The Evolution of Web Design
The World Wide Web has become a gigantic instrument of change in terms of how we interact with the world and each other, and it all began in the hands of the history of the web design industry. It gave people the ability to form connections across continents, cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs and to keep up to date with friends and news abroad. The web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier. Just as the architectural style of a building reflects the society from which it emerges, the evolution of web design reflects the changing fashions, beliefs and technologies of the time.
You might be shocked to discover that the concept for the World Wide Web may have originated in a short story penned by Murray Leinster, as far back as 1946. His short story describes computers with access to a central device that provided them with information. These computers resided in all homes, according to his short story and were called, Logics. Although his description is not completely accurate, it does convey the idea that these computers were networked and readily accessible to the populace.
After 40 years, the true vision was executed by an Englishman named Tim Berners Lee in 1989. Berners Lee was not a computer programmer, but a physicist. He was working on a simple database that contained software and people within the company he worked for. It was because of this project that he tried out hypertext to be displayed on other devices that utilize it as a means of accessing each page on the database. This resulted in granting access to other relevant pages through references within the system. He was encouraged to implement the idea into the next project. Eventually, it became known as the World Wide Web, and Tim Berners Lee is credited with its invention.
Over the following decades, websites have changed significantly through the art of web design– both in terms of design and functionality, as well its deeper role in modern society. Web design styles have changed with remarkable speed compared with their bricks and mortar cousins. From those early days to the present, web design has taken a long and winding journey.
In the early 1990s, we welcomed the first publishing language of the Web: Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML. Unfortunately, the language limited to sharing only text-only pages via a simple browser. Many early web sites were basic, using vertically structured, text-heavy pages with few graphics. People quickly adapted to vertically scrolling text and eye-catching blue underlined hypertext to navigate the virtual Web space.
In the mid-1990s, designers became more involved in the development of websites, and along came the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which allowed designers to incorporate images and graphical icons into websites. When the Web started to gain popularity as a means of communicating information, designers saw an opportunity to use tables for arranging text and graphics. But while tables allowed designers to arrange text and graphics easily, the code required to build them was more complex than methods that came later.
In the late 1990s, a new technology called Flash appeared on the scene. This software platform allowed designers to incorporate music, video and animation into websites, making for a more dynamic audio-visual experience. This was the era of a creative and technological breakthrough in web design as it contained interactive menus, splash pages, decorative animations, and beautifully rendered bubble buttons. Unfortunately, its popularity was short-lived, as it required users were required to have the latest Flash plugin installed on their computers, limiting the usability and accessibility of websites.
As time passed by, people became sophisticated at browsing the Web, and social media emerged, providing greater flexibility. This led to the birth of Cascading Style Sheets(CSS). CSS was used to define particular styles– such as larger font sizes for sub-headings– across multiple pages of a single website without having to code each element individually. Web design templates began to surface, allowing everyday people to create and publish their websites. Alas, this was often at the expense of usable, accessible and aesthetically pleasing design.
Eventually, in the year 2010, a new web design approach called Responsive Web Design was created by Ethan Marcotte. The main idea behind this approach was to have a single website respond and adapt to different display environments, facilitating use on different devices. This increased efficiency in web development and maintenance led to another wave of web design trend called Flat Design. Flat designs embraced efficient and minimalist two-dimensional styles, with a greater emphasis on functionality over ornamental design elements.
Today, flat design is still going strong, as web design has made a full circle back to the beginning of the web, prioritising the content and the communication of information with minimalist yet effective designs. Previously, technology drove advances in web design. Today, we are at a point where web design is no longer limited by technology. Virtually, we can do pretty much everything we might want to do on the Web.
Like any form of design, web design has evolved drastically over the past decade or so, and is barely even recognizable from the big bang’ of the internet. With technology expanding like never before, what were considered boundaries are constantly being torn apart, and swiftly replaced with the acceptance of anything being possible. The possibilities are truly endless thanks to technology.