The Interesting History Of Web Design

As a modern web designer, it is hard to imagine what the industry of web design looked like in the past. What we know about the Internet and website today did not exist 25 years ago. As a web designer, it is important to examine the history of web design, so you can see how this wonderful field has evolved into the industry it is today.

This article will look at how the field of web design has evolved over the past 25 years, starting in the year 1990 and ending in 2017. Let’s get started!


The Prehistoric Year (1989)

This was the very beginning of web design as we know it. It was dark, literally. Screens were black and white and only had a few monochrome pixels. Design, during this time, was made via symbols and tabulation.


The Early Years (1990-1994)

The years between 1990 and 1994 can be viewed as the primitive days of the web era. During this time, websites only included plain text. It was not until 1992 that websites started to include images and text alongside each other. 

Specific Design Trends
During this era, there are only 16 web safe colors that are supported by monitors. Websites are very text heavy, as the very early browsers before 1993 only supported text.

Browsers Available During This Time
The only browsers available during this era were Netscape and Lynx (text only browser).

Innovations Web Design

1990 - It is hard to imagine a life without HTML. However, this language did not come to life until the year 1990. In 1990, HTML became the first markup language used by early web developers as the building blocks for webpages.

1991 - Though HTML was born in 1990, the first website utilizing HTML was not created until 1991. Tim Berners-Lee gets the credit for creating the first HTML-based website.

1992 - In 1992, table-based web design is introduced. This new web design format quickly takes over the Internet.

1993 - By 1993, there were 600 active websites online, and over 10 million Internet users. 1993 was also the birth of the landing page. MTV was an early adopter of this new website format. Below is a picture of their first landing page.


1994 - A world without Internet access is hard to fathom. We depend on the ability to utilize the Internet wherever we are, whenever we want. We do not think twice about checking our email, or browsing social media while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Who is to thank for giving us precious access to the Internet since 1994? The World Wide Web Consortium, (W3C). In 1994, The World Wide Web Consortium was established to implement a set of core principles and components so the Internet could be accessed consistently by all people.


The Years 1995-1997 (The Leap-Forward Years)

During this era, web design takes another leap forward. There is an explosion of innovation that brings forth exciting new possibilities to web designers and developers. The creation of these innovations resulted in some busy web designs, which would be deemed highly unattractive by today’s standards.

Specific Design Trends
During this era, the number of web safe colors jumped to 256, and Internet advertising made its debut in the form of flashing ads. Simple serif fonts also made their debut during this era, and colorful 3D buttons were implemented on many sites.

Browsers Available During This Time
In 1994, Opera 1.0 was released as a research product. It was not until 1995 that Internet Explorer 1 and Internet Explorer 2 were created and launched. During 1996, Internet Explorer 3 was launched which supported multimedia and JavaScript, along with add-ons like email.  Netscape Navigator 3 was also released in 1996, and at one point took over 90% of the market share.

Innovations Web Design

1995 - The year of 1995 brought many exciting things for the web design industry. First, PHP (personal home page), was released, which made simple web applications, such as web forms, a reality. During that same year, a new programming language, Ruby was released. JavaScript was also released as a part of Netscape Navigator 2.0B3, and Macromedia Shockwave is born to add animation and interactivity to websites.

1996 -  was the year the CSS was born, which brought many new exciting layout and design possibilities to web designers. This same year Flash was launched, which would be used to create vector images, games, applications, and animations. 1996 was also the year Active Server Pages, (ASP), was released in Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack.

1996 also brought frames, which would allow users to display two or more web pages or media elements side-by-side within the same browser window.

1997 - HTML saw its first major improvement in 1997 with the introduction of HTML 4.0. The improvements helped to internationalize the Internet by defining a Universal Character Set to support Internet use worldwide. This helped increased Internet users to 100 million.


The Years 1998-2001 (The Years of Navigation & The Y2K Scare)

During this era, websites continued to expand the content offering, with a new effort focused on how to organize and access this content. This era brought about growing attention to menus and navigation, while elaborate designs became more of a thing of the past. Ecommerce also became a thing.

Specific Design Trends
During this era, menus and navigation took a front and center seat. Web designers realized that many sites were too cluttered, so the industry as a whole started to slowly scale back on the amount of content on each page. Color schemes focused on dark and block color backgrounds, and gradients became a very popular design scheme.

Browsers Available During This Time
There were not many large releases of Internet browsers during this era. In 1999, Internet Explorer 5.0 was launched, and in 1996, Internet Explorer 6 was launched.

Innovations Web Design

1998 - In 1998, PHP 3 is released, which results in a way for web designers to create dynamic web pages. This is the same year Google launches. With the creation of Google, the Internet would be changed forever. 1998 also marks the year that CSS2 is released.

1999 - In 1999, developers made improvements to CSS2 with the launch of CSS3. CSS3 introduces new functions and features that would change the face of the web design and development for years to come. By 1999, there were over 279 million active Internet users and over 2.2 million websites online.

2000 - How could we forget about Y2K? Besides bringing about panic, the year 2000 was a great year for web design and development as more and more companies were going online. The year 2000 is the year that one of the largest secure online payments methods, PayPal, took off.


The Years 2002-2005 (The Years Of Social Media & Web 2.0)

This era brought innovation that provided web designers with the power to integrate unprecedented amounts of animated content into their sites. While Splash Pages and Flash were popular, there was an increased focus on the readability and functionality aspects of websites. Internet speeds during this era are faster than ever before, allowing for new design options and video content.

Specific Design Trends
Flash animation intro pages and Splash Pages were very trendy. Animated content was subtly integrated into websites. There was an increased focus on readability and overall functionality.

Browsers Available During This Time
One of the major players in the browser world was introduced in 2004. You may have heard of it. Does Firefox ring a bell? During 2004, Firefox 1.0 was launched. This new, state-of-the-art browser was an open-source challenger to the clunky Internet Explorer.

Innovations Web Design

2002 - Social media and blogging first hit the scene in 2002. Specifically, WordPress, an open-source blogging system is launched, alongside social networking site, MySpace.

2003 - 2003 was the year Web 2.0 was born. Web 2.0 brought the age of user-based information in the form of blogs, social media, and wikis. In 2003, there were over 782 million total Internet users and over 38 million websites online.

2005 - The second largest search engine in the world was born in 2005. No, it is not Bing. It’s YouTube. YouTube was launched in 2005, providing users with the ability to upload their own videos and watch the videos of others. YouTube was bought by Google in 2006, starting the Google empire.


The Years 2006-2009 (The Years of Skeumorphic Design)

This era was all about making elements appear like their real-world counterparts, with less of an emphasis on cartoons. Video consumption online continues to increase.

Specific Design Trends
The years between 2006 and 2009 were the years of scrolling designs. Stock photography took off to help web designers replace cartoon images, with real-life counterparts. Drop and shadow techniques also saw an increase in popularity.

Browsers Available During This Time
Other major players within the Browser industry were launched during this time. In 2007, Safari introduced the first mobile browser. Forever changing how users were able to access the Internet.

 In 2008, Google released Google Chrome, and it instantly gains traction. Google Chrome is now the most used browser worldwide.

Innovations Web Design

2007 - In 2007, the first iPhone was released, which changed our relationship with the Internet and website design. The birth of the iPhone made responsive design a relevant topic to web designers and developers.

2008 - In 2008, the first working draft of HTML5 was released. The mobile web also took over in 2008. For the first time in history, more people than ever before were accessing the Internet via a cellphone than a desktop computer. Ready-to-use open source software also took off in 2008.


The Years 2010-2014 (The Years Of The Minimalist Approach)

The changes in web design in this displayed a shift towards flat design, a more minimalist approach that included simple design elements, typography, and flat colors. Responsive design is now front and center with the increased use of mobile Internet use.

Specific Design Trends
Flat designs are trendy during this era. There was an also an increased focus on responsive design, JavaScript animations, parallax, and animated gifs.

Browsers Available During This Time
There are now five major players in the browser industry: Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Opera. During this era, Google Chrome released over 30 updates, and Firefox released over 20.

Innovations Web Design

2010 - Coding got smart in 2010 with the introduction of HTML5.  HTML5 provided web designers with improved language to support the latest trends in multimedia. HTML5 was created to be easily read by humans, and consistently understood by computers and devices. By 2010, there were over 2 billion Internet users and over 240 websites online.

2013 - Before 2013, the majority of Americans went to physical financial institutions to conduct routine banking activities. By 2008, 51% of U.S. adults conducted banking activities online.

2014 - the Internet turned 25 years old. Wow. Where has time gone?


The Years 2015-2018 (The Mobile Web + Mobile Commerce)

The usage of mobile devices now outnumbers the number of desktop computer used to consume the web. More people shop online than in physical retail stores. The website design process now takes a mobile-first approach in development. There are new technologies born every day to aid modern web development, Sass, Gulp, Bower, React, to name a few.



What Does The Future Hold?

Many of the websites you create today are built using the same code used in the 90’s; however, the processes you use have evolved immensely. In our ever-increasing digital world, it’s fun to think about what the future of web design holds.

For instance, how will the age of voice search change how we build websites? What new design trends will come into play, and how will we view these 10 years down the road? The possibility is endless.

Regardless of where the future of web design takes us, feel satisfied in knowing you will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of this great industry.

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