The Evolution of Web Design

Last Updated -
May 24, 2024
The Evolution of Web Design
The Evolution of Web Design

The Evolution of Web Design

1990 — The birth of the web — and web design

Without Tim Berners-Lee, there would be no Phunk — or at least we’d be doing something very different. In the early 1990s, Berners-Lee not only invented the World Wide Web but also HTML, the fundamental language for creating web pages.

The first website was a very simple text-based site, built to provide information about the World Wide Web project itself. It was accessed using keyboard prompts in a line-based browser. If you’ve played Fallout, you might find the interface familiar. You can still access it on the CERN website

Early web design was far from the visually rich and interactive sites we see today. HTML’s <table> function was the cornerstone of these early sites, organising information into neat rows and columns. There was little colour, no images, and certainly no graphics—just plain text on a stark background. It was basic, but it was the beginning of something that would change the world.

1995 — The web gets interactive with JavaScript

Fast-forward to the mid-90s, and the web was ready to become much more interactive. JavaScript, initially called Mocha, was created to add a new layer of functionality to web pages. This scripting language allowed designers to automate behaviours, transforming static pages into dynamic, interactive experiences. 

With JavaScript, sites could feature drop-down menus, pop-up alerts, and embedded forms, making the user experience more engaging and interactive — the start of what we think of as a modern website.

This was a pivotal moment in design, opening the door to countless possibilities and more sophisticated user interfaces — and it quickly led to widespread adoption of the web for marketing, ecommerce, communication and media.

2001 — Static design doesn’t cut it any more

As the new millennium dawned, web designers began to grapple with the challenge of varying screen sizes and resolutions. The Audi website, created by Razorfish in 2001, was one of the first to address this issue with an early take on responsive design. 

This site adjusted its content based on the browser window size, optimising for 640×480, 800×600, and 1024×768 pixels. Unlike today’s responsive design, which uses CSS media queries, this early attempt relied on JavaScript for dynamic customisation based on browser resolution. It was basic — but it was a significant step towards the fluid, adaptive designs we take for granted today.

2003 — Now everyone’s making websites!

The release of WordPress 0.7 in 2003 marked a major milestone in web design and development. This open-source content management system (CMS) totally revolutionised website building and management. 

With a user-friendly interface and a growing range of themes and plugins, WordPress enabled ordinary users to build and customise sites visually, without needing to write code. That led to rapid growth in user-generated content. Websites were no longer just a channel for large companies and organisations — they were an outlet for individual creativity.

Today, WordPress remains the world's most popular CMS, powering over 30% of all websites. Its impact on web design and publishing has been huge, democratising web publishing and making it accessible to millions of people worldwide.

2006 — OK, let’s make design work for the user

In 2006, Microsoft’s Zune handheld multimedia player introduced one of the earliest examples of flat design in a user interface. This design philosophy emphasised simplicity and functionality, eschewing the glossy, 3D elements that were popular at the time. 

The Zune interface featured clean, simple lines, large lowercase typography, silhouette logos, and plain monochromatic fonts. This minimalist approach focused on usability and aesthetics, setting the stage for the widespread adoption of flat design in web and UI design — a philosophy we’re continuing to evolve and explore at Phunk.

2007 — Enter the smartphone, and the mobile web

Apple's release of the iPhone in 2007 was a game-changer for web design. With its built-in Safari web browser, the iPhone made mobile web browsing easy and intuitive for the first time, with pinch-to-zoom and one-finger scrolling — changing the future of web design almost overnight.

The explosive popularity of smartphones ushered in a new era where making websites mobile-accessible became the priority. Designers had to pivot quickly to embrace the 960-grid system and 12-column divisions to create layouts that worked well on both desktop and mobile screens. 

This shift also led to the rise of mobile-first design, an approach that prioritises designing for the smallest screens before scaling up. It was a crucial turning point, reflecting the growing importance of mobile devices in our daily lives — and with smartphones now representing 56% of global web traffic, it’s never been more important.

2016 — Figma reinvents design collaboration

Figma’s journey began in 2011 when Brown University students Dylan Field and Evan Wallace started developing a design tool that enabled real-time collaboration. After a free, invite-only preview in December 2015, Figma was publicly released in 2016. 

This tool was revolutionary, combining the functionality of native applications with the accessibility of browser-based tools. Figma allowed designers to work together seamlessly, regardless of their location, making it an invaluable tool for modern web design teams — including Phunk.

Now - User-focused design takes centre stage

Today, web design is about creating user-centric experiences. Trends like minimalism, flat design, and creative typography are at the forefront. Designers now have tools like Webflow that enable intricate designs with built-in hosting and seamless, code-free creation, overtaking traditional platforms like WordPress in flexibility. 

The focus is on creating websites that are not only visually appealing but also accessible to everyone, ensuring a more inclusive internet. As technology continues to evolve, so will the art and science of web design. 

At Phunk, we’re leading the change. We’re always ready to push the boundaries of what’s possible and continue to shape how our digital world is designed and experienced.

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