The Evolution of Websites

Clunky. Slow. Rudimentary. Words we associate with the first websites of the early 90s. At the time, of course, they were hailed as a brave new world of marketing. Now, more than 20 years later, we benefit from hindsight when creating websites.

A look back at the evolution of website design, while entertaining, also ensures we move forward to keep up with the demands of today’s online user.

It was in the 1990s that most of us first learned about the World Wide Web and the very idea of having a “web presence” and a “company website” seemed so foreign. As we first began to surf the net, we didn’t know what “high-speed” internet was. Dial-up modems dictated very slow access to sites with very simple design. Websites often mimicked corporate brochures and were a read-only experience. All information was expected to fit on your screen. If a website required scrolling, it was considered amateurish or a nuisance.

The introduction of Flash in 1996 allowed for design that wasn’t possible with basic HTML, and Flash “intros” usually preceded the home page. By the late 1990s, we saw the beginning of visitor-focused design. Structure, navigation, appearance, and usability became important. New versions of HTML allowed for design elements such as tags for headers, paragraphs, and links. Metatags were all the rage.

Even into the early 2000s, sites were built to operate better on certain browsers like Internet Explorer, as well as on PCs. Mac users, like ourselves, often felt like outcasts — especially with online forms. In fact, there are still Mac browsers that are not well supported on various platforms.

The use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) provided a way to separate content from design. Within layout, elements such as typography, imagery and navigation became important. By the mid-2000s, Flash, JavaScript and asynchronous technologies began to deliver more information in better ways. Usability necessitated better resolution and pixilation, as well as more whitespace and toned down colors. Browsers supported major web standards, so sites operated on IE just as well as Firefox and Chrome.

With the addition of database abilities for commercial websites, developers could integrate large amounts of information to visitors in user-friendly formats. Now, when we develop websites, we provide different avenues for users to find the same information. Since everyone thinks differently, this advancement has made a very positive difference in the effectiveness of websites.

Here it is 2015 and we have websites built on CMS for easy updating. Responsive design allows for easy viewing on monitors of all sizes and shapes, including tablets and mobile. And due to the influence of social media on our internet experience, greater emphasis is now placed on interactivity and social elements, as well as features like location recognition. Additionally, the popularity of scrolling websites is increasing daily, since social media has made us accustomed to scrolling for more information.

So, how does your 2015 website stack up to the best online today? Is it time to make it more user-friendly, functional, and dynamic?

(June Musollino is a Partner with BBG&G Advertising & Public Relations, based in Campbell Hall. More information is available at 845-615-9084 or www.bbggadv.com.)

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