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The History of Web Design

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When Tim Berners-Lee created the internet in 1989, it's unlikely even he would have expected it to evolve and change as much as it has! It's still changing year on year! In fact, it's hard to imagine what life would be like without it! But to truly appreciate how web design is evolving, we first must look at its background and understand just how far it's come in 28 years.

Take a trip back in time and learn about the history of web design below!

The birth of the web in the early 1990s 

It was in 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee proposed to create a global hypertext project. This later became known as the World Wide Web. During the early 1990s, text-only pages could be viewed using a simple line-mode browser.

Even in its infancy, the internet still began to evolve, and with that, the web design techniques and technologies too. In the early 1990s, web design featured just one coding language called HTML (Hyper-Text-Mark-up Language). This is still used to this day. Surprisingly though, web design wasn't an afterthought at this point.

Initially, the world wide web was a creation of academics, who thought of it purely in terms of communicating raw information and data. The earliest web browsers struggled to incorporate even the simplest of images into web pages.

However, in 1993, Eric Bina and Marc Andreessen created the Mosaic browser. This was far more advanced than any other options at the time. In fact, it was known for breaking the mould and popularising the World Wide Web. The browser featured an intuitive interface, Windows port and simple installation and was the first of its kind to display images alongside text.

Berners-Lee envisioned something much closer to the web of today. However, you have to make a start somewhere and this text and links approach was the first rung of the ladder. To find out more about the humble beginnings of the web and the history of web design, visit our Evolution of Web Design in the Early 1990s article.

Web design in the late 1990s

The late 1990s brought with it the true arrival of the internet in the popular conscious. Alongside this came the birth of improved web design, as download speeds improved and people started to take control of the internet's evolution. The biggest change was in the mindset of website designers. They stopped being computer researchers and scientists and became graphic designers, with a focus on layouts, colours and styles.

Initially, the tools at their disposal were still very basic and far from innovative. However, these website designers realised they could 'hack' these tools to allow them to do more useful things in terms of visual presentation and functionality. For example, they were able to use images the same colour as the background to create space on-screen between text and pictures. They could also play around with the effects that could be created by tiny animated images.

Unfortunately, with this came an influx of DIY websites. These utilised every colour, font and text size that was available all within the same paragraph. This led to pages full of animated images and sites with background and foreground colour scheme clashes. Many of these have now become iconic for just how bad they look!

Despite this, the advancements in web design during the late 1990s were ultimately positive. Young and talented artists found a unique platform on which to share their writing, art and poetry. Plus, web designers were finding more and more unique ways to design interesting websites. If you'd like to know more, please visit our Evolution of Web Design in the Late 1990s article.

How the history of web design evolved in the early 2000s

The turn of the millennium heralded the acceleration of the evolution of web design. Download speeds continued to improve, meaning it was becoming increasingly possible to view low quality, graphics and videos. It also meant that photographs were used more extensively. New technology also began to emerge, including 'Flash' coding.

Flash was a brand new way of coding websites; making it easier to smoothly animate entire websites without the need for large video files. Designers could move shapes around, stick different colours or shapes together and play bits of video and music. The experimental nature of this new technology gave designers a substantial new platform on which to play. It also meant that every new website people visited was something of an experience. It especially led to them having to figure out just how navigate through it!

Alongside Flash, CSS was also created during the early 2000s. An add-on to HTML, this coding innovation integrated smoothly to take control of all design elements, like colours, layouts and fonts. It also separated it from the core content, which continued to be handled by the HTML. It then allowed designers to try out new colour schemes and layout improvements across an entire website. With one little adjustment rather than having to rewrite every single page, they could change aspects of the website.

Flash websites, in particular, were increasingly popular with businesses and web designers wanting visually impressive websites to wow potential visitors and customers. For more information about how the early 2000s really changed the face of web design, visit our Evolution of Web Design in the Early 2000s article.

The evolution of web design in the late 2000s

The birth of Flash brought with it the mature evolution of web design. Plus, a diversity of technologies and languages the likes of which we'd never seen before. Flash websites allowed designers to utilise a huge range of sounds, animations, images and games and gave people the chance to really display different styles, cultures and trends.

While corporate businesses stayed very minimalist with their website designs, media companies continued to push technology to the limit with experimental designs and functionality. There was also a middle ground starting to form; with some companies incorporating visual brands, printed materials, vehicle wraps and uniforms with their new websites.

The biggest development of web design and the internet in general in the late 2000s was the introduction of website concepts and social media platforms. Websites like Myspace, YouTube and Facebook allowed users to create content and then share it around between them. This was a startling new concept but one that grew very rapidly and is still the most popular form of engaging with others online.

The balance between design and functionality began to shift yet again. Myspace and others brought back individuals who adored plastering all kinds of colours, giant blinking text and patterns onto their free pages. Indeed, web designers were increasingly becoming scientists once again. These were great at juggling functionality and features but not necessarily making them look the greatest. To find out more about how the internet, and web design, changed in the late 2000s, visit our Evolution of Web Design in the Late 2000s article.

Web design; now and in the future

The last seven years have probably seen some of the biggest advancements in web design for quite a while. Download speeds reached a point where almost anything is possible thanks to the development of broadband internet connections. Coding languages were also tweaked, allowing web designers create even more stunning animations, video, music and functionality.

Web design now has moved the focus of web designers back from the visual side and more to the functionality side of websites. In fact, the ever-increasing use of mobile phones by members of the public wanting to browse the internet on-the-go has led to huge improvements in functionality.

Nowadays, if your website is not 'responsive', i.e. able to be viewed correctly no matter what size screen or type of device you're using, it's not likely to rank as well as it could if it was responsive or 'mobile-friendly'. Web designers now have to design and build websites with this in mind. Compare that to when the internet first came about and the difference is remarkable! Want to know more about how web  design is evolving even as we speak? Read our Web Design Now and in the Future article.

The history of web design has evolved hugely over the internet's 28 year lifespan and that is sure to continue over the next few years and decades. Where exactly it will take us, nobody knows. But one thing is for sure; it's going to be an interesting ride! You can follow web design's continuing evolution at the Smart Domain Group. We specialise in comprehensive web design packages that incorporate everything a small or medium sized business needs to market their products and services effectively. This includes responsive websites, copywriting, ongoing search engine optimisation, hosting, emails and after-sales support.