Web Design History and Evolution

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The history of web design is still forming and not so old, having its origin in the early 90s, still as a source of studies and today is used by the vast majority of the population as an essential part of their daily lives.

From 1991 (launch of the first site) until today, the internet has evolved at a very high speed, reaching today the cell phones, computers, and also objects that are inside our homes, from televisions, cleaning robots, lamps and more. As a result, web design had to evolve and we decided to tell here a brief summary of this story that we are still building.

1990 & #8211; 1997 & #8211; The beginning of the internet age and the first sites

August 1990 & #8211; Tim Berners-lee developed and ran the first browser and web server, running on a NeXT computer on CERN. A copy of the first site is still available on The site had some links to explain what the internet was about.

Image of the first internet website created in 1991
Image of the first internet website created in 1991

In 1994 the first delivery site was launched by Pizza Hut in Santa Cruz & #8211; California, allowing you to order pizza online.

Also in 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was formed, which began to define the standards that would be used in programming languages, and to this day is the main reference that assists in the production of new browsers and languages used, such as HTML, Javascript, etc.

In 1996 we also launched one of the biggest e-commerce of the present time: Amazon.
Founded by Jeff Bezos, Amazon began as a large online bookstore, and has expanded its services to CDs, DVDs, clothing, until it became today's giant.

Amazon's First Website
Amazon's First Website

1998 & #8211; The beginning of the era of Flash and Google sites

Deprecated today, Flash was a platform that allowed designers to embed music, video and animation on their websites, creating an interactive experience that was previously not possible. Flash has marked a generation, bringing major technological innovations to the web, such as interactive menus, splash pages, animations, and buttons with detailed visuals.
The internet was still new to many people, and many of these elements not only served as a decoration, but also to make the internet even more accessible, with buttons that actually resembled buttons, with interactions that kept users on the sites.

The popularity of Flash has declined over the years, one of the main reasons being the amount of features needed, and users having to have a plugin installed, which also helped to spread viruses and scams.

Also in the same year was launched Google, today the largest search engine on the Internet, still competing with major directories such as Altavista or Yahoo. Google emerged as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin to find search results using a mathematical algorithm. The algorithm was later called PageRank and analyzed the relationship between several pages, their content and cross-references thus defining their relevance.

Google in 1998 and 2019
Google in 1998 and 2019

Beginning of the 2000s & #8211; Website growth with CSS and usability

In the year 2000, in addition to the famous Millennium Bug, Internet Explorer 5 was the first browser to reach around 99% support for CSS1, which would start the generation of stylish websites we have today (we now use CSS3 and HTML5). CSS allowed the separation of content (HTML) and design (CSS), making it easier to style a website without having to change its structure, and sites load faster than Flash.
In the same year W3C recommended the second version of Javascript, and by 2002 virtually all browsers supported the technology.

Thanks to these changes, usability has started to become an even more important topic, and one of the greatest classics in related literature was released by Steve Krug, the book Don't Make Me Think. Despite its nearly 20 years, the original book has concepts that are valid today, and there is an updated version for today. Both can be found by clicking on the images beside.

Middle of the 2000s & #8211; Web 2.0, SEO and the internet revolution

By the mid-2000s, the internet revolution began with what was called Web 2.0: sites with interactive content, social networking, immediate responses, semantics and of course usability became all the more important.
In addition to changes in aesthetics, there has been an increase in the importance of typography, use of icons and colors, as well as the beginning of the popularization of SEO and the decline of Flash.

Social sites began to be created and popularized, such as:

  • MySpace & #8211; Created in 2003, it was the main social site, until it started losing users to Facebook, allowing users to meet new people, keep in touch with friends.
  • Youtube & #8211; Created in 2005, it was later bought by Google for $ $1.65 billion.
  • Reddit & #8211; Founded in 2005, is today one of the largest sites with discussion groups, the site was founded with the purpose of facilitating content sharing, being subdivided into various topics.
  • Facebook, created in 2004, the site was opened to the public in 2006, becoming the largest social network quickly.

In 2005, one of the first viral sites was created, known as The Million Dollar Homepage. The site was created by a British student, Alex Tew, and consisted of a page with a 1000x1000px grid where any user could buy 1px space for a dollar. The smallest space allowed was 10 & #215; 10, and the site reached 1 million pixels in 2006.

A million Dollar Homepage - Web Design History
A million Dollar Homepage

2010 & #8211; Mobile Age Begins and Flash Drop

By 2010 mobile phone usage had grown to a point where approximately half of the internet access was carried out as cell phones. As a result, the focus on creating websites that worked on screens much smaller than desktops and with slower connections grew a lot. This was one of the reasons why the use of Flash sites began to decline, and was strengthened after the open letter from Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and iPhone, where he spoke of the disadvantages of using Flash sites. As Apple was already a market leader in mobile phones, this letter had a major impact on website creation, diminishing Flash's popularity.

With the fall of flash came the generation of responsive websites, popular to this day, making pages accessible to all browsers with the help of CSS and Javascript to identify and configure according to the hardware that is accessing the site. The popularity became even greater with the arrival of HTML5 and CSS3.

Today's Day & #8211; performance and flat design

The web is constantly evolving, and it seems that we are in yet another transition phase. Until a few years ago, although responsive, websites were more complex, and today more and more performance has become one of the main topics, as mobile access has now passed desktop access (about 60% website accesses are performed with mobile phones).

This demand is making the performance of a site even more important, and even important to appear on search pages. And a design trend that is becoming closer is Flat, where you use simpler colors and elements to bring a better user experience.

Web Design History Book

Taschen, in partnership with FWA, known for its recognition of the best sites on the Internet, has just released a book that tells the story of Design on the Web, or Webdesign as you prefer.

Study the past if you want to decipher the future.

The book is a collection of examples of the evolution of the Internet over the past 30 years, from its beginnings on desktops to modern day mobile and virtual reality. In the same you can find examples of what we have today as something common, such as:

  • 1st site with sound
  • 1st navigation with page effect turning
  • 1st site to use integrated videos
  • 1st viral site
  • 1st site where you could upload your photo
  • 1st site similar to youtube
  • and much more & #8230;

There are over 200 sites, all with comments and curiosities from the site creators, including Jonathan Gay (Flash), Joshua Davis (Praystation) and many other creative minds that have helped shape the web as we see it today. There are 21 chapters, one for each year, detailing the user experience, usability and milestones that have influenced web development to the level we have reached today.

It is worth visiting the site & #8220;The History of Web Design& #8221; to see more details.

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