A brief history of web design — part 2: Web 2.0


If you already read Part I, go back, I updated a few things

A google search for "Web 2.0" returns the following snippet

Web 2.0 describes World Wide Web sites that use technology beyond the static pages of earlier Web sites. The term was coined in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci and was popularized by Tim O'Reilly at the O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference in late 2004.

I'm not really sure what really Web 2.0 means, whether it actually was something or when it really started, but one thing I do know: web 2.0 had these icons all over the place

CSS is slowly starting now to become common, and changes the way websites are crafted. Abusing tables to create layouts was replaced by abusing floats, and the interwebz drew their pitchforks and attacked everyone who still used tables.

At the same time php and Content Management Systems are on the rise, giving people the possibility to manage websites from the comfort of their browsers. Ready made templates for the popular Mambo (later Joomla), Drupal, WordPress etc CMS' are now commonly available for sale.

Soon after the whole web looked like this

Corporate websites pop here and there as small business proprietors are told it is unacceptable to not have a website in the age of information. The rise of the CMS has commoditised simple introductory websites, prices fall rapidly and the involvement of either a coder or a designer in the creation of a huge part of the internet cannot be taken for granted.

Grid layouts make template creation easy and allow extensibility and easy manipulation of content and other widgets around a page. Images and text are hammered inside borders and boxes and most of the design effort is spent in the background images of the box and website headers.

Computer screens now support an adequate 16.7 million colors, and monitors do an acceptable job of showing a good part of it, but due to various reasons, dpi is still very low. Heavy antialiasing, glossiness and other effects take the focus away from the low fidelity and so gain in popularity. Text antialiasing with subpixel rendering for the new LCD monitors is available with Windows XP but not enabled by default.

Then Windows Vista came, along with iOS and everything is glossy.

Blurred drop shadows of all kinds, embossed and engraved texts, glowing areas and glass are all over the place.

I know the above are not all web screenshots, but it's harder to find more representative images, and in that era, the web really looked like this. Web applications start to pick up on the general design trends leaving behind the bare "do the job" looks and trying to look like their desktop counterparts. Who knew that the opposite would happen just a few years later.

GMail was a notable exception to the rule. It kept the barebones aesthetic through the years, just like most of Google's products. While mostly uninspiring, Google showed that sometimes functionality was more important than eyecandy, and given the overblown graphical effects of competitors' products, for many people simplicity even looked prettier.

Towards the end of the decade, outofbounds started operations. This was our first website. The influences of the glossy, gradient era are clearly visible, and the design was soon to be obsolete.

Another thing that would soon be obsolete was our approach to our work. We needed to focus on fewer things and do them better.

Type revolution

The technology that had the most dramatic impact on how the web looked since the adoption of css is the support for webfonts. Around the end of the decade most browsers support some (albeit different and incompatible) kind of webfonts. This means that we are no longer limited to the small list of web safe fonts, and designers can now express themselves through typography.

(Thanks to fontsinuse.com for the nice webfont examples)


Not exactly web design but tangential, here's a brief visual history of graphical web browser design:

Part 2.5: Mobile and Part 3: Flatness of this story are now live