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by Emma North on 11th February 2014
The last 20 years has seen the internet evolve from a little understood technological breakthrough to a vital part of society and our everyday lives. In that time, the quality and design of the websites we visit has also transformed as user expectations increased.
In this post I’ve looked at the evolution of web design over the last 20 years, including a look at some at the clever features and sleek designs of some of my favourite websites.
The Space Jam website is a fantastic example of a website from the past that has been beautifully preserved on the net. Remaining untouched since 1996, the Space Jam website is the perfect example of how far websites have come:
With some gorgeous backgrounds and fascinating choices of colour combinations (please see the Cast Bios page below for a real work of art), this site represents a previous era of web design fashion.
Warner Bros have given a real gift to the digital community in preserving this website for us to reflect on today. I only hope they will continue to host this digital relic for many more years to come. I for one would love to show my daughter what the internet used to look like in ten years’ time.
Between then and now, a great deal has changed. The introduction of numerous new technologies and web languages has transformed the way we build websites and pushed the boundaries of what websites deliver.
Here are just some examples of what has changed over the last 20 years to enable web designers to create the visual masterpieces we [sometimes] see today.
The wide use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in the late 1990’s enabled new structural design options for web designers, making format templates more accessible and easy to maintain.
More recently we have seen the fifth revision of the HTML coding language known as HTML5. New elements to the coding language further enabled web designers and developers to create widely compatible sites that functioned more efficiently on desktop and mobile devices alike.
The use of Content Management Systems (CMS) has vastly broadened the number of people capable of building and maintaining modern websites. With minimal web coding and design skills required to set up and keep up a website through a CMS, websites have become more accessible than ever before.
However, possibly the biggest change to come to websites over the last 20 is actually the hardest to measure; the change in what users expect from a website. Web designers and businesses quickly learned the value of delivering user-friendly sites where visitors could easily find what they were looking for.
Websites were quickly accepted as an essential business tool for lead generation, brand presence and sales in the late 1990’s, as businesses big and small began to secure their place online. But it wasn’t enough to just have a website: to succeed it needed to meet the needs of users to provide any value to the business.
This understanding was a turning point that fuelled the competition of the online world, leading to the birth of activity such as user-centric design, search engine optimisation and conversion rate optimisation.
One of the most beautifully constructed scrolling websites I’ve seen to date is the Kit Kit 4.4 Break Labs site which is well worth checking out if you haven’t already. Needless to say, screenshots cannot do justice to this work of digital website art, but here are a couple to whet your appetite:
To finish up I thought I would share some of my favourite websites for design, functionality and down-right coolness.
The Street Art View website by Red Bull is a unique showcase of street art from all over the world. By selecting a country and drilling down deeper into the map, you can check out some of the most famous graffiti in the world as captured on Google Maps:
This is the best Google Maps collaboration I have seen to date and is well worth checking out. It offers really clever and simple functionality presented as a sleek and clean full-screen map.
This is a truly stunning and a very clever use of scrolling. With genuinely interesting facts about the hit TV show presented in a beautiful cartoon style, this is definitely one of my favourites even though I don’t watch the show:
It is definitely a shame though that at the time of writing this, none of the videos accessible from various clickable aspects of the website are available in the UK. A disappointing oversight. Nonetheless, the site is incredibly clever and well worth checking out.
This site is a simple but clever collection of random “cool” pictures, products and ideas that “every man dreams of having”. Well, I’m female and there isn’t much on there that I wouldn’t want in my life. Enjoy:
You can hover over the images for more information or click to open up a beautifully presented information window. What I love about this site is the slick transitions and simple use of stunning visuals.
The official Lego website is a fun, bright and interactive portal for the whole Lego universe. Filled with stunning animations and a simple navigation, this site is a great example of a fit for purpose website that ticks all the right boxes:
Although this is more of a conventional design than the other examples I’ve used, it is a great example of the use of animation built right into the site structure.
If you have other examples of stunning modern websites or even preserved relics from the past, feel free to share them in the comments below.