Evolution of Web Design; Early 2000s

As the Millennium turned things were really accelerating online, the web was getting widely used by businesses as they realised it was the future, even if they weren’t too sure how to use it as yet it was clear that claiming a stake was a good idea. Download speeds kept bulking up so it was becoming possible to view low quality video, graphics and photographs could be used much more extensively and some new technology began to emerge with the web designers squarely in mind.

With high quality video capability still held back by download speeds designers nevertheless wanted to be able to do more than could be elegantly achieved with HTML and tables, they wanted smooth shapes and animation across the entire screen rather than highlighting a small bullet point, they wanted something flash for their web designs, and they got it.

“Flash” was a new way to code websites, making it possible to smoothly animate entire websites without the need for vast video files. It could move shapes around, play bits of music and video, stick different shapes of different colours together and all kinds of highly adaptable functions designers had a great time playing with. The experimental nature of playing with this new technology took things in a few tangential directions especially in terms of the previously well established menu system. With flash you could click one part of the screen and have images and info popping up somewhere else entirely, every new website you visited was something of an experience figuring out just how to navigate around it.

Gabo Flash website designClassic early Flash design, Gabo was the first website to use Flash, the simple animated geometric shapes that resolved into circular buttons arranged around a logo were really typical of early Flash designs.

Meanwhile, horrified by the early Frontpage era, businesses had begun promoting a different approach to web design which was all about sober white space and limited colour palettes, much like a company report might look. In this area another coding innovation helped web designers make this move into precise design that was easy to maintain, update and adjust as required by a fast moving business.

Aberdeen Asset Management screen grab

CSS was basically an add-on to HTML, integrating smoothly with it to take control of all the design elements like fonts, colours and layouts separately from the core content which continued to be handled by the HTML. It made it easy to try out new colour schemes and layout tweaks across an entire website with one little adjustment rather than having to rewrite every single page of the site, and it also helped focus web designers into much more cohesive and branded approaches to what they were doing rather than hurling everything and the kitchen sink at every individual page. Good design is one of those things that can be as much about what you leave out as what you put in and the elegant logic of CSS helped enforce that.

The heavier creativity started to focus on the Flash web design. Trendy media related companies in particular wanted really visually impressive websites and Flash was ideal for doing this, even if the average Internet user was going to have a slow experience using them; design led over the content and the user experience. General businesses took a smarter approach utilising Flash as animated intro which would lead to a regular HTML/CSSmain website; it was literally a company report with a colourful cover and conservative contents.

This freeform mixing together of different technologies in a single website emerged as the real innovation of the period. Other languages appeared around this time such as PHP which made it possible for websites to carry out calculations and functions making e-commerce and online shopping possible. It was these subtexts that proved to have the staying power, today Flash is almost entirely phased out and strangely experimental navigation concepts have given way to a widely consistent approach of placing a clear navigation menu near the top of most websites.

A computer geek project was ballooning at incredible pace into a phenomenon with millions of people considering the new directions it could go in, and the turn of the Millennium was when everyone really realised there was no single solution. The best kind of web was one that could seamlessly integrate all the technologies together into a single, engaging user experience, just as originally conceived the web was for everyone and could be best created using everything rather than searching for some one-size-fits-all solution.

 

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