The Evolution of Web Design

Written by - 09/02/2016

Web design has changed dramatically since the first ever website, CERN was published in 1991 by Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Gone are the days of white pages and Times New Roman, developments in coding and design software combined with new ways of thinking allow visual designs to come to life. Over the last 25 years, websites have grown from simple pages of text to interactive experiences full of images, colour, animation and video. All features that wouldn’t have even seemed possible back in 1991.

Being the first ever published website, CERN was impressive in its own right, a breakthrough in technology. But the design was basic to say the least, a simple serif typeface was used and the only colour was links between pages. In terms of layout, the first websites only had content in single columns and were rather flat visually.

By the mid 1990’s, most sites contained images, but for administrators, design was not considered as important as content. This time also marked the birth of online page builders that allowed anyone with internet access to build their own website. These page builders made a significant step in web design, instead of single column pages, designers could now use tables to layout the content of their sites. Hit counters also became a prominent feature of many pages.

From a user’s point of view, the mid 90’s saw a huge turning point. People began judging websites based on their appearance, requiring web designers to be hired to find new ways to improve sites, rather than just having good content. The focus was soon moved onto colour and layout.

In 1996, Macromedia invented Flash which added some excitement and competition to web design. Web design became something in its own right, away from web development. However, often designers would get carried away and try to use all of these new features in one site to make it appear advanced, needless to say the mid to late 90’s saw some of the most poorly designed websites ever seen.

The invention of Javascript, followed by Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in the early 2000’s, are possibly the most significant stages in the evolution of web design. They made designing websites significantly easier and allowed designers to focus on their graphics and the actual design of the page itself. Properties of design elements, such as boxes, could all be defined in pieces of code that would apply to multiple pages. Javascript brought an end to table based designs and allowed for drop down menus, input forms and resulted in a trend that saw navigation menus moving from the original vertical position to being horizontal across the top of a page.

Nowadays, coding is used to build and implement functionality into a site. The actual design tends to happen before hand, rather than at the same time. Software such as Adobe Photoshop allows designs to be created, thought-through and finalised before the site is built.

Web design started off as something that was not even considered but has since grown dramatically and has become vitally important. This is perhaps why companies invest in getting their website designed by professionals. Websites used to always be about the content and the information visitors could obtain. Now, it is as much about a user’s experience and feeling towards a site than the content they receive. However, web design still has its limitations. A designer can only design a webpage that is actually possible to create in code, and with technology ever developing, it seems likely we won’t have to wait that long till any design could come to life.