I got to thinking today about all the trends I’ve shamefully exploited in my years as a designer. It’s not that I was trying to be trendy (actually I’ve never been into following trends), but that in the real world, you have to be competitive with other websites, and your clients often want to be trendy. When you look back through the years, it’s pretty amusing. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you (yet another) nostalgic blog post that nobody will find interesting.
Notepad & Netscape Era (RIP 1994-1997)
As far as design, there really wasn’t much to speak of. Graphics were mostly an afterthought, as images, backgrounds, and fonts had just been introduced to HTML. Usually there was a heavily-compressed banner, a tiled background, an “email me” icon, and would be it. Comic Sans and Arial were the only alternatives to Times and Courier (and we liked it!).
Tables & Photoshop Slicing Era (RIP 1998-2001)
At this point, Photoshop was becoming the standard for web mockups. However, due to limitations of CSS1, we would slice up the images in Photoshop, then export them directly as tables. As far as I know, you can still do this in Photoshop, but nobody is dumb enough to do that anymore. The problem with tables, of course, was that it was a nightmare for semantics, and they were a little tricky to edit directly. Also, there was very little you could override with CSS.
During this time, the dark “cyberpunk” look was huge. Backgrounds were almost always black with white or neon text. It was also popular to use Japanese text for no reason at all, both as the cyberpunk look and because anime was at its peak of popularity. In this era, we found ourselves spending more time editing the website in Photoshop than actually using the HTML. WYSIWYG editors were also popular at the time, but they all quietly went the way of the dinosaur.
Flash Era (RIP 2002-2005)
Throughout these years, the designs were typically flat-shaded, abstract Illustrator creations (like what you’d see on a hipster t-shirt), as well as Photoshop manipulated people and landscapes. It was common to see art that was complicated and “overprocessed”-looking.
Web 2.0 Era (RIP 2006-2009)
Because most of the designs in this era were running in CMS’s now, and CSS2 still didn’t enjoy 100% support, websites were incredibly clean and simple. Backgrounds were always white, and the glossy glassy gradient look was popular to say the least. Also, nearly every website was a wholesale ripoff of Apple’s. Flash started dying out during this time due to many factors, the biggest factor being it was not allowed on Apple devices, so it was no longer the silver bullet for animation it once was.
Framework Era (RIP 2010-)
Designs that dominate in this era are the handmade/indie movie poster look, cut paper look, and stitched leather look. Which is ironic considering the frameworks are now doing much of what used to be done “by hand”.