Travel Through Time in Web Design

If you had a time machine, what would you do? If you’re like us, you’d obviously go back in time and stop Internet Explorer ever being inflicted on the world. But, on our way back through the vortex, we wouldn’t be able to resist a gander at some websites of the time (laws of causality notwithstanding).

Well, it turns out we sort of do have that time machine, thanks to the Internet Archive’s WayBackMachine. Let’s discover four eras of the Web, as demonstrated by four of the world’s best known brands. Let’s time jump!

1997: BBC website design

Website design of BBC, 1997

Say what you like about the 1997-era BBC website, there’s no denying it had less Donald Trump in it. A lot less. It’s important not to discount that.

2017: BBC

BBC website in 2017

In 1997, Radiohead, The Verve, Spiritualized and the Prodigy all released seminal albums. It also happened to be the year the home page of a major global media conglomerate could consist merely of a ludicrously oversized logo, a random elliptical “About” graphic, and an OCD achingly misaligned “Programmes” section  compounded by a blurry ‘numbers’ background.

Nice try 1997… great music, but don’t expect a call from Mr iTunes or Madame Spotify just yet.

Although the possibilities of the burgeoning Web were beginning to dawn, they were largely theoretical, since technology was clearly some way behind catching up with them. At this time, the BBC’s Ceefax TV service was much closer to replicating today’s BBC website, albeit with blocky text instead of that spacious, beautifully simple modern design we see today. Both have their charms.

1997: BBC Programmes

BBC programmes website section, 1997

Still, the “Programmes” page certainly demonstrated this disparity between exciting technological theory and crushing, humdrum reality. With connection speeds being but a fraction of today’s, images were kept to a minimum, and video was virtually unheard of. But what was lacking in rich media content, was more than made up for simply by giving all the headings dubious blurry shadows – and making the headings all slanty!

2005: The Facebook website design

Facebook website design, 2005

Back in 2005, The Facebook was “a production” by some guy called Mark Zuckerberg (whatever happened to him?) We can see the now zeitgeist betrodden branding was very much in place from these early days, with the same basic logo and brand colours we see plastered on everything from crisp packets to electricity bills to this day.

The sparse look and feel of the login screen isn’t really all that different either.

2017: The Facebook

Facebook login screen, 2017

We’re sure it works just fine (um, kind of hard to argue not…), but we can’t help but feel 2017 Facebook’s login screen could do with leaving 2005 firmly behind. Ok yeah, there’s an image now, but that crude old map that seems to infer some hideous pandemic of connected disembodied heads has surely had its time.

Notably, in what was perhaps the precursor to today’s Facebook lurker phenomenon, for some reason the sign in form included an image of a stalker, staring menacingly at you as if daring you to either “Login” or “Register”.

Facebook login/register widget, 2005

You may have needed an email address from an approved school or university just to join, but even back then there were hints about the advertising leviathan Facebook was to become. Nowadays, it may be quicker to get a Facebook ad up and running than it is to order a pizza online. Mid-noughties ‘de rigeur’ though was all about filling in lengthy forms with lots of red “required” stars all over it, or clicking on a tiny link buried at the bottom of an obscure FAQ section.

Facebook advertising process in 2005

How do I get started, Facebook? Why, by clicking here of course. Obviously.

Facebook alternative ad process, 2005

2000: Amazon website design website design in 2000

This screen shot was what Amazon looked like in March 2000 – the same month the dot com bubble burst.

The Web was still primitive to look at, but even so, it was already serious business for some. Amazon had sales of $2.6bn, and were valued at over $20bn. Before losing 94% of their value during the dot com super freakout, but let’s leave that aside for now!

2017: Amazon website in 2017

Visually, today’s Amazon is very different to its 17-year-old former self. Improved Web infrastructure means all those text links of things you don’t need have been replaced with photos that make them look even more shiny and essential.

Yet the somewhat cluttered look and feel of the Amazon homepage is the same, as is its ethos. Shovel enough category and personalised product suggestions into the face of whoever is staring at the screen, and they’ll want to buy something they see. No, they’ll need to…

Only today it might be delivered by an actual flying drone, right out of the big, blue sky. What a time to be alive!

As with many surviving tech companies from the early days of the Internet, Amazon’s branding remains much the same. Their logo is identical (did you know the arrow/smile in the logo points from A to Z, symbolising how customers could find anything from A to Z and leave a smile on their face). And, for all the cosmetic improvements to the website, it all remains true to its underlying essence: a search engine for products.

This consistency is part of its strength, and helps to explain its continuous progression into the centre of the lives of its countless customers. At its core, the website is still doing the same thing it always did, and its users understand that: helping them buy whatever it is they’re looking for. But Amazon is a trailblazer in utilising technology advances, which has allowed it to do this age-old thing in an ever more compelling ways – and made it almost appallingly easy to buy along the way.

Pro tip: Just be careful what you say in front of your new Alexa assistant!

2010: Coca-Cola website design

Coca-Cola website design in 2010

Hey 2010, your technology is beginning to catch up with ours (except for that adorable phone!)

Brands were finally giving birth to websites that wouldn’t need paternity tests to prove relation to today’s equivalents. The Web was growing up – and design with it. Gone are the massive white space gutters or pages that only filled the left side of the screen. Meanwhile, increased web speeds meant a place for more images and rich media. And with that came some interactivity…

Coke’s website achieved this through Flash animation. This vulnerable and insecure dragon was long since slain by Steve Jobs’s insistence on excluding it’s compatibility with Apple iDevices. Take a look, for some reason all the drinks it makes are floating around like it’s one heck of a windy day in your computer. Aha – that explains the random kite!

Oh, one other small thing. Just no one tell them that the world’s started buying something called an “iPhone” hand over fist, and that website will not work for much longer for half their visitors.

With competitions, sharing and sign ups, and the vaguely authoritarian command that you “Be connected”, Coke was now tentatively using the Web in a way that’s commonplace and ever more intricate today – as way to open a two-way dialogue between themselves and their audience.

Fast forward to 2017 and Coke’s website could be a case study in modern web design ethos… big bold images of beautiful people whose souls if not their expressions scream “I don’t like Coke!”, smooth, subtle complementing animations, and ‘less is more’ large accompanying text.

2017: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola website in 2017

In short, it looks great. It really adds fizz to Coke’s admittedly bizarre message that it’s drinks are part of a healthy lifestyle. Despite all the imagery around ‘zero sugar’, just looking at it is enough to start rotting your teeth.

We bet that’s full fat Coke in those Zero Sugar Coke bottles… You ain’t fooling us, Coca-Cola!

And we’re back

Now we’ve returned from the past, and what we saw made our hair stand on end. We blame the static. What we saw back there though was a bit like the progression of hair styles through the ages. The 90s might have been the Internet’s ‘age of the mullet’. In the 2000s, the Web’s look was becoming more sensible, but looking back now, it’s all a bit embarrassing.

Today, we’re finally sorting it all out. The Web is everywhere; it adapts to any device you can find it on, is in tune with your preferences, behaviours and locational whims. And thanks to technology finally catching up, at its best it looks utterly gorgeous while doing it.

That’s where we come in. If you want to give your brand a cutting edge branchage, we’re the best ‘digital barbers’ in town!

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