Digital Marketing

Tracing the Evolution of Website Design: 30 Years in the Making

We live in the day and age where a growing number of businesses operate online and a website has become a necessity for any business owner. Therefore, website design has become a thriving industry today, coming a long way from when IT departments used to manage websites when the internet was introduced to the world. Back in the day, it was all about good image placements and a mere validation tool, which is why it wasn’t given much thought. Things started rapidly changing when eCommerce was added to the mix, not only does your website design make or break your business, but also affects your brand reputation that can cause long-term repercussions. From getting up a page online in the 90s, to having custom websites across multiple devices, hop into this journey of tracking website design and how they shape the entire industry. 

In the Beginning: 1991

It all started when the World Wide Web was announced at the Usenet newsgroup on Aug 6, 1991, and CERN – the internet’s first website was released in Nov 1992. What’s interesting was the entire website was 100% text-based with the default blue hypertext the only color to provide a slash to the black and white pages. It was a rage back in the day, and still, today is considered a landmark moment in the history of the internet and websites. 

Everything that was in the first website design was in HTML, and the majority of it was under <table> and was the only form of structure one could add those days. However, since the purpose of the <table> tag was to handle numbers, having the whole website based on it made it extremely sensitive to changes and tedious to maintain. With <table> it was only a matter of time before designers figured out grids, vertical alignment of elements in a website.

Landing Pages & Search: 1993

We’re so used to Google that it is almost unthinkable to realize anything existed before today’s search engines. Welcome ALIWEB (Archie Like Indexing for the WEB), the internet’s first web search engine that came into the business in November 1993. What they did was point users to the necessary information, and they did it via listing important site links on a colored background. Elementary and convenient, isn’t it? If you look closer, you can notice how the design elements are slowly surfacing on the internet. 

Credits: Insider

All this while, there was no landing page yet. And it might catch you by surprise that it was MTV who came up with the first landing page ever! It was actually the former MTV VJ Adam Curry who personally ran the MTV website, and later ran into trouble for unofficially rerouting the traffic from the MTV homepage to Curry’s website. As per an MIT researcher by the end of 1993, there were 623 websites and the world was loving the internet and the landing pages that took forever to load. That puts a lot of things into perspective. 


The Era of Adding Ads To Your Website: 1994-1996

With more websites sprucing up every day, there came the opportunity of online marketing, and soon became overcrowded. A big website design shaping moment, the following image shows how more design elements were added to engage users. With the least text on the website, JavaScript was the go-to for designers to break through the static HTML background, and introduce ‘pop-up’ windows.

By 1996 the number of websites went whooping to 257,601 and Flash came into being, changing the face of the web once more. Now designers could explore creating new shapes, animations – all in one tool. However, the main problem that was prevalent then was the importance of having the Flash plugin installed, something that not all web users had, as well as its massive consumption of computing power.

1998 (Milestone Moment): Enter Google & CSS

With the internet as we know it today slowly starting to look like it then, the king of internet search, Google was launched on September 4th, 1998. It was revolutionary back then for a search engine to have a search tab without a list of links, but it definitely turned out all well in the end. Now, with more users came speed as a challenging issue, in which Flash fell flat. Enter CSS, which separated the content (HTML) and the presentation style (CSS) – something that still today remains relevant for any web designer.

Credits: The Verge

2003-2006: From WordPress to Facebook

It was WordPress that changed the face of website design as it gave the user freedom to blog their hearts out and over 2,000 blogs were live by May, 2003. Because so many people were already online, looking for newer ways to break the third wall, MySpace became their hangout space as it was the first for users to customize their profiles via the HTML text editors. Facebook was exclusive to the senior students’ community until 2006, quickly overtaking myspace. Even though it didn’t give access to custom each user profile, Facebook soon became viral for brands looking to connect to their target audience.  

2007-2015: Introduction To Mobile Responsive & Growth-Led Design

Initially, mobile web surfing was deemed as a waste of time, until 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, unknowingly setting the stage for brands and web designers worldwide to come up with newer, simplistic showcases. Flickr was one such portal that surfaced as a photo-sharing portal with collaborative tagging in 2009. It wasn’t until 2010 that the world had known responsive design when one day, web designer Ethan Marcotte came up with optimizing the same content of a website into various screen sizes and layouts. Thus, it was the first step towards modern website design, where the technology and methods have advanced a lot, but the content parity remains streamlined. 

2016-Present: Website Builders & White Hat Backlinks

A lot has changed in the last 6 years than when it all began in 1991. From social media being the new search engine, web design professionals now paid more attention to smooth navigation, SEO optimization complete with meta titles, tags, etc. Website builders have also broken the barrier between the common man and websites by making dynamic, personalized, ready-to-go websites available at a finger-click. The pandemic has only been a huge driving force for homegrown brands to flourish online, with WordPress still going strong as the CMS with a truckload of handy plugins, tools, and themes for users to choose from. 

However, the major drawback is that most website builders come with poor SEO integration and limited flexibility to add truly custom features. For a business owner, that means starting at a point where they need to discern if they need a CMS or a website builder for all their business needs. The main differentiators are:

  • Budget
  • Requirements
  • SEO features you’d need
  • Customer Support
  • Website Maintenance

There’s also a third option. If you’re a business owner who already has a website up & running or is still struggling with getting everything together before migrating your business online – our suggestion is to hire front-end developers who know their business best. Not only does it take a lot off your shoulders, but channels your attention to key areas where it’s required – i.e. getting your business seen, heard, and taken seriously. Here are a few of our recommendations to get you started: 

Butterfly, Melbourne

An award-winning web design enterprise, their rich expertise across various verticals makes them a sought-after team of expert professionals. Their human-centric design methodology can deliver an engaging customer experience to your buyers. 

York & Chapel, Burnaby

A full-service marketing and branding enterprise, they’re a prominent name in the digital space known to deliver visually compelling experiences. Their strength lies in creating intuitive, innovative designs for brands that promote meaningful connection and powerful storytelling.

CodeClouds, Fort Wayne
With a team of over 500 trusted, global experts, they’re perfect for businesses looking to hire a front-end developer, irrespective of their scale. Their decades of experience in building scalable brands and digital experiences have won them many recognitions. 

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