Evolution of Web Design: From HTML to Modern UX/UI Trends

Published 01 August, 2023 Updated 01 August, 2023

Web design has made great leaps in just three decades. Take a look at how the web design landscape has changed from 1989 to today.

Evolution of Web Design: From HTML to Modern UX/UI Trends

The World Wide Web is turning 34 this year, and just like most 30-year-olds, it is now more sophisticated, elegant and sure of itself. The internet is all grown up, and it’s kind of incredible to go back in time and see where it all began. From the technology advancements to the evolution of web design – we’ve definitely come a long way.

At WAcademy, we are particularly interested in the history of web design. Although the global web experience started with simple text-based web pages in the early 90s, today, we can enjoy websites that are bursting with color, unique visuals, videos, animations, transitions and original layouts. The sky’s the limit in today’s web design world, and we are excited to be a part of it.

Curious to learn about the most defining moments in the history of web design? Let’s take a look at the history of web design and the events that changed the internet as we know it today.

Web design history timeline

From a simple web page designed at the Swiss research center in 1989 to conversion-driven websites in 2023 – let’s crack open the decades that represent web design. 

1990s: The birth of the World Wide Web

In 1989, while working at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web to make information accessible and shareable between organizations. The first ever web browser was named WorldWideWeb but was soon renamed Nexus because it used the NeXTSTEP operating system. This eliminated any confusion between the browser and the World Wide Web itself. 

Nexus was a browser editor, meaning it allowed creating and browsing pages. And the very first website – info.cern.ch – looked more like a document than a proper website. At least by today’s standards. 

A screenshot of the first ever website info.cern.ch.
First website

Tim Berners-Lee also founded the World Wide Web Consortium and created the foundations of HTML (HyperText Markup Language), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

In 1993, the first graphical web browser – Mosaic – was introduced. It allowed internet users to view images and navigate websites easier. Further into the decade, people started incorporating table-based layouts. Web page formatting became available as well.

When JavaScript and Flash were introduced in 1995 and 1996, respectively, website developers started adding interactive and dynamic elements to sites. Further advancements in this field were accelerated by the introduction of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in 1996 and its subsequent versions throughout the decades.

The internet changed drastically in the mid 90s with the introduction of Internet Explorer and Google Search – which remains the biggest of all search engines with 91% of the market share. In 1996, Google introduced search algorithms and revolutionized web search. 

From the web design perspective, although new technologies enabled creating more interactive and unique websites, the early 1990s did not offer many advancements in the area. However, due to higher investments in web design propelled by the dot-com bubble, the early 2000s were very promising. 

2000s: Welcome to Web 2.0

The early sites from the 1990s were very rudimentary and even kitschy by today’s standards. However, throughout the 2000s, web designers started looking seriously at structure, menus, sitemaps and other navigational elements. Website designs became much more sophisticated, and that was possible thanks to new technologies and a better understanding of the web overall.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, CSS2 helped create better website layouts and advance their style. Moreover, we saw the birth of the CMS (content management system), with WordPress being the most popular, and the wide adoption of Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash), which helped create interactive web pages.

In 2004, what we refer to as Web 2.0 emerged with a focus on user-generated, relevant content, social networking and interactive web experiences. This marked the end of static web pages and gave way to many more unique and interesting web design choices. 

The 2000s is the decade of major browsers, including Safari (2003) and Firefox (2004). However, there is no bigger web browser than Google Chrome. Originally launched by Google in 2008, it remains the most popular web browser in the world, claiming 62.74% of the market.

By the end of the decade, the release of the first iPhone revolutionized mobile web browsing. This directed more focus on mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive website design. And with the release of HTML5 in 2009, new multimedia capabilities pushed forward web development and reduced our reliance on plugins like Flash.

2010s: The mobile web

2010s marked the years of responsive web design foundation. As mobile web browsing finally overtook desktop browsing in 2016, web designers had no other choice but to create sites that were easily accessible via mobile phones and other mobile devices. If a site was not responsive, traffic dropped.

The decade was also marked by the flat design trend. In this era, flat design websites favored minimalistic landing pages and used simple shapes, 2D images and vibrant colors. CSS3 supported this design trend with gradients, transitions and animations that significantly expanded web design possibilities. 

In 2014, Google introduced Material Design, a design language that placed focus on grid-based layouts, splash pages, responsive animations, padding and other design elements web designers use to this day. And with the introduction of Progressive Web Apps in 2016, websites could offer app-like experiences within browsers, further blurring the lines between websites and mobile apps.

By the end of the decade, designers began integrating conversational interfaces more actively. This came about due to the rise of Voice User Interface (VUI) tools, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Perhaps most importantly, web design by the end of 2010s became conversion-driven. This means that designers started actively using data, research and SEO (search engine optimization) best practices to approach website design from the business standpoint. Web design itself became a tool for driving conversions, retaining customers and inviting visitors back.

2020s: Artificial intelligence comes to play

We are just a third way into the decade, and things are already changing at light speed. While old technologies and solutions either reach the end of their lives (e.g., Internet Explorer) or continue to evolve, new concepts are emerging.

Today, we continue to focus on mobile-friendliness, and responsive design continues to be a top priority. Minimalistic, clean designs remain most user-friendly, and designers continue implementing white space, clear typography and clean graphics. 

Simultaneously, we can see more focus being shifted toward advanced animations, depth explorations, interactivity and unique user experiences. Accessibility and inclusivity are also becoming more crucial when designing websites.

Perhaps most interestingly, we are in the midst of an AI revolution, and AI-powered design tools are changing the game. While some fear that AI could replace web designers altogether, AI and machine learning simply support design tools and assist designers. From Khroma to Colormind to Dall-E to Midjourney – web designers now have an array of tools to help them speed up normally complicated and time-consuming web design processes.

The integration of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is also becoming an important part of web design. It enables designers to employ immersive and interactive elements and provide users with new web experiences.

XXI century: The age of web designers?

We are nearly a quarter way into the twenty-first century – the age of information. Web content floods us from morning to night, and web designers have the difficult task of making websites both attractive and memorable. 

As we continue to rely on the internet, e-commerce is growing along with other digital platforms and services. At this time, web designers play a crucial role in creating visually appealing and user-friendly websites and digital experiences. 

Today, web designers can no longer focus solely on graphics and layouts. With the growing importance of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) solutions, website designers must also understand how people visit and navigate sites. They often implement complex designs and dynamic content that changes based on user behavior.

Ultimately, without web designers and their innovative solutions, we would not witness the current digital transformation of the World Wide Web. Web designers turn business owners’ ideas into reality and enable them to reach audiences regardless of the device type, web browser preferences or accessibility concerns. 

Undeniably, the twenty-first century, so far, is the age of the web designer, and we could not be prouder to help the web designers of tomorrow gain skills, kickstart careers and change the world of web design in the future.

How to become a professional web designer with WAcademy

The history of web design is rich and exciting. From the very first web page to the first web browser and the first search engine in the 1990s. From innovative JavaScript technology to the implementation of programming languages and the adaptation of web standards in the mobile era. We have progressed immensely in just three decades. 

Today, in the age of content and people diving deeper into social media for everything from communication to shopping, website design has never been more crucial. If a website does not have a responsive design, does not cater to the visitor’s screen size on their mobile device or perhaps does not follow any of the latest web design trends, it will not stand out.

In 2023, pretty much anyone can easily create websites with website builders powered by AI. However, only experienced designers understand what it takes to build a website that functions and attracts visitors, whether it be via search engine results or a banner ad. Website owners realize this, but they often hesitate to use the services of expert designers because they cannot cover the costs or find the right professionals for their projects.

This was one of the focuses when developing the WAcademy internship program. We know that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) struggle to find the budgets required to create complex and unique websites. At the same time, we also know that aspiring web designers cannot start their careers without portfolios.

A lightbulb flashed on, and we recognized the opportunity to help both SMEs and up-and-coming web designers! And thus WAcademy was born.

WAcademy internship program benefits

The WAcademy internship program is an EdTech operation set up to help up-and-coming web, graphic and UX design professionals to start careers in their chosen fields. To ensure that our interns are confident when entering the job market and have higher chances of hireability, we aim to provide the highest level of training in a short time. 

We understand that while theoretical knowledge is very important, interns must be able to apply that knowledge practically. To provide interns with practical tasks, we collaborate with SMEs that supply us with projects in return for free web design services.

Here are the top benefits of entering the program:

  • Professional training
  • Practical experience working with real-life projects
  • Experience working with WordPress, Elementor Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe XD and other Adobe apps, Sketch, Figma and other design tools
  • Professional portfolio
  • Full WAcademy certification
  • Better employment opportunities

If you are ready to learn from experts and work on real-life web design projects, apply for your spot in the internship today!