In the late 1990s, before WordPress took over the website development scene with pre-made themes, website design was a highly creative industry. Designers would create impressive layouts in Photoshop, slice them up, and upload them using basic HTML and CSS.
No two websites ever looked the same.
Website designs almost always carried a personal touch that represented the industry of the business. For example, NewGrounds.com has been around for almost two decades and still retains much of its original charm. Its layout and graphic elements perfectly represent what it is – an online gaming website.
Templates have lost their flair
In the 1990s, the only templates available were created by highly skilled graphic designers whose work can only be described as art. Their designs were not just square borders containing perfectly aligned text in 3 columns. They were intricately designed with hours of work in Photoshop, taking on unique shapes that made the content come alive.
As time went on, website design evolved. In order to meet the compatibility demands of mobile devices, many of the best web design elements of the 1990s were left behind in favor of a design style that seems to power nearly every website alive.
Although many 1990s design elements were dropped for good reason (like flash, dancing babies, random music, animated gifs, scrolling text, and splash pages), there are some real gems that seem to have disappeared.
1. Under construction images
Back in the day, under construction signs were common to let people know when a website wasn’t quite ready. We’re not suggesting that people should slap an animated GIF of a construction site on their homepage and call it a day. But with the number of websites being published with incomplete or missing content, and visitors being unlikely to return if there is no content, the “under construction” image would be useful when combined with an email capture form intended to let people know when your site is up and running.
2. Mouse over menus (with image swaps)
Nothing is more pleasing than hovering over a menu item and watching it slightly change color, or mousing over an image and watching it fade to let you know what selection you’re about to make. This aspect of web design is one of the most efficient ways to help visitors navigate.
Here’s a styling product website that uses this element today. With six options presented as graphics, it’s clear what each selection represents. But when you mouse over each item, the image fades into the background and the text in the foreground tells you exactly what’s on the other side of the link. It’s a pleasing experience and you’ll never mistakenly click on the wrong link.
Clipart is simply defined as non-photographic graphic images. The term “clipart” came from a time when people had to literally cut images out of books in order to place them onto layouts for printing.
You’re probably used to seeing bad clip art across the web and inside programs like Microsoft Word. But not all clipart is bad. In fact, you can find free and commercial clipart, online and at major electronics stores, that are drawn in almost any style you could think of.
Clipart is a great alternative to overused stock photography. You’ve probably seen the same royalty-free stock photo spring up across multiple websites. But when was the last time you saw a website make good use of clipart?
4. Professional, custom graphics
Graphic design has changed significantly since the 1950s. You can see the evolution just by looking at various movie posters and old VHS tape jackets. And in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, custom graphic design for websites was in high demand.
With so many talented graphic designers in the world today, it’s hard to believe so many people choose to create their own logos or outsource it to places like Fiverr. The problem is, you might be happy with the way your logo looks but if it’s not designed by a professional, it may not do much to help your brand.
Perhaps that’s just one of the side effects of living in a DIY world. Either way, the web needs a comeback with professional graphic design.
Bring back the creativity!
There’s no denying that website development has evolved into something more accessible and mobile-friendly than ever before. Back in the day, you were lucky if you could get a website to load on Internet Explorer, and designers had a heck of a time creating separate CSS files just to accommodate outdated browsers that people insisted on using. Today, it’s much easier. But in this great transformation of web design, some of the best elements have been lost. We can leave behind the dancing babies but it’s time to revive creativity and infuse some personality back into the web!