How 25+ Years of Web Design Evolution Got Us Here

In the United States, seven out of ten small businesses have a business website. Non-business entities, as well as individuals, are also free to develop their own websites and add to the pile of more than 1.8 billion websites that are online at this very moment. Websites can be useful, fun, and interesting. But they’re also getting increasingly complex.

In 2018, web design is a mash of different technologies and services. It’s not that uncommon to use AI in web design or rely on custom writing services for professionally crafted copy. And that’s without even mentioning graphic design, or all the work that’s done under the hood to ensure that a website runs quickly, smoothly, and better than the competitors’.

Web design is a highly competitive field today. It’s mostly thanks to websites being incredibly important assets that have to stand out in a sea of other websites. But it wasn’t always like this.

A Jump to the Beginning of Web Design — The Early 1990s

The very first website that was ever online was created in 1991 by the father of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee. You can’t access the original website today, but you can still access a copy of it made in 1992. You’ll notice that the first website didn’t contain any images — it was all text and hyperlinks.

The structure of the first website was simple, as dictated by the early versions of HTML. You couldn’t do much besides setting headings and subheadings, paragraphs, and links. For much of the early 1990s, the websites you were able to visit used the same one-column, text-based design.

It looked pretty bleak, at least by today’s standards. The first websites had more in common with today’s text processors than today’s websites, with no dynamic elements.

The Mid-90s — The First Signs of Change

By the middle of the 1990s, web design has made some important strides. The earliest web design was low on design and high on structure. A couple of years later websites started looking differently. The single-column design was a thing of the past, as web design moved on and started using table-based layouts.

Coupled with web-based website builders, table-based layouts had a twofold effect. It became easier to build a website, and structure took the backseat and left design choices in the lead. But this wasn’t the golden age of good design, though. Web design was mostly concerned with whatever looked the most advanced, not the best, most functional, or pleasing.

Some of the design elements that came about during this evolutional step of web design became iconic. Hit counters, the boxes that showed how many visits there were to a website, started appearing on websites during this period. Background images were another invention of the era, as was scrolling text. Gif spacers were all the rage. Flash was developed, and it started gaining grounds.

The Late 90s and the Reign of Flash

By the end of the decade, Flash became a staple of web design. Shockwave, developed by Macromedia, was another way to give some dynamics to a website. It was even developed before Flash. However, it was too large and clunky for users who still accessed the Internet using a dial-up collection. Flash was smaller and nimbler, and it quickly became the staple of web design.

Flash didn’t do away with table-based layouts. It became a part of them. One of the common uses for Flash elements were in website navigation, where Flash-enabled buttons changed size and color when the users clicked on them. Splash pages with company logos or other graphics were another popular use of Flash.

The Early 2000s — CSS and JavaScript

CSS revolutionized web design at the turn of the millennium by allowing designers to separate web design from web content. The elements of the page that was in the realm of design were manipulated from a style sheet, instead of the page’s HTML code.

Soon enough, design world saw another earthquake in the form of JavaScript. The immediate effects included ditching the table and replacing it with JavaScript. JavaScript was also the beginning of the end for Flash. JavaScript was largely responsible for the drop-down menu, and it played a role in the rise of website forms. Both of these design elements are still very popular and widely used today.

Mid-to-Late 2000s — A Paradigm Shift

By the end of the decade, the “web” in “web design” was undergoing significant changes. A new paradigm was emerging, one that would let the user take an active role in the development of the website and its contents. Dubbed “Web 2.0”, the paradigm is most visible in social media websites, as well as applications. Web 2.0 development relies heavily on the use of asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

The way website users saw it, Web 2.0 meant that the content on web pages could change without the need to reload the page. They also probably noticed that websites started relying heavily on third-party content.

This gave rise to businesses such as WritingsGuru that specialize in content creation. Interoperability was becoming increasingly important, and users had the chance to share on social media everything they saw or read on the web

. Web Design in the Now

The decade we’re in is mostly focused on creating a good user experience across different devices. With the number of smartphone users rising, web designers had to come up with solutions that enabled a good viewing and navigation experience on devices with small screens. Creating mobile versions of the website was one way of doing it. Implementing responsive web design was another.

Mobile versions of websites contain a minimal number of elements. An important task of web design is to determine which of the elements are crucial for the performance of specific websites, as these are the elements that end up displayed on smartphones. Websites are taller these days, and they often use location data to deliver a localized experience.

And that’s how we got where we are today. Smartphones are the preferred device to browse the web. Websites are getting better at learning about the people who visit them, and we’re slowly progressing towards the Semantic Web. In the near future, we’ll probably see more of virtual or augmented reality incorporated into web design. And all of that started with a simple HTML website that didn’t even have multiple columns.

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