Jamie Walsh, Copywriter & Content Support
It kind of goes without saying, but the visual landscape of the web is much different compared to what it once was. Rapid advancements in HTML and CSS coding over the years have allowed the often weird and wonderful creations of graphic designers to become a reality on the web.
These days, it’s hard not to find a website filled with full-width images, motion graphics and fun little interactive elements. But back in the nineties and early noughties, the web was fairly basic in comparison, and it didn’t take much to completely blow our minds.
Here we take a look back at the design trends that – believe it or not – were once the absolute pinnacle of high-quality web design. Prepare yourself for some fond reminiscing and some major cringing ahead!
White backgrounds, black text, blue hyperlinks…
Image source: Nood.org
Once upon a time, going online meant kicking your mum off the phone and listening to five minutes of electronic beeps and buzzes. Connection time was often limited and excessive data usage produced a hefty phone bill. Ultimately, the dial-up nature of the web meant that relatively quick loading speeds and simplistic browsing were key priorities.
Many websites back in the dial-up era, therefore, consisted mostly of flat text against a blank background. Whilst not really much of a design choice, black text on white pages were essentially the default standard of website appearances. Links to other pages appeared in a pure blue hue, also as standard, giving a sense of continuity across the web, but not much in the way of individualism.
Default background colours and fonts
Image source: Wallblog.co.uk
Not everything was entirely set in stone by default, though. There were several customisable options available, including colours of text and backgrounds, as well as a choice of availabale typefaces on the web to add a bit of variety to proceedings. The main offenders of font-spamming back in the day were largely Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Tahoma and Comic Sans.
Perhaps the main reason that these particular typefaces are generally looked down on by designers today stems from their overuse in the past. But with the limitations of the day in place, this choice of universal web fonts was the best way for individual businesses to express the subtext of the website and its content.
Scrolling marquee text
Image source: Signbot
Up until about the early 2000s, websites remained largely static, offering little interactivity or movement on the page. The advent of scrolling text bars helped to fill this gap, without posing as much of an intrusion on load speeds or file space. Unfortunately, after putting on our retro-goggles, the whole thing looks a bit silly in comparison to today’s standards.
With text chugging along at a handful of frames-per-second, the scrolling marquees of old were nowhere near as fluid in terms of the type of animation we’re used to now. But on another note, it’s simply frustrating to a lot of us watching and waiting for that next bit of text to crawl past. By today’s standards, we’d rather just see the whole lot of text in one go and read it all at our own pace.
Image source: Arizzitano.com
For many people with access to a computer during the 90s, this little feature of Microsoft Office was the first chance we ever got to creating flashy title text. As time’s gone by, though, WordArt has been thrown onto the “overused” pile and earned derision from professional designers everywhere. Now, the above image simply represents all kinds of wrong in the design world.
Don’t get us wrong, they certainly are eye-catching as titles, and at a time when do-it-yourself web design was quite common, WordArt was a desirable option for many. Sadly, after you’ve seen that damn Arial Bold rainbow one a few too many times, the novelty wears off and the unbelievable sickness sets in.
Image source: Ahmeterdemva333
In the early 2000s, no Christmas-themed website or teenager’s MySpace page was ever complete without a snowy or glittery background. Needless to say, this looked terrible then and it looks even worse now! These backgrounds were often animated for a sparkling or falling effect (or both), posing as a distraction to visitors.
An even bigger distraction came about in instances where the snowy/glittery/starry backdrop was actually used as a foreground, laid over the top of the on-page content. We tried to find an example of this tucked away in the depths of Google’s image bank, but alas it seems that everybody else on the web agrees with us, and has decided to purge that memory from all existence too.
Image source: CMD-3 Collaboration
Before analytics tracking kept a wealth of pageview data behind closed doors, websites liked to boast just how popular they were with hit counters. From digital-style displays to flip counters, everyone wanted one to show just how many pageviews they were getting on the website. Too bad it wasn’t exactly genuine.
Unlike modern analytics though, these hit counters were triggered every time the page was loaded, not taking into account returning visitors and refreshes. Quite often the results of these could be easily manipulated by users (usually the website’s owner) by refreshing the page over and over until the result actually became meaningless. It became impossible to tell whether a site had been visited over 10,000 times, or whether its creator just needed an ego boost.
For the most part, a lot of the above offenders came about due to the large number of do-it-yourself websites. People with limited design or development knowledge could choose from a range of simple options, which didn’t allow for much in the way of outstanding design or personalisation. To an extent, this still happens today, but with a wider range of options, advanced web technology and bigger and better professional design trends on the rise, it’s thankfully looking less and less likely that you’ll stumble upon a webpage that looks like it was thrown together by Homer Simpson.
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