While we see websites every day (or at least most of us do), it’s hard to remember at times what old sites used to look like; sites that would once have been viewed as cutting edge now seem horribly dated – probably the same will be said about our websites in the future. In the space of less than 20 years, website design has changed in considerable ways, as early designers experimented with the limits of the platform, before moving towards the streamlined, flexible designs that we now see today.
Web design was shaped by its movement from a predominantly private, research based form towards something that could be accessed by the public and used by businesses; prototypical web browsers in the early 1990s such as Mosaic, which ran on a Unix engine, provided a basic way to view content using HTML coding – with sites still depending on slow dial up connections, at best pages could deliver a lot of text and few covers or typography options.
With Netscape helping to enable the wider spread of the Internet in the mid 1990s, more emphasis began to be placed on distinguishing between pages – designers experimented with HMTL 2, as well as with style sheets and images; Internet Explorer further helped to establish standards for web pages, while .gifs and Flash animations were used to add some variety to static websites. However, and as can be seen from websites of the time, these rarely helped functionality, and were more a distraction as pages quickly filled with images, slow loading backgrounds, and texts.
By the early 2000s, there was at least some turn towards simplifying navigation on pages through better integrated elements and icons, while streamlining colours and making pages more accessible;design standards based around different versions of HTML, improved CSS, and the use of Flash animation for intros made it possible for pages to at least show some more variety and style.
Faster broadband speeds enabled designers to integrate more content, but also saw some emerging giants like Google and Facebook turn towards simply laid out pages where the emphasis became more about finding content as quickly and simply as possible. The greater availability of streaming video saw page design cut back, and use well structured code and templates to cut down on crashes – moreover, plug ins and formats for blogs like WordPress helped create more minimalistic designs.
While the rate by which web design changes is high, in recent years the need to reproduce pages on mobile devices has helped encourage more subtle design choices, from using single background images to infinite scrolling, as well as putting more focus on making pages easy to navigate, rather than flashy for the sake of showing off. Being able to easily add social media tool bars and embedded content has also made it much more pressing to create websites that are geared towards delivering simple but well-designed content.
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