How Web Design Evolved Throughout The Years

Chukwuemeka Ndu, Mar. 16, 2016Design Trends
How Web Design Evolved Throughout The Years

As everything in this world, the websites are changing. What is even more surprising, there is a certain website fashion. If some years ago, web designers were obsessed with 3D, now it's more about flat buttons and simplicity. If in the early years of web, no one really cared about UX, user's experience, now it's in the very center of all the marketing universe. Let's take an adventurous journey into the exciting world of the website design, and see how the fashion was changing and approach to user's experience was evolving.


Let's be honest, for a modern look, these websites are beyond ugly and user-unfriendly. They are hard to navigate and slow, but back then, in the era of the initial formation of the internet, they were 'crème de la crème' of technological thought.

Everything started in 1980-s with the black screen, and we can with a light heart call it the dark ages of web design. No interface and you are one-on-one with the blinking symbols on the screen.

Let's move forward from this dark times towards the brighter future. Near 1990 with the creation of the very first browser, called Nexus, the websites are finally getting the interface, and first web designers are going wild with 16 colors (!). Crazy backgrounds come in set with animated text (source). We have no choice but to call it a "Disco" time. Have a look, and dare to tell that you disagree.

first Nexus browser

The websites were overloaded with the text as not everyone was taking a risk to upload the images. I guess, you remember how slow the internet was. Shortly after, HTML (which we still use today) was born.


Having an option of uploading the images, web designers faced a serious problem: they had to somehow structure the page. And this was the first step to understanding  user experience. The easiest solution, already available in HTML, were the tables. "So putting tables within tables, figuring out clever ways to mix static cells with fluid cells was the thing, started by David's Siegel's book Creating Killer Sites. " (Source)


Yes, the websites were real 'killers', because designers already had at their disposal 256 colors (!). What did they do with these 'weapons'? Those flashing, acid ads were flooding the internet. After JavaScript was created, web designers  did their best to use all its possibilities, namely, popup windows. This natural disaster had a positive effect on the development of web design. Slowly designers started to realize that it's near to impossible to keep concentrated with this amount of aggressive advertising. Website owners started to think about users experience.

1998 -2000

1998 - That was a special year in the history of web design: Flash! If the possibilities of design before 1998 were still quite modest, after designers could fully enjoy the absolute freedom. Any shape, any layout, any animation and, certainly, any font could be created.

The websites were growing, they were not a one-page destination anymore. Lot's of inside pages formed a need for a quality navigation. This is when the menus started to develop and website sitemaps appeared. Drop down menus became the next move towards in user experience as we know it today.

Yet, what we can definitely tell about the end of 90-s, the content was NOT a king. Designers were blinded by their new opportunities, and texts were majorly replaced by images.

welcome to netscape 1998

2000 –2005

Millenium  brings fresh ideas and new technological solutions. Apart from that, we certainly should mention, that Google which started in 1998, is rapidly expanding, and SEO is beginning its victorious march. Website  owners are now concerned with reachability of their content, and new SEO strategies are strongly impacting the structure and the content.

first google

The 'Semantic Web' is developing. What does it mean? The machines are getting smarter, and now they are able to understand the text on the web pages in order to assist the search engines. (Source)

Meanwhile, the internet is getting faster, the number of the internet is growing explosively; and competition for audience's attention is getting more severe, pushing forward the development of user experience concept.

How web designers are fighting for the new audience? The flash is still the number one tool, so websites are getting loads of animation. The flash is totally in fashion, and you can hardly find a self-respecting website without it.

The same time Java is starting to climb to the top, and designers discard tables and develop page layouts, using Javascript.

Social media is starting its way to our hearts, other social and blogging platforms open new possibilities to users: from now on journals and profiles became available. Enjoy early Facebook, baby-YouTube and incredible MySpace profiles.

2005 – 2010

In this period, mobile is finally getting a decent internet connection! Screens are still small, browsing can be done with the buttons, but anyway, we got the freedom to access the internet whenever and wherever. Did that influence the websites? No doubt, web designers received an additional headache to improve the experience of mobile users.

Seriously? Simply imagine that you are getting a task to compress your beautiful flash website with those bright acid ads … to the size of the mobile screen, and a cherry on top – ridiculously slow mobile internet. I don't really envy the web designers.

Open Design blog explains how it was brought to life:

The first step to improvement was an idea of column grids. After a few iterations, the 960 grid system won, and the 12-column division became something designers were using every day. The next step was standardising the commonly used elements like forms, navigation, buttons, and to pack them in an easy, reusable way.

Mobiles are changing the appearance of websites: now pages are optimized for mobile devices: they are slim and long, rather than wide and short.

We can't avoid mentioning the photo stocks that rapidly started to appear in this time. And the evil was born, websites got stuffed with generic images, and the trend still goes on.

And, finally, content becomes interactive. Miracle, you don't have to refresh the page – it's done automatically!

So this is how web design evolved (in a nutshell).


Internet became an essential part of our life, desktops are left for office, tablets rule, and surfing web right from your smartphone is absolutely normal. The future has reached us!

Current web design can be described as responsive and social. What is trending in web design now?

  • The rise of WordPress, that eventually makes lots of websites look alike;
  • Get ready to scroll! Websites are getting loooooooonger.
  • Card Layouts – you can create your homepage just like Lego from virtual modules;
  • Hero banners. Personally, I haven't seen websites without a hero banner for a while;
  • Video marketing is showing its impact on increased user engagement and even conversion;
  • Social media integration is a must of all websites;
  • Flat design, no more shadows and 3D!
Read on: 5 major marketing trends of 2016

the history of web design

Let's see what trends will rule 2016, and what can come back? I pray it's not animated text. What was the first website you were browsing?

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