|Nostalgic Web Design
A nostalgic look back at 90s web design,
and a warning to anyone whose website is an accidental anachronism.
Remember the days when every PC was beige, every website had
a little Netscape icon on the homepage, Geocities and Tripod
hosted just about every single personal homepage, and "Google"
was just a funny-sounding word?
The mid-late 1990s were the playful childhood of the worldwide
web, a time of great expectations for the future and pretty
low standards for the present. Those were the days when doing
a web search meant poring through several pages of listings
rather than glancing at the first three results--but at least
relatively few of those websites were unabashedly profit-driven.
Hallmarks of 1990s Web Design
Of course, when someone says that a website looks like it
came from 1996, it's no compliment. You start to imagine loud
background images, and little "email me" mailboxes with letters
going in and out in an endless loop. Amateurish, silly, unprofessional,
conceited, and unusable are all adjectives that pretty well
describe how most websites were made just ten years ago.
Why were websites so bad back then?
Knowledge. Few people knew how to build a good website back
then, before authorities like Jakob Nielsen starting evangelizing
their studies of web user behavior.
Difficulty. In those days, there weren't abundant software
and templates that could produce a visually pleasing, easy-to-use
website in 10 minutes. Instead, you either hand-coded your
site in Notepad or used FrontPage.
Java, Frames, animated Gifs, or Flash, it was simply crammed
into an already overstuffed toy box of a website, regardless
of whether it served any purpose.
Browsing through the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine, it's
hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia for a simpler time
when we were all beginners at this. Still, one of the best
reasons for looking at 90s website design is to avoid repeating
history's web design mistakes. This would be a useful exercise
for the tragic number of today's personal homepages and even
small business websites that are accidentally retro.
Sometime around 1998, websites all over the internet discovered
Flash, the software that allowed for easy animation of images
on a website. Suddenly you could no longer visit half the
pages on the web without sitting through at least thirty seconds
of a logo revolving, glinting, sliding, or bouncing across
Flash "splash pages," as these opening animations were called,
became the internet's version of vacation pictures. Everyone
loved to display Flash on their site, and everyone hated to
have to sit through someone else's Flash presentation.
Of all the thousands of splash pages made in the 1990s and
the few still made today, hardly any ever communicated any
useful information or provided any entertainment. They were
monuments to the egos of the websites' owners. Still, today,
when so many business website owners are working so hard to
wring every last bit of effectiveness out of their sites,
it's almost charming to think of a business owner actually
putting ego well ahead of the profit to have been derived
from all the visitors who hit the "back" button rather than
sit through an animated logo.
"Welcome to…" Every single website homepage in 1996 had to
have the word "welcome" somewhere, often in the largest headline.
After all, isn't saying "welcome" more vital than saying what
the web page is all about in the first place?
Background images. Remember all those people who had their
kids' pictures tiled in the background of every page? Remember
how much fun it was trying to guess what the words were in
the sections where the font color and the color of the image
were the same?
Dark background, light text. My favorite was orange font on
purple background, though the ubiquitous yellow white text
on blue, green or red was nice, too. Of course, anyone who
will make their text harder to read with a silly gimmick is
just paying you the courtesy of letting you know they couldn't
possibly have written anything worth reading.
Entire paragraphs of text centered. After all, haven't millennia
of flush-left margins just made our eyes lazy?
"This Site Is Best Viewed in Netscape 4.666, 1,000x3300 resolution."
It was always so cute when site owners actually imagined anyone
but their mothers would care enough to change their browser
set up to look at some random person's website.
All-image no-text publishing. Some of the worst websites would
actually do the world the service of putting all their text
in image format so that no search engine would ever find them.
TV-envy was a common psychological malady in 1990s web design.
Since streaming video and even Flash were still in their infancy,
web designers settled for simply making the elements on their
pages move like Mexican jumping beans.
In 1996, just before the dawn of Flash, animated gifs were
in full swing, dancing, sliding, and scrolling their way across
the retinas of web surfers trying to read the text on the
Just in case you were having a too easy time tuning out all
the dancing graphics on the page, an ambitious mid-1990s web
designer had a simple but powerful trick for giving you a
website owners could achieve the perfect combination of too
fast to read comfortably and too slow to read quickly.
For a while, a business owner could even separate the serious
from the wannabe prospects based just on how (un)professional
their business websites looked. Sadly, the development of
template-based website authoring software means that even
someone with no taste or sense whatsoever can make websites
that look as good as the most biggest-budget design of five
Of course, there are still some websites whose owners seem
to be trying to spark a resurgence in animated gifs, background
images, and ugly text. 'll just have to trust that everyone
is laughing with them, not at them.
About the author:
If you want to avoid these mistakes in your website Joel Walsh
recommends you check out http://www.ezgenerator.com/docuents/167.html