Essay: History of Web Design Industry

Until a few years ago, if you had asked someone about web design, chances are good that they would have thought you were talking about spiders. Today, however, the world is much different. Web design is a combination of different skills, all uniquely combined to create the wondrous products we see every day that teach, inform, and entertain us in numerous ways. It wasn’t always like this, however. Instead, there was a time in the past when what we understand to be web design would not have been recognizable to someone in the past and vice versa. This document is designed to bring those two ends of history together for today’s reader.

Web Design: The Dark Ages (1989)

Many of those who are involved in web design today have very little understanding of where their business started, assuming that their skills were delivered, in total, from a mountaintop. This could not be further from the truth. Instead, web design was created virtually from nothing, when screens were pretty dark, populated by a few monochrome pixels. Designs, if you could call them that, were created by a few creative uses of symbols and spaces. Fortunately, this was about to change when web design went from the Dark Ages to the Wild West.

The Wild West (1995)

Things really got wild, at least comparatively speaking, when browsers were introduced that allowed websites that could support images more closely associated with what we understand them to be today. The first step towards this was a book published in 1996 titled Creating Killer Websites by David Siegel, which introduced the concept of mixing static and fluid cells, tables within tables, to create an approximation of design. It wasn’t perfect, but it served as the standard of the industry for a time.

The problem with what Siegel offered was the fragile nature of the designs. This is when the concept of slicing was introduced. So-called “slicing” of an image saw designers create layouts, which were then sent to developers, who would break these concepts down into smaller pieces to determine how best to make the design work in practical application. Tables did remain in the toolbox to create things that could be aligned vertically, but it was the closest thing that anybody could come to perfection.

This also created a lot of confusion in the business world by allowing lots of promise, but very few clear-cut ways of using the web for profit. There was also a lot of confusion over the legal aspects of web use with problems such as cyber-squatters that needed to be dealt with.

Adobe Photoshop (1995)

Sandwiched in between these two eras was a raster graphics editor called Adobe Photoshop, which was developed by American brothers Thomas and John Knoll, Ph.D. students at the University of Michigan. Their original goal for their program was to be able to use a monochrome display to show gray scale images. Once their mission was accomplished, they were encouraged to turn their program into a full-scale image editing program, which was done and eventually sold to Adobe. Photoshop eventually became the standard in digital color editing.

Time for a Coffee Break: JavaScript (1995)

As good as HTML was for the process, it still had limitations. Fortunately, JavaScript was introduced, which allowed designers a way over the hump of HTML. JavaScript introduced many of the features that we associate with the web today, things such as popup windows and the ability to change the order of things. The trouble most commonly associated with JavaScript is literally added on top of the web and must be loaded separately. This allows for better design with more powerful, but also lets developers to be lazy.

Despite its shortcomings, JavaScript was a game changer not only for designers but for those who wanted to use the web for their promotional purposes.

You Ought to Be In Pictures, Introducing Flash (1996)

By this time in web design history, products were coming at a furious pace, all of them promising to make things bigger and better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the introduction of Flash in 1996 that gave designers more freedom than ever before. Flash allowed designers to create a file, then send it to the browser for display. This made for a lot of nice graphics but had one dramatic shortcoming: compatibility. As long as the display and those who wanted to see it used the same version of Flash, both could see it. Unfortunately, until the user updated their version of Flash, they were out of luck. When this did happen, however, Flash worked like magic. And magic is exactly what happened, with the introduction of splashy interactive pages, animations, and all kinds of cool effects.

By 2007, however, when Apple decided to cut it for use with their first iPhone, Flash quickly became old hat. Marketers were ready to embrace this new concept of mobile design that iPhone introduced to the masses. It was time to come out with something newer and better, CSS.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) (1998)

About the same time that Flash was introduced, another method of displaying graphics was introduced, Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS for short. In effect, content and presentation are separated with CSS, with CSS defining the graphics while the content is in HTML. In the beginning, there were problems with the flexibility of CSS, but the real issues came about with the unwillingness of browsers to accept the new format.

After a few years, browsers started to accept CSS, but this came only after problems with one browser would accept it while another would not, a perpetual nightmare for developers. The good news with this was that it gave designers the ability to code their own work, and those who didn’t want to learn had the opportunity to understand it better.

The Mobile Road (2007)

To consider all of these steps to where we are now as game changers wouldn’t hold a candle to what happened when mobile technology was introduced in 2007. The first problem with mobile technology was the inability to decide what should be available online. For example, should a full website be viewed on a mobile device? And if that full experience was available on mobile devices, would it eat up money for internet time? After these issues were solved, the only thing remaining was making the elements easier to use.

A New Direction (2010)

In 2010 a web designer and developer named Ethan Marcotte took what many believed about web design, it’s limitations as well as its promise, and cut it off at the knees when he introduced the concept of responsive web design. Responsive web design is more of a concept than a real product, which led it to have a lot of misunderstanding about what it was and what the intent was when it was introduced. In short, it changed the world for the better to not only developers and designers, but marketers as well. Bottom line: responsive web design makes what is reflected on a website the same as that which is presented on a mobile device.

Introduction of Flat Design (2010)

All of this was going along swimmingly until 2010, when someone got the idea of streamlining the process of website design to make it simpler, thus allowing more time and effort to the development of the overall design itself. This idea might have made more use of gimmicks, but it made use of them for a whole new and more advanced reason.

A Look to the Future (Today)

It doesn’t take a big brain to see that the history of web design is one that has, in only a few years, gone from a high-tech creation that was accessible to only a chosen few to a tool that is almost to the point that anyone can use it. After all, what could be easier than a layman having the ability to take a graphic and put it up on a screen, and having clean code be returned? We might not be there now, but within a few short years, there can be little doubt that this will be the world as we know it.

This short essay is provided by CustomWritings.com online freelance writing company.

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