Website design is more important than ever before. How, you might ask, did we get here? What follows is a skeleton history of web design.
The First Website
The very first website was launched from the CERN nuclear research center in 1991. Tim Berners Lee – the brains behind the creation of the internet – uploaded a simple and informative page about the ideas behind his creation. The page also contained information about hypertext. The page was extremely basic. It was simply a white background adorned with thinly spread Times New Roman text. The website might not have looked like much, but it was truly revolutionary in concept. It included hyperlinks to pages where a user might find information about the newborn World Wide Web. Tim Berners Lee might not have known just how influential his simple website would prove to be when he announced the World Wide Web as an “information retrieval initiative”. We have come a long way.
Web Design Finds Its Feet
The internet blossomed quickly, and the sheer diversity of early web design styles represents the wild west atmosphere of the online world at the time. The first online image (bizarrely depicting a fictional pop group made up of scientists) was uploaded in 1992. Images were an exciting new tool for web designers, and many went wildly overboard: crowding out websites with images and colors.
Web design as a whole began to find its feet in the mid-1990s. The key to good early web design was functionality. Certain elements – slow internet speed, limited storage and the need for hyperlinks and clear navigational elements – dictated how websites appeared at the time. This didn’t stop some designers from trying to crowd far too much information onto tiny pages.
A backlash against this crowded aesthetic occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A new emphasis on cohesion and simplicity swept through the web design community. Early websites could be remarkably hard to navigate. Walls of text and flash animations would often distract visitors from important content.
Designers started to develop more minimalist ways of displaying information online. On September 4th, 1998 a website launched that embodied this new minimalist aesthetic: Google. Google’s home page did not present any information other than a search bar and a logo. This was incredibly functional design and effective branding. Google’s home page has remained largely unchanged – a huge testament to the original design.
The effects of the minimalist turn made in web design in the late 1990s and early 2000s can still be seen today. Companies like Alt Agency, a website designer in Redditch, still try and present information efficiently and clearly. Masses of text are not employed. Instead, minimal copy is used containing only the most useful information, often optimized for search engine ranking.
The Dawn of Social Media
In the early 2000s, experimental social venues online started gaining traction and breaking into the mainstream. Early services like Friendster were quite limited and often had clunky design.
August 1st, 2003 saw the launch of a social media giant. Myspace was developed by Chris Dewolf and Tom Anderson to capitalize on the minor success of sites like Friendster while opening up social media to wider markets. Their website was a resounding success – in part because of its revolutionary design. Myspace had very strong branding with cohesive bold color schemes – but it was also very customizable. Each user’s page could be easily altered using HTML code. This meant that social media users had something never accessible to them before control.
This concept of user control has been extremely influential in social media web design. The shadow of Myspace still looms large. Although no social media site offers as much customization freedom as myspace did in its heyday, almost all social media platforms offer some degree of aesthetic control to users
Today, people don’t just visit websites from their computers. Roughly half of all internet browsing is done on mobile devices like phones and tablets. This has led to a shift in web design. Mobile compatibility is now baked into any newly designed website worth its salt. Once again, simplicity is the key to good design. Small mobile screens are not particularly good for displaying squashed or miniature text. The information needs to be immediately available to the visitor. Good mobile design principles are based on user friendliness. Key to this is removing the need for users to zoom and scroll while they try and find what they want.