A Brief History Of Web Design Trends

While in the grander scheme of things, the internet is still a relatively new phenomenon, can you believe that it’s now just over 25 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee launched the first ever website?  While the internet is still really in its infancy, and has such a long way to go, it has still come on an incredible amount in the last 25 years, and has seen a fair few trends come and go. 

While it’s fun to look back on these trends and see what stuck, it’s even more exciting to think where we’ll be in another 25 years’ time!

Early 90s

While the first websites were an incredible achievement, they weren’t all that great to look at. Web pages in the early 90s were extremely primitive by today’s standards, and were largely just single column text-based pages. Images weren’t supported until 1993, and even then only 16 colours were supported by most computer monitors, so designers had a very limited palette to work with! These early sites were all made using HTML, the coding language which was created in 1990 and were the first baby steps toward the web we know today.

Late 90s

By the mid 90s, the web moved on from the standard single column approach with table-based sites making it possible to create multiple columns, meaning better organization of content and easier navigation. The amount of web safe colours shot up from 16 to 256, which led to an explosion of bright and colourful sites. Other tools such as simple animations also came to be used in abundance with the release of Macromedia Shockwave in 1995 and Flash in 1996. This led to a proliferation of animations on sites toward the end of the 90s although perhaps just for the novelty factor rather than for any real aesthetic or practical purpose. PHP (Personal Home Page) also became popular in this period and allowed dynamic applications such as guestbooks and online forms. Those little view counters also became a standard site at the bottom of pages!

Early 00s

Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 was launched in 2000, and was the first browser to harness the potential of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which allowed designers to separate content from web design. Designers could now change elements such as background, text size and such in a style sheet rather than by altering the actual HTML. This period also saw more of a focus on improved navigation and menus, with navigation bars at the top of the page becoming the norm, as well as a rise in drop down menus.Design also became a little subtler, with less content on one screen, and animated content becoming used more sparingly.

Late 00s

Design elements such as drop shadows, embossing and textures aimed at making things look more like their real world counterparts. YouTube was launched in 2006 and sparked an increase in video content on the web. Interactivity also becomes key, with an increase in types of content which changes without the user having to hit refresh. As social media sites like Twitter and Facebook took off there was also an increase in content that could easily be shared.Present day .The most recent shift in web design is toward the ‘mobile web’, with smartphones now the most popular way to access the web.

Since this shift, we’ve seen more and more mobile friendly websites, whether they be separate designs or responsive ones which change dependent on the screen they’re being viewed on. In fact, responsive design is now considered a must by some designers, including Identify Web Design who told us: “The somewhat harsh reality is that if you don’t make the shift as users do, you’re going to be left behind and your business will suffer as a result.

“On the upside, evolving your site can help you get a step ahead of the competition.” Sites in general are now being designed to be longer and thinner rather than sort and wide to reflect the changing nature of device being used.  These mobile friendly sites usually display less content, but prioritize the important stuff. They also sometimes utilise things such as GPS software to determine the user’s location, for example to find you the nearest train station or hotel.

It’s quite incredible to think how far we’ve come from the text based sites of the early 90s, but web design has evolved at a rapid pace, with no signs of slowing down. As difficult as it may be, it’s crucial that designers keep on top of these trends as they develop to keep their site up to date and the best user experience it possible can be.

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