The History of Web Design

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson you will see how web design has evolved since its beginnings in the mid 1980's all the way through the mid 2010's. You will be introduced to the tools web designers used to enhance their web pages and bring us to where we are now.

Way Back When

Ah the good old days!! Like in 1985, when Nintendo hit the shelves in the U.S. and the word 'internet' was just beginning to be heard. It's hard to remember a time when you couldn't look something up on a web page.

But web pages are much more dynamic now than they were at the beginning. Early on, there was only text, no images or animations or even a variety of colors were available yet. There was no design to speak of; text was aligned on the left margin and colors were limited to black and white (or really, green and white).

Web Design
Web Design

My how things have changed. Let's take a look at the timeline of web design.


In the early 1990's, Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog swept the nation. The first website went live in 1991; it was a very simple, text-based site. Later, design was still heavily text-based, but now web designers could add up to 16 web safe colors. HTML or hypertext markup language was developed so designers could set the structure of their web pages and control how their pages were viewed. This is also when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established. The W3C are a group of people from all over the world who got together to set guidelines for consistency in web design.

In the mid-1990's, the Playstation console appeared and things were shaking up in the world of web design. Designers now had the use of 256 colors, as well as 2 web safe fonts: Times New Roman and Courier New. These were determined to be the fonts everyone had on their computers and so would be able to view the web pages the way the designers intended.

Ads were showing up on the internet and buttons allowing interaction with the user were making their first appearance. Macromedia Shockwave, JavaScript, and Flash made their debut which increased interaction and animation. And finally, web designers had more control of the layout and design of their pages with the advent of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

By the late 1990's, the Nintendo 64 had come out and web designers were relying more on color to add excitement to their web design. Designers were using color blocking and dark backgrounds, similar to what was in style in fashion. Web designers could now make use of gradients which added a sense of flow to their pages.

As more and more users were online, it became clear that navigation needed to be easier, so web designers added menus that allowed users to go directly to another part of the web. With all of these new capabilities HTML was updated to version 4 which allowed for more control over images, tables, and other elements that designers could use to make their pages more appealing.


In the mid-2000's, the Xbox 360 and PC gaming were getting popular and in web design the style buzzwords were readability and functionality. Web designers wanted to make sure that as many people as possible could view and enjoy their pages. They cleared up fonts and were more restrained with using color (with over 16 million colors now available!). Because of the W3C initiative for web accessibility, web designers added functionality to make their pages accessible to the disabled. Screen readers for example, would 'say' the text on screen so the visually impaired could use the web too.

Users were using the internet for entertainment rather than just research, and designers had to keep up. Animation and interactivity increased as designers used Flash to allow more activity in such online ventures as WordPress, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube.

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