperlinks was removed around 1993 before reinstated in 2013 due to the importance of human and technological development:

Looking at the first ever website above, we can see a stark contrast between that and those of the modern day. Having moved from an informational stance to a platform where individuals can buy and sell products, websites today are immensely different.

What about speed?

Back in the 1990’s, the only way to access a website was via dial up modems. Websites had to be built with connection in mind and this is why they were based primarily around text. There was no such thing as a ‘design layout’ with typography, imagery and navigation set to make an appearance later down the line.

Are there similarities between then and now?

Surprisingly, yes, there are. If you have been around long enough to remember dial up internet you will understand the frustrations of speed! Taking this into consideration, early websites were required to be somewhat lightweight making them optimised effectively in terms of a slow connection. Because lack of speed was a problem, the user experience was taken into consideration, a factor we now know and understand to be one of THE most important in terms of organic search.

So what happened next?

Moving into the mid-1990’s and fondly referred to as ‘The Middle Ages’ in internet terminology, the ‘on site page builder’ and Spacer GIF became a popular method of choice with structure and appearance both evolving heavily. Web designers chose a table-based layout in order to separate blocks of content. This was not only better aesthetically, it allowed for the creative ebb to flow. Text was still the main element of any website at this point but from a design perspective it looked a lot more visually appealing when found in boxes, columns and other navigational elements.

And guess what..?

The mid 1990’s was also the time when ‘page hit’ counters became most sought after, showing both website owners and potential customers how many people had visited a particular page/site. Again, if you were actively using the internet during this period of time you will certainly remember the joys of page hit counters and the impact they often had. Graphic design was very much on the rise with animated text and dancing GIFs rising in popularity. Bizarre to look back on these, especially when they were once considered the height of great design.

What about table based web design now?

Still popular….? Not so much! Owning extensive markup, lots of tables and columns alongside heavy weighted text only results in a slower pagespeed time, not to mention the visual appeal is somewhat negative. Whilst steps taken and reached in the 20th Century were positive in terms of layout from a visual perspective, the 21st Century comes with many more considering factors in terms of user experience and pagespeed.

Page structure now and then:

Having always been an important factor, page structure once served its purpose based upon a text based web page to be easily interpreted by the reader. The user would have been an individual looking purely to source information as opposed to sign up for a newsletter or make a purchase. As previously stated, structure developed from strings of texts in paragraphs, to blocks and columns, separating subjects and categories nicely. Today a web page offers navigation, images, content, calls to action and trust signals, all of which are strategically placed in order to improve website conversions.

But hang on…You haven’t mentioned Flash!

Ah yes, how could we forget? Flash! This first hit the net in 1996 but didn’t become widely used until a couple of years later. Basic HTML which had been used to date was great with developers making good use. Flash however offered a whole host of design possibilities that HTML simply couldn’t provide.

What exactly is Flash?

Remember previously when we have used the terminology ‘lightweight’ and the fact that websites had to meet this requirement in order to push through the barriers of dial up internet? Well Flash is a vector animation and it is the graphics located within the vectors that make them possible for use due to their lightweight nature. Perfect….. Or so you’d think! Whilst this works quite well for graphics, Flash does not handle text very well with much of it loading slower than standard HTML. This directly bears impact on usability – not good. In terms of increasing organic rankings or SEO, Flash is also a bad move and is better to be avoided at all costs. It did however, have its place at one time, helping within the productive journey to discovering the build of the perfect website.

Tell us about the 2000’s..

Up until now, content had very much been a huge part of web design. During the early 2000’s it was made possible for separation by CSS. A creative grasp for both designers and content allowed for wider scope of creative freedom allround. This time period also met with the positive introduction of whitespace, the attachment of links to icons as opposed to just text, with resolution and pixelation moving to the forefront of important design considerations.

Can we do a quick recap?

The first website to launch and those following were heavily text based with the main goal of offering the end user a place to find and research information. Moving forwards, this information was presented in a more visually appealing manner based upon rows columns and tables whilst the 21st Century offered appealing graphics and the separation of design and content. The common denominator between all website eras is user experience, with this always at the forefront of design.

But that’s not all!

Today, web design consists of ‘the modern web’, beginning with the birth of Web 2.0. It’s during this contemporary era when social media, interactive content and multimedia applications have grown massively. The results have been almost a dictation in the way in which a website is built. In terms of visual appeal, subtle colours, a greater use of icons and and more focussed attention on typography have all played their part in defining websites of today. In terms of content – this is all about SEO and at Inner City Digital we believe this to be secondary to user experience yet an extremely important factor of an all round strategic marketing campaign.