The Early Days of Web Design
Web design has been important since sites began competing for attention. A well-designed site holds readers’ interest, is easy to read, and presents its content in a clear, organized way. Views on what accomplishes this have changed over the years, as the available technology has changed and designers have accumulated experience.
The earliest Web pages, starting in 1991, weren’t “designed” in the sense of paying special attention to layout. They were articles written by researchers for other researchers, and all that mattered was the content and links.
Websites in the Mid-90s
By the second half of the nineties, commercial sites were starting to appear. The appearance of a site became a more serious concern. Web designers started to give more attention to readability and appeal, and sites started to use animation for serious purposes. At first, the only option was animated GIF images.
Then came Adobe Flash, which allowed a huge range of effects. Sites built almost entirely on Flash began appearing. On the server side, dynamic pages with PHP and CGI started coming into use. This made website design even more undisciplined, as site creators had a bigger set of tools to play with.
The Web at the Turn of the Century
By the start of the 21st century, a new idea started to take hold: the creation of pages should involve not just technical knowledge, but expertise in visual design as well. CSS2 had been available since 1998, allowing the important principle of separation of appearance and content. Page creators had much finer control over the placement and appearance of every element.
As people with design skills joined in the process, they recognized that too much material on a page or too much text in an unbroken block is a burden on the reader. They started splitting content into more pages, with menus and tables for navigation. The landing page became increasingly important, often having little content but directing viewers to other pages. Blinking text and bright colors started giving way to more subdued designs.
The growing availability of high-speed connections, faster processors, and monitors with more pixels opened new opportunities to designers. High-resolution graphics and animations became popular. Multi-column layouts and sidebars took advantage of the larger screens. People started talking about “Web 2.0” for pages with interactive and customized features.
The Later 2000s and Mobile Web Design
A revolution came in 2007 with the release of the iPhone. Its impact wasn’t obvious at first, but smartphones would soon completely change the way people used the Internet. The immediate impact came from Steve Jobs’ declaration that it wouldn’t support Flash. Adobe’s software was starting to show its age, and it presented several problems. It wasn’t a W3C standard but a proprietary plugin. Other technologies had become available.
Search engines had rapidly risen in importance, and Flash content was invisible to them. The phrase “search engine optimization” wasn’t in common use yet, but site owners wanted their pages to be found. Meanwhile, it was becoming possible to create more kinds of content with HTML, reducing the need for Flash. 10+ years later, Flash is as dead as a doornail.
Website Design from 2010 to the Present
Since 2010, mobile devices have grown to the point of accounting for more than half of the Web page access in the world. This means that sites have to work well on both small and large screens. For a while, the dominant design approach was to offer two versions of a page. This was a maintenance headache, though, and people receiving links could find themselves on the wrong page for their machine. These problems led to responsive design as a better solution.
The design of your website has a huge impact on whether your prospects choose to do business with you. When is the last time you took a deep dive into the user experience of your site? Download our 12-point website user experience checklist to get started.
Future Trends and Website Design Services
As design trends continue to change, we’ll be with you to create the most attractive and up-to-date appearance and features for your site. Contact BNP Engage to learn more about our B2B web design services!