Website design is kind of like fashion. Looking at website designs dating back to the onset of the Internet can be similar to looking at pictures of someone in the 70s wearing a leisure suit, in the 80s wearing acid washed jeans, or in the early 90s rocking a pair of Zubaz.
When you encounter past images of yourself or others wearing these items, you probably feel a mix of nostalgia, combined with a little bit of embarrassment, along with awe at how far things have come.
The same goes for old website designs, many of which are stored on the Internet years later.
We used the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to reminisce on how the Esultants website has changed in 19 years.
Y2K: Our adorable, idealistic baby
Our first, 1999 site was looking forward to the new millennium with cool blues and rounded edges.
What Rob loves about this design: It was dark when nobody else was doing rich dark colors.
What Caitlin loves about this design: Zetus lupetus! I’m impressed by the rounded corners showing up before iPod design made them cool. And I adore the logo in all its retro glory. Remember when “dot com” was part of company’s name? The stripes, the drop-shadow, the gradient bubbles. I just want to give this website a hug for both being of its time and ahead of its time.
What hasn’t exactly aged well: Except for the footer, every link on this page was an image!
Mid-2000s: Finding our place
Wordpress software became open source in 2004, and this design harkens back to blog-friendly designs popular with Wordpress sites at the time, notably the two columns with one being a sidebar. This site ultimately showed that we could do things just as well as—if not better than—the other guys, especially in terms of coding.
What Rob loves about this design: It may have looked plain, but there was ground-breaking code behind the scenes. This was responsive ten years before mobile websites were a thing.
What Caitlin loves about this design: (Besides the buttons? You know I love buttons.) This site is super user-friendly, incorporating the sidebar in a different, intentional way on each page that I appreciate. If we ran a test on this site, its accessibility score would be off the charts. I’m also hard-core fawning over this two-column version of the About page. Definitely stealing some of it for our next site.
What hasn’t exactly aged well: Besides the logo, the Wayback Machine didn’t archive any of the images on this version, so it seems fairly blah on the front-end. And if you look closely, you can see that the logo was a high-definition scan rather than a vector: you can see some of the scanner edges. Oops!
2010s: Rocking our adolescence
In the 2010s, we had already proved we could fit in, so it was time for the Esultants site to show some character.
What Rob loves about this design: This was the first site where we really started to express ourselves and establish our own voice. Design-wise, I liked the semi-transparent looks we did. It also had an expanded, four-column footer with navigational links, when everyone else’s was just the address and terms & conditions.
What Caitlin loves about this design: Social media links! A .PNG logo! Writing for SEO! My favorite part of this site is the “Website designed and hosted by us” in the footer. When you hovered over “us,” a title would pop up that said “We designed this all by ourselves!” which is cute but also hilarious, because that wasn’t there when I came on to Esultants, but if you look at the footer today, you’ll see I brought cute back, unknowingly paying homage to this footer.
What hasn’t exactly aged well (from Caitlin): This version of the site brings me back to my first time doing web design, when grungy textures were sooo cool. So I this design gives me “feels”—some nostalgic, some cringes to think how all my designs from this time period would look with 2018 eyes.
People searching websites today want information quickly and easily, which means websites with clear hierarchy that are easily scanned perform the best.
Our current home page doesn't waste time telling you exactly what kind of services we provide. In the 2010s, full-width images became a popular design feature. Also, the icons representing each of our services help to communicate more in less time.
Ten years ago, we thought our site was awesome. But that old site just wouldn’t cut it today. Our new website is more modern, fits our needs better, fits responsive screens better, and is set up to continually evolve. Now that this site design is a couple years old, we’re in the process of designing another new site to constantly be keeping up with the times.
What Rob loves about this design: There’s a good blend of grayscale with the color. It’s aged well and was a fun build with its transitional navigation.
What Caitlin loves about this design: Everything. Things that didn’t work very well, we’ve changed, and I’m really happy with what it’s become! I’ll be sad to see this labor of love I had a small part in come to an end, but I’m also excited for how the next site will be built with even more functionality and usability, both for clients and for ourselves.
Are you ready to see the middle-school version of your website?
Simply go to Internet Archive, enter in your website address, and click the Take Me Back button.
You’ll be able to select from a variety of dates going back as far as anything has been posted on the website address you’ve entered.
Do you have a notable transformation? Post a screenshot of your site on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #WebsiteThrowback.
Why is this useful?
- It’s fun to look back at where we’ve come from – just like looking at those grade school pictures of yourself with braces and goofy clothes.
- If you’re looking for information that you remember seeing on a website in the past, but can’t find it because the website is down or the information has been removed, there’s still hope. We’ve used it to help clients retrieve content that they couldn’t find but remembered had been on an old version of their site way back when.
Why keeping the design of your website fresh matters
Some of our clients are building their very first website, and others come to us after already having one or two redesigns looking to upgrade once again. Why? Because the fashion of the Internet changes, and people can tell when a website has been designed seven years ago.
Old design styles and techniques like scrolling marquees, flash introductions, and frames are like the Zubaz of the Internet.
The Internet is a fast-paced, constantly changing medium. The tools that are used to make websites have become more advanced, so designers have even more flexibility to make sites more attractive.
The equipment that people use to look at websites has changed as well. Monitors are wider and computers are faster, so websites too have gotten wider, and it’s easier to add more substantial content like video and high-resolution graphics. At the same time, users and search engines prefer the mobile version of sites, so you need to ensure your site not only exists on mobile but is also a breeze to use on small screens.
Addressing the need for future website design changes
There are ways to keep this pressure to change your website design at bay. Like some fashion choices, there are certain looks that do a better job of sustaining the test of time.
Also, if your website is built in the right content management system, it’s relatively easy to swap out a new look and feel years down the road, without being restricted by one theme or having to start from scratch.
We can help you find the right design for your website.
So much has changed in nearly two decades of web design. When Jeff started providing web services to small businesses in 1999, his goal was "to bring you the highest quality design and hosting services, at the lowest prices possible" (Esultants circa 2001).
We've stuck to that commitment, and because of this, we have clients who have stuck with us nearly two decades.
If you're looking for reliable service in the ever-changing online world, request a free website consultation to find out how your web design holds up to 2018 standards. You can also sign up for our monthly email newsletter to stay up-to-date with the latest news and best practices for online marketing.