Revisiting the Origins of Web Design

Revisiting the Origins of Web Design

I have been thinking about our original web design company, Animal 57 which launched way back in 1999, and how those relic websites have progressed since then.

Those were the days of AOL, and Netscape, when most sites were created using Microsoft Frontpage, when data driven applications were still years away and to change a simple sentence on your site required your web developer to perform 20 – 30 minutes of work using those 56k dial up modems.  This was a time before anyone had even heard of Google or Facebook.

We started designing sites in the infancy of the Internet, still called by most people, “the world-wide web”.  That was a time that the term SEO was not even a glimmer in the eye of most developers.  So what was the Characteristics of those few businesses who were at the forefront of online marketing and even had a website?

The first thing I think of is obnoxious Flash intro pages or “Splash Pages”, which was a slow loading giant animated graphic that served no purpose other than to entertain and provided little to no information or a beneficial user experience.  The pages had lots of text, and cartoonish graphics that made me think more of Saturday morning kids TV, then business marketing.

Why did Web Designers make these horrific pages?

For starters, the software was very basic, and you had to hand-code in HTML using Dreamweaver or Frontpage to put up almost anything, which a skill that most high school students today possess was rarely had by anyone in marketing or graphic design.  The decade of the 90’should also be remembered for load music, which was incorporated into so many Flash animations and animated gifs found in those early web sites.  In the event that the bounding logos did not make your eyes glaze over, Flash and JavaScript programmers loved to add scrolling text to the site to add just a bit more confusion.

In fact, it was hard to find a site that did not contain a logo revolving or bouncing across the screen.  Many marketers back then were clamoring for this, as it was the new alternative to pricy News Paper and Magazine ads.

Eventually as search engines such as Yahoo and Lycos entered the fray, web programmers realized they could game the search engines by adding keywords onto a white background page, and then making the text font match.  This led to what appeared as huge gaps in the design, until you hovered your mouse over those areas and saw all the cloaked keywords.  As a modern-day SEO technician I shudder at the thought of all those “black-hat” techniques that were not only used prevalently, but actually encouraged by the results you got back then.  Alternatively, many websites were created with text as images, that search engines would not index, which led business owners to great frustration when their web site could not be found on Yahoo.

It’s a wonder that we still have websites today, after the horrors of these relic web sites were the norm for over a decade.  Think of how far we have come.  I can appreciate WordPress and other modern Streamlined layouts so much more now.  With that said, I wonder what some web designer in 20 years will say about the sites we are building today?