Origins

The advent of the website is not new any more! Over 20 years ago, the first website was published. Then, in 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and algorithms allowing the Web to scale. Oh my, how it has changed since then!

How it used to be

I started designing websites in the late 90’s through the early 2000’s. As the Web was a brand new emerging media form, it really was the Wild West – in a good, bad and sometimes ugly way.

The good: Because the Web was a brand new medium, everything was on the table to try. There were no templates to follow. Designers were often very creative in their web design approach. Using Adobe Flash animation to enhance websites became common practice. This vector-based tool brought highly compressed, web-friendly motion graphics into the forefront of digital design –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_animation and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash

Because there was no pre-set expectation of what a website needed to be, clients were very open-minded, willing to take chances and let web designers be creative. As a result, many firms were able to stand out from their competitors – regardless of size or industry. A fresh, distinctive website was a real differentiator. The novelty of the Web also meant that there was a sense of unbridled enthusiasm in the air…Great things were happening on the Internet… And the future was wide open!

The bad: Lack of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for layout and typography, a reliance on tables to build layouts, coupled with the prohibitive cost of custom Content Management Systems, forced clients to rely on designers to create – and upkeep – static “brochure-ware” websites. Also, while Flash sites WERE exciting, many felt their bells and whistles acted as a roadblock to usability when compared to standard HTML sites (printability, SEO, bookmarking, etc.). Design clutter was another issue found in many websites of the time – even big names in business suffered from this affliction. See Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, etc. from the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/6125914/How-20-popular-websites-looked-when-they-launched.html

The ugly: None of the sites from that error would work on the mobile devices of today. They would be unusable. Flash animation would not work, tables would be unpredictable and render incorrectly. It would be an ugly mess!

The seasons have changed

Since the 90’s and early 2000’s there has been a lot of change in how websites look and function. Smartphone played a part in changing websites, because they were not able to support Flash animation, and are very limited in how websites are displayed (small screens).

The late Steve Jobs said the software is “closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch-based devices.” He said iPhones and iPads would never support Flash because “new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too).” http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/10/technology/adobe_flash/index.htm

New software programs were created as tools to design and code websites including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. These were instrumental in changing the face of the Internet and influenced how designers design. These tools took websites to the next level.

Today

Both the good and the bad days of the Wild West are over. Forever. Although some of us feel nostalgia, a lot of progress has been made on the Internet.

The good: Websites today are so much more than “brochure-ware”. Sites now have complex search capabilities, database integration, and ecommerce that can be built quicker and better than in the old days. Websites are not as expensive to create, thanks to the new software tools. Businesses can utilize websites as an effective marketing tool, as it creates a user experience that was never available before. Clients and prospects interact with websites by searching them, and logging into a private back-end areas to get information specific to their needs. They can shop safely; connect with Client Relationship Management (CRM) services like Salesforce.com. The possibilities are endless!

The bad: Flash animation is gone. For the most part, websites today are devoid of animation entirely. Sites have become less “designerly”, losing their individuality. The super creative websites of the past are forgotten. Most sites look the same. Blah, how vanilla!

Designers also have less control, because they need to learn more technical tools to build a website. In turn, they have become more reliant upon developers.

Conclusion

Businesses expect more out of a website today, because websites can deliver the goods via our new technology. That’s great news, however, we need to think about branding websites to retain their uniqueness. In marketing, differentiating your business is everything. Don’t settle for looking like everyone else.