Being the nostalgic sort, I somehow found myself reflecting back on web design of the past, and how it has evolved in the past decade or so. I began digging up and dusting off memories of image map mayhem, nested table nastiness, auto-play MIDI nightmares, and the evil that is <FRAMESET>... and realized that each unearthed memory artifact pulled me in deeper. And so I sit here now - in the throws of digital design yesteryear - I thought it appropriate to share with you these reflections, and invite you to join me as I sip lemonade on the proverbial porch of my mind.
With the dawning of the new millennium, many also began to trade-in odometer-tricked homepage hit counters for a splash page that was “best if viewed...” under particular conditions, and (all too often) neglected to provide coveted features like volume control and a “skip intro” option. But we didn't care as we were apparently too busy flexing 800x600 muscles while still wearing 640x480 dial-up t-shirt. Enter web design's own disco phase.
Fortunately for our visual senses however, this digital rhinestone flare began to settle down a bit. Flash became more subtly (and dare I say 'usefully') incorporated in animated menu systems, and display standards began to be accepted and adopted. Bulky, text-laden buttons gave way to cleaner and more user-friendly icons, and designers began to place more emphasis on typography while enjoying more freedoms to explore their creativity in a more raw, abstract manner. It was also about this time that the newly discovered ubiquity of 'the web' was made all the more prolific as dot com advertising began to go mainstream media. Before we knew it, we had somehow adopted this new media as our own, digging-in with a voracious, viral appetite.
Alas, we all have to grow up... and web design is no exception to the rule. The hipster wannabe freedom of quirky artists eventually matured, coming full-circle to the 'content is king' mentality that fostered the birth of Cyberspace to begin with. Semantic structure, usability guidelines, and best-practice standards rose to power, taking their places on thrones they occupy to this very day. Yes, different is still good... and yes, we designers are (and will mostly likely continue to be) that same quirky sort of self-proclaimed artisans. What has changed however, is our central understanding of effective web design as being an efficient problem solving mechanism and model of communication; a lesson who’s rules were established only after all other rules had been broken.