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History of Web Design
The rise of the internet within mainstream culture is largely correlated with its history as a visual medium. Like many other computer systems and applications, it took a graphic interface to get the general population to start to understand the internet’s potential. The personal computer would not have proliferated throughout our households and work environments without the display monitor, and still did not become widely used until electronic spreadsheets, word processors and video games started attracting users. Similarly, users did not start buying into the World Wide Webuntil the visual-oriented web browser started coming into its own in the early 1990s. And since that time, even though there have been dramatic improvements in web technology and aesthetics, some of the earliest web design techniques have persevered throughout the years.
1985 was start of the internet, when Nintendo hit the shelves in the U.S. and the word 'internet' was just beginning to be heard. Remembering a time when you even dont know what a web page is.
Web pages are much more dynamic now compared before. Early on, there was only text, font sizes and family were limited if not just one, no images or animations or even a variety of colors were available yet. Plus the limitation on technical advancement was also limited such as the monitor which was monochrome and CRT or cathode ray tubes which also are bulky machines. There was no design to speak of text was aligned on the left margin and colors were limited to black and white (or really, green and white).
My how things have changed. Let's take a look at the timeline of web design.
In the early 1990's, Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog swept the nation. The first website went live in 1991; it was a very simple, text-based site. Later, design was still heavily text-based, but now web designers could add up to 16 web safe colors.HTMLor hypertext markup language was developed so designers could set the structure of their web pages and control how their pages were viewed. This is also when the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) was established. The W3C are a group of people from all over the world who got together to set guidelines for consistency in web design.
In the mid-1990's, the Playstation console appeared and things were shaking up in the world of web design. Designers now had the use of 256 colors, as well as 2web safe fonts: Times New Roman and Courier New. These were determined to be the fonts everyone had on their computers and so would be able to view the web pages the way the designers intended.
By the late 1990's, the Nintendo 64 had come out and web designers were relying more on color to add excitement to their web design. Designers were using color blocking and dark backgrounds, similar to what was in style in fashion. Web designers could now make use of gradients which added a sense of flow to their pages.
As more and more users were online, it became clear that navigation needed to be easier, so web designers addedmenusthat allowed users to go directly to another part of the web. With all of these new capabilities HTML was updated to version 4 which allowed for more control over images, tables, and other elements that designers could use to make their pages more appealing.
A brief history of web design for designers
My interest in coding my designs was lost at the the moment I realized how much trickery had to be done to make it happen. Seemingly simple issues could be solved in so many ways. Yet it still might not have worked on some browsers.
One thing that always made me wonder is why there's a division between design and code. Why difficult things become more simpler, but simple things become more difficult?
So instead of debating whether designers should learn code or developers should learn design, let's set some common ground on how design for the web evolved and how we could bridge the gap between code and design.
1989 - The dark ages of web design
The very beginning of web design was pretty dark, as screens were literally black and only few monochrome pixels lived therein. Design was made by symbols and tabulation (Tab key). So let's fast forward to the time when Graphic User Interface was the main way of surfing the web – the Wild West era of tables.
1995-Tables – The beginning
The birth of browsers that could display images was the first step into web design as we know it. The closest option available to structure information was the concept of tables already existing in HTML. 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 bookCreating Killer Sites. Though it didn’t feel totally right since the main purpose of a table is to structure numbers, it was still the common method to design the web for quite some time. The other problem was the difficulty to maintain these fragile structures. This is also the time when the termslicing designsbecame popular. Designers would make a fancy layout, but it was up to developers to break it into small pieces and figure out the best way to make that design work. On the other hand, tables had some awesome features like the ability to align things vertically, be defined in pixels or in percentages. The main benefit was that it was the closest to a grid we could get back then. It was also the time when so many developers decided not to like front-end coding.
1996 - The golden era of freedom – Flash
To break the limitations of existing web design, a technology was born that promised a freedom never seen before. The designer could design any shapes, layouts, animations, interactions, use any font and all this in one tool – Flash. The end-result is packed as one file and then sent to the browser to be displayed. That is, as long as a user had the latest flash plugin and some free time to wait until it loads, it worked like magic. This was the golden era for splash pages, intro animations, all kinds of interactive effects. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too open or search-friendly and certainly consumed a lot of processing power. When Apple decided to abandon it on their first iPhone (2007), Flash started to decay. At least for web design.
1998 CSS - Cascading Style Sheets for Online Aesthics
Around the same time as Flash, a better approach to structuring design from a technical standpoint was born – Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). The basic concept here is to separate content from the presentation. So the look and formatting are defined in CSS, but the content in HTML. The first versions of CSS were far from flexible, but the biggest problem was the adoption rate by browsers. It took a few years before browsers started to fully support it and often it was quite buggy. This is also the time when one browser had the newest feature, while another was lacking it, which is a nightmare for a developer. To be clear, CSS isn’t a coding language, it is rather a declarative language. Should web designers learn how to code? Maybe. Should they understand how CSS works? Absolutely!
2007 - Mobile Phones and Mobile Gadgets – Utlizing Grids, Columns and frameworks
Browsing the web on mobile phones was a whole challenge in itself. Besides all the different layouts for devices, it introduced content-parity problems – should the design be the same on the tiny screen or should it be stripped down? Where to put all the nice, blinking ads on that tiny screen? Speed was also an issue, as loading a lot of content burns your internet money pretty fast. 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. Basically, making a library of visual elements that contains all the code in it. The winners here are Bootstrap and Foundation, which is also related to the fact that line between a website and an app is fading. The downside is that designs often look the same and designers still can’t access them without knowing how the code works.
2010 - Responsive Web Design or Mobile Friendly Web Sites
A brilliant guy named Ethan Marcotte decided to challenge the existing approach by proposing to use the same content, but different layouts for the design, and coined the term Responsive web design. Technically we still use HTML and CSS, so it is rather a conceptual advancement. Yet there are lot of misconceptions here. For a designer, responsive means mocking up multiple layouts. For the client, it means it works on the phone. For a developer, it is the way how images are served, download speeds, semantics, mobile/desktop first and more. The main benefit here is the content parity, meaning that it's the same website that works everywhere. Hope we can agree on that, at the least.
2010 - The times of the flat
Designing more layouts takes more time, so luckily we decided to streamline the process by ditching fancy shadow effects and getting back to the roots of design by prioritising the content. Fine photography, typography, sharp illustrations and thoughtful layouts is how we design now. Simplifying visual elements or so called Flat design is also part of the process. The main benefit here is that much more thought is being put into copy, into hierarchy of the message and content in general. Glossy buttons are replaced by icons and that allows us to use vector images and icon fonts. Web fonts deliver beautiful typography. The funny thing is, the web was close to this from the very beginning. But well, that’s what the young years are for.
2014 - The bright future
The major role of web design has been to actually make codes and content more attractive, make it visually enthising to the reader while using his browser. Imagine that designers simply move things around the screen and a clean code comes out! And I don't mean changing the order of things, but having full flexibility and control! Imagine that developers don't have to worry about browser compatibility and can focus on actual problem solving!
Technically there are a few new concepts that support the move into that direction. New units in CSS like vh, vw (viewport height and width) allow much greater flexibility to position elements. It will also solve the problem that has puzzled so many designers – why centering something vertically in CSS is such a pain. Flexbox is another cool concept which is a part of CSS. It allows to create layouts and modify them with a single property instead of writing lot of code. And finally web components is an even bigger take. It is a set of elements bundled together, i.e. a gallery, signup form etc. That introduces an easier workflow, where elements become building blocks that can be reused and updated separately.