How web design has changed over the years
9 min read
In 1990, gas was $1.15 per gallon, the cost of a Super Bowl ad was $700,000, and the song at the top of the Billboard charts was “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. Across the pond in Switzerland, scientist Tim Berners-Lee had just written the first web browser after inventing the World Wide Web the previous year. A lot has changed about the Internet since then. Today, the Internet lets you make purchases, store photos, fact check politicians, stream music and television, advertise your business, and order French fries delivered straight to your door. (We’re wondering if Tim Berners-Lee saw that last one coming.) Thankfully, web design has evolved as much as the Internet has, as websites are no longer just plain pages with plain text.
Continuous advances in technology have made things fun for website developers and UX/UI designers: new frameworks to develop stunning websites; powerful servers that can host multi-page websites and serve them in the blink of an eye; cybersecurity that helps prevent data theft, data breaches, and website hacking; and the ability to create responsive products that are device agnostic.
Below, we’re sharing the myriad of ways web design has changed over the last 30 years, in no particular order:
SCREEN RESOLUTIONS & DEVICE TYPE
Fifteen years ago, web designers were creating for 1024 x 768 pixels screens. In 2019, there’s a wide array of resolution options, from 1366 x 768 pixels, all the way up to 4k retina. Similarly, portable devices range from 320 x 480 up to 1020 x 1920. However, developers and designers are creating for mobile-first responsive websites, so it’s imperative to take this into account when designing for multiple devices and viewport sizes. In case you still aren’t convinced you need a mobile-optimized website or responsive web design, more than 50% of site visits occur on a smartphone. Without mobile friendly marketing, your company could miss out on half its traffic. (Great for a long commute, terrible for a website.)
Users view websites through a handful of browsers on a variety of device types. Visitors are reaching your site through Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and even Microsoft Internet Explorer (indeed, there’s still people out there using Microsoft Internet Explorer). Since each browser and its many versions display code differently, it’s crucial to perform browser testing across every browser possible prior to launching a website or digital campaign.
UNDERSTANDING THE AUDIENCE
Back then, when folks were listening to Pearl Jam on their Walkmans, not very many companies were keeping up with who was visiting their website and why. Now, a brand must be hyper-aware of the content users are looking for and must understand what makes a person want to visit a site. Companies also need to know what encourages visitors to return. Knowing what attracted a user to click over to your website and providing emotional appeal once they arrive on your website is key to on page conversion.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Bad design can affect your search engine optimization (SEO). If a user lands on your site and doesn’t like what they see, they’ll head right back to the search engine results page (SERP), which counts as a bounce. Bouncing lets search engines know a query wasn’t satisfied, causing your rankings to drop. Poor design includes large files that won’t load, pop-ups, and illegible text. Keep in mind that migrating to a new CMS or completing a website redesign can affect your SEO, too.
In print, designers have always worked with kerning and leading. Kerning is the space between letters and leading is the space between lines of type. Now, in the web world, these terms are more commonly referred to as letter-spacing and line-height. To build a cohesive brand identity, it’s important that users can easily read the text; consider how the typography on your website appears and ensure its legibility. For more info on this, check out our article on ADA compliance HERE
Before progress bars, hamburger buttons, and share features, websites were kind of a free-for-all. Today, having visual consistency on every page of your website is vital. The placement of a logo and the navigation should be the same on each web page, and fonts and colors should match no matter which page of your website a visitor is using. Achieving a consistent look and feel across your site is part of good branding.
A website that loads quickly, is easy to navigate, and features scannable text is sort of like a good book you can’t put down. In other words, the best websites make you want to stay awhile. Again, before bounce rates and algorithms were introduced, no one was really keeping up with the amount of time a user spent, or the flow that user took through the website. Today it’s important to make every visitor eager to hang around. You can achieve this through information hierarchy, lowering the amount of tasks to achieve an outcome, having super-fast download speeds, and making information readily available with prominent navigation.
As soon as a user arrives at your site, it should be crystal clear what your company is called and what it does. Building a brand takes a lot of work, so you should apply the same level of care to your website where you are most likely attracting and retaining the majority of your customer base.
If you want to have the best website design in your industry, it’s paramount to know how web design has evolved and will continue to change. After all, the first website outlined how to create web pages and explained what hypertext is. Now you can have a pack of laundry detergent pods shipped to your door with just one click, so imagine what can happen in the next 30 years.