Which.co.uk in 2000
“It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get bad in order to get good.”
Paula Scher – American graphic designer
Back when the internet started, there was no such thing as negative space, considered typography, CSS, Google Fonts. The first website to go live is still visible today, created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, it’s just HTML text and links. Not very inspiring by design’s standards, but it outlined the future of the web, and how to use it.
It quickly caught on, and more and more companies opted for an online presence. At first, simple HTML meant a simple layout, until tables allowed content to be split into chunks and the ‘designers’ stepped in.
Many brands delighted in being able to splash their colours all over people’s screens
Only 16 colours were deemed websafe and unfortunately most websites thought they should all appear together, regardless of how much they clashed. Often, this resulted in only being able to look at the screen for a limited time before acquiring a massive headache! Animated gifs, bad (and meaningless) clipart, textured backgrounds and garish colours were everywhere, not to mention the sound! The ultimate example has been lovingly crafted at angelfire.com.
Love it or hate it, Flash transformed the web. Splash pages were born, with ‘enter’ and ‘skip’ buttons to by-pass the long wait to load some fancy intro to the brand of the website you actually came to see (especially with limited bandwidth available to most users via dial-up access!) Circular navigation and all kinds or crazy concepts could also be included – designers and developers went wild!
This was the heyday of skeuomorphic design – making the digital world mimic the real world – such as calendar apps designed as Filofaxes, and online calculators just like the real thing! Apple still use this concept heavily in their iconography, with a trash can filling up with virtual rubbish, and the red curtained photo booth. The calculator, it seems, was understood well enough to simplify!
The saviour of web design
Quick to follow Flash, was a new web language: CSS or cascading style sheets. This allowed designers and developers to strip the styling out from the content and give them greater creative freedom, without changing the content. While at first, this didn’t have a major impact on design, coupled with other factors (such as Apple’s iPhones) it ultimately led to the demise of flash and table based websites.
As the web grew up, so did people’s understanding of it, and with everything in life, trends come and go and tastes change. In real life, fake leather is not necessarily the most classy of items, so on screen it was not either. Flat design simplified the web and elevated it’s appearance to sophisticated society.
Behavioural patterns became evident, and with that heavy shadows and making things look 3D or real wasn’t necessary to make elements look clickable. Other more subtle affordances had been learned. So a coloured background, specific placement, hover states, and a new love of iconography often signified these instead.
Print design creeps in
Some nice type inspired posters on swissted.com (as all the images so far have been hideous)
With all the fluff out the way, clean white pages and an ever increasing range of web safe fonts allowed greater freedom in typography and minimalist design. Great typography is design in itself and could now be part of web design, not just print.
With more designers from the print world seeing the potential now available in the land of the web, the influences came pouring in, like drop capitals and big headline fonts, and the use of negative space. No longer did everything need to be crammed into one page in an overwhelming influx of information. Jason Kirtley’s concept showcases this perfectly.
Nice type on thetimes.co.uk
Simultaneously to flat design, the responsive web was born. Designing for many screens and sizes – could this be another reason for simplifying design? Designing the same pages over and over for multiple devices is time consuming, and not only for designers, but the developers too. With the introductions of grids and fluid design, content could be fitted to any dimensions, making it the key to creating great design; UX myth #19.
Digital design is in constant evolution and a constant learning curve. Trends will always morph from one to another and as the lines between the physical and digital worlds merge ever closer in the realms of virtual reality, the future will be very different from the flat screen design.
“Digital design is like painting, except the paint never dries.”
Neville Brody – British graphic designer
Which? websites 2017