The web ten years ago

Smashing Apps recently published a post titled How Popular Website Designs Looked Like In Late 90’s. They went in the wayback machine and grabbed screenshots for current commonly praised sites such as and, and like one would expect, the sites from the 90’s were horrible.

Note though that both Apple and Google’s site, which have both always been fairly simple in design, have barely changed. Take Apple…


Just like Apple’s products, has always been minimalistic, following the same basic yet effective layout. Above the fold is a huge image featuring recently announced products. Below that is a news feed. And below that, are a couple images in a row linked to other interesting products. And at the very bottom are text links to other sections of the site.

The only major difference between the site before and the site now is that where the main navigation and search function was at the bottom of the site in the past, it is now at the top. That however was changed the following year.

So what does this say about Apple? I think it says they aren’t effected by trends. They didn’t use the coolest web tricks just because they were cool at the time. Instead, they followed a philosophy that transcends trends, and that’s to focus on the products and let them speak for themselves.

The Future

We know that most sites ten years ago sucked. This was largely because of several limitations that hindered designers. First, designers had to deal with old browsers. Worse than IE6, they had to deal with IE5, and Netscape. Second, CSS was not fully developed yet, and even if it was, it wasn’t fully supported by browsers yet. And thirdly, people used 56k modems, so designers couldn’t be too flashy with there Flash, and had to be very careful about the size and amount of images on a web page.

What I’m getting at is aside from designers still figuring out the Web and how to make it beautiful, they were technical limitations, and ten years from now, people will look back and think the same about the current state of the web. However, that doesn’t have to hold you back. Like Apple, if you focus on a design philosophy, and not design trends, you sites will transcend time. And don’t focus on the present too much—always keep your eyes on the future.

Note: If you’re interested in looking at a site in the past, just visit the Internet Archive and enter a URL in the “Wayback Machine.”

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 2:11 pm and is filed under Advice, Links. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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