20 years designing for the web
This month marks twenty years since I started designing for the web. Back in May 1999, the peak of my front-end development was pasting mouse trail effects from Dynamic Drive. My first client site two years later used Frontpage Express to colour in table cells in a calendar. It would be five years before I got a mobile phone and attempted a special mobile WAP page.
The early years were an era of wild, colourful creativity, constrained only by the 640 by 480 pixels of the monitor (I.E. 4.0 highly recommended). I was a webmaster, master of your Personal Website and available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your homepage would be painstakingly submitted to the leading search engines Lycos and Excite. My first contract charged an extra £1.50 for each additional page you wanted. A contact form was only available if your ISP gave you a cgi-bin folder.
It was also an era before broadband, which arrived in our village in 2003. I built the site we used to gather the 250 petition votes BT needed to upgrade our exchange. The reward was a 10x speed increase, to 512kps. Shortly afterwards I discovered Macromedia Flash and an explosion of half-finished interactive games followed. My snail betting is somehow as compelling today as it was in 2004.
The content and technologies behind the web are relentlessly evolving, but as a platform for expression, experimentation and creative exploration I don’t believe much has really changed.
In twenty years’ time, I hope I’m still having as much fun online as I was twenty years ago.
Where it all began, aged 10. The homepage is mobile friendly and a total of 1,652 bytes. The subsequent page about LEGO is an accessibility nightmare.
Within my first year alone I sped through 6 design iterations as
<marque> tags, CSS, animated gifs and auto-playing midi songs all start to make an appearance.
My first domain name, www.webextreme.org.uk opens with a popup warning:
I.E. 4.0 is highly recommended for viewing this site. Various features may not work in Netscape. 800x600 pixel screen also needed for some pages.
My tools of the trade in the early 2000s were Front Page Editor, Hotdog Pro 5, Image Composer and Gif Animator. Many of these would last only a year before I switched to the world of Macromedia Dreamweaver & Fireworks.
My first client project, by which time I had discovered how to add rainbow gradients and (almost seamless) repeating backgrounds.
Campaigning for broadband in the village. “Broadband connections are always on” we noted, “which means there’s no mucking about with dial tones or other annoying obstacles”.
One of my earliest Flash games complete with excessive exclamation marks and poor grammar. If flash embedding still works by the time you’re reading this, you can play yourself below.
… and then?
After those first five years, I’d barely scratched the surface of the web, yet to discover technologies like PHP, jQuery or Git that would have a huge impact on my projects for years to come.
Today I continue to build silly games, quirky visuals and personal sites on anything that interests me.
Long may it continue.