Since the birth of the first website, in 1991, web design has improved immensely. A Web Designer controlled the appearance of a site but focused more on page load times than any other aspect of User Experience (UX). Early sites featuring 100% text-based designs marked the beginning of what would later become a digital revolution. But even 20 years ago, User Experience was in its infancy.
Back in the days of dial-up modems, websites were understandably simple. Heavily text-based websites with little to no “design layout” were the norm. Most websites included tags for headers, paragraphs and links…and that’s about it. From a User Experience standpoint, this meant that websites loaded as quickly as possible so that the user could find what they were looking for. Attention to design elements such as typography, graphics and navigation were all things of the none-too distant future.
Designers soon began to consider webpage organization structure, navigation, basic typography, and graphical elements. Web design had evolved to include table-based layouts, which organized content into columns and rows. The development of table-based layouts is an important one in the evolution of UX design. It was the start of an intensive move towards page structure, which hadn’t existed prior. Page structure remains an important aspect of user experience design today when contemplating things like the navigation, content and calls to action. Graphical elements also began to rise in popularity on the web. Graphics were still kept to a minimum to decrease load time but page hit counters, marquee text and animated GIFS were just a few of the graphical elements that became popular during this time period.
Many of the same design elements such as graphics and table based layouts remained popular. Flash was developed in 1996 and rose to popularity in the late 90s. Flash opened up a whole world of possibilities that weren’t imaginable with HTML alone. Websites now contained more graphical elements and designers took advantage of new interactive animations including 3D-Buttons, clickable splash pages, slideshows and colorful hover states. Flash brought about the start of visitor-focused design, which is still an important part of UX today. Site structure and navigation were significant design deliberations and UX designers began to consider both aesthetics and usability.
This time period marked the growing popularity and support of CSS. Unlike HTML tables and flash layouts, CSS allowed for the parting of content and design. Websites were easier to maintain than ever before because they were less complex and more flexible. CSS produced quicker load times than HTML tables, allowing designers to consider the use of higher quality photos and more graphical elements. Aesthetically, designers began to experiment with color theory, iconography and the importance of whitespace. UX designers realized that the typical user scans a website and only pulls out the information that they need. Content and design elements were strategically placed, keeping the user in mind.
Mid to Late 2000s
The Modern Web
I think we can all agree that website design has changed quite a bit over the past two decades. Since that first website was built in 1991, website design has become an important part of every marketing plan. Modern website design focuses on minimalism, flat graphics, enhanced typography options, and most importantly – UX has taken center stage. Design features such as infinite scrolling and single-page design have also grown in popularity with the goal of simplifying the user experience.
The importance of designing and developing mobile first has driven UX design in recent years. Responsive designs are the new norm and have caused designers to re-evaluate how a webpage should be structured and what content is actually important. These were factors that came into play in the design and coding of a new website for our client ChildSavers.
One factor has remained consistent throughout the development of UX design – the importance of content. Designers have constantly been considering effective ways to bring relevant content to the user in the most efficient way possible. Concepts of usability, simplicity, accessibility, human interaction and flexibility have defined this era of UX design. Seeing how web design has evolved thus far, it’s exciting to think about where it will be in the next 20 years.