20Oct 2017

The History of Web Design

Web design has evolved from being a combination of text and images to highly interactive flat designs. It has truly come a long way. It all started in 1990 when the concept of the web was conceived. If we compare the scenario from now, things were very different. The computing power was limited, technologies were scarce, and the speed of the internet was way slower and many such issues. It all progressed gradually and so did the web designing. As we all know, web designing came into the picture with the invention of HTML which was a language that the web browsers could understand and represent. Simultaneously browsers were built which could convert the HTML code to something that the users could see and interact with.

When these things were being created, there was a need of a group which could manage it all. It paved way for the establishment of W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) which worked towards making the internet reach of all people in a consistent manner. Internet grew in span and so did the web design. Earlier the emphasis was not on user experience, but on increasing the number of hits. Everything has changed now, but what remains intact is a web design and internet. The web design is now more inclined to providing the users, better experience in terms of usability and ease of use. Get ready to be nostalgic as we go down to memory lane and witness the history of Web design.

The period when it all started

The concept of the web was conceived in the year 1990, the year in which HTML was born. It was a markup language which could be read by the browsers which displayed the HTML code in a visual medium. At this period of time, the websites were text heavy as even the images were not supported. Also, there were only 60 colors that were supported by the browser. In the same year, the first web browser was also invented. It was called the Nexus, which supported HTML and texts in its earlier stages.

As the innovation was continuously on, it gave birth to Mosaic, a web browser which could display images with the text. It was like a revolution as the web pages became even more attractive and people started to see potential in web designing. Interestingly, Mosaic was also the first browser to use the layout which is accepted by most of the browsers even today. Talking of the web browsers, in 1994, a new breed of web browser, Netscape Navigator was born. It had some amazing feature which enabled it to open the web pages on-the-fly. The web browser was so powerful that the websites recommended the users to open them in Netscape Navigator.

After one year of birth of HTML in the year 1990, the first website had gone live making history. Three years later in the year 1995, the World web consortium was established with a set of principles which was aimed towards making the web available to the public consistently. This was the first era of the internet and the innovation began from here. Web design still in its nascent stage was crawling ahead as there were many who were toiling day and night to nurture it. Efforts were one which showed up in the next stage of web design where things underwent a sea change.

Innovation begins to never end

Both Internet and web design were surging ahead with great pace. The period from 1994 to 1998 was very crucial as it saw an explosion of innovation in web design. The increase in the computing power and the emergence of new technology changed the dimension of the web and transformation was more than visible. The web designers laid their hands on new found tools and used them quite liberally to come up with designs which were attractive then but look ugly when you them now. The changes that were brought about were many. For instance, the number of colours grew from 60 to 256 which meant more colourful web pages. The colours sometimes became too ugly to tolerate, but change was nonetheless accepted. Another glaring feature of the web design was advertisements which were designed garishly.

Businesses had anticipated the popularity of the web and had resorted to aggressive marketing through the web pages. It was all about designing flashy ads which could catch the attention of the users. The fonts used in the texts also experienced overhauling when serif fonts like Times New Roman and Courier New etc. were introduced. The web design was already experiencing a sea change and was gearing up for the next innings. Another feature that was added to the web design trends in that period was colourful buttons which gave 3D like feel and lured the users to click on them which they readily did. This was the period which also saw great innovations in web browsers as many new browsers were introduced with new and exciting features.

In the year 1994, Opera browser was introduced as a research project. Next year, a series of browsers like Internet Explorer 1 and 2 were launched. It was the time when Netscape Navigator ruled the roost and almost 90% of the internet users favoured Netscape Navigator. The reign finally saw the end when in the year 1996, Internet Explorer 3 was launched by Microsoft. It supported a truckload of features like multimedia, Activex controls for supporting dynamic contents, Java applets and internet mailing service. With its launch, Netscape started going into oblivion and IE 3 was lapped by the web enthusiasts. Web design and development was also taking major strides in the meanwhile.

PHP (Preprocessor Hypertext) was introduced in the year 1995 which made dynamic web development possible. It was then used for making simple web applications and web forms. In the same year, a new language called Ruby was launched which was also meant for dynamic web development. Interactivity and animation were brought about in the web design with the introduction of Macromedia Shockwave which enabled the web designers to add flash content to the website. The websites got a new avatar with flash content making them more interactive and attractive. Java script was also introduced by Netscape in the same year in a bid to make the web even more interactive. The innovation had just begun to never cease. The styling of the webpage was able to be accomplished only after the invention of CSS (Cascading style sheet) in the year 1996. It brought exciting new styles and layouts in the web designing domain. The web designers had found a toy to play around and build websites with attractive styles and layouts. In the same year, Active server page (ASP) and Macromedia flash was launched which were poised to change the face of the web. Where ASP made creation of dynamic contents easier, Macromedia Flash created vector graphics and animated applications which were a rage at that time.

The innovation was on in full swing as the next year saw the birth of HTML 4.0 which had the features that internationalized the web. A universal character set was developed to support the world wide use of the web. A total of 100 million internet users were there in the year 1997.

In the coming years, many new web design elements were introduced to present the content in a more organised and structured manner. This approach gave rise to menus and navigation. The design also got a little subtle but still relied heavily on colours. Dark backgrounds were popular during this period and the web designers preferred lesser text on one page and more mini-pages. The coming years saw newer versions of Internet explorers as IE 5.0 and IE 6.0 are launched in the year 1999 and 2000 respectively. In the year 1998, Internet and web found a new player, Google, which went to change the way the internet works. Further innovations during the year 2002 to 2006, gave rise to new tools like newer versions of CSS and flash which enabled the web designers to integrate graphical and animated content to the website. The increase in the computing power and internet speed made it possible for the users to view flash content on the website which enhanced the readability of the web.

In 2005, YouTube was launched which made the viewing of videos possible on the websites. In successive years, WordPress was launched which made website development even easier by introducing automation in the processes. Social media websites also came into prominence when Facebook was launched in 2004. Skeuomorphic design was very popular in this era. After 2007, when smartphones were introduced, websites had the extra responsibility of catering to the mobile users, which accessed the internet through their mobile devices. Responsive design approach thus came into prominence which is still very much relevant. If we talk about the current scenario, things have changed drastically. Skeuomorphic design has now been replaced with flat design which is followed by most web designers. The history of the web design is a perfect example of rapid innovation and truly worth reminiscing.

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Rajeesh PK

Rajeesh PK

Rajeesh P.K. is the Director and Creative Head at Acodez . With an experience of 10+ years in UX Design & User Interface Design, when coupled with his expert coding skills in HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript, makes him one of the top UX Architects in India, with more than 15 international awards to his credit.

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