Back to the Future: progression of web design

Categories Articles, Web Design

The Web began in 1991 and has been growing exponentially ever since. There are currently 980,100,000 (980 million) websites online. New websites are being launched every day and the designs that come with them are constantly being innovated, updated, and revived. Over the past 23 years, how far have we come? Here’s a quick look back at some of the oldest websites from 1992 and the most innovative websites we see as we surf today.

A Side-by-Side Comparison

1995 – Amazon

Some of the oldest websites on the Web are also some of the most popular. Amazon is a perfect example of this. Launched back in 1995, Amazon has become one of the largest online retailers in the world. Here’s a look at Amazon’s website from 2006, soon after it launched:

amazon old site
Don’t miss your chance to pre-order The Husband!

Now let’s take a quick step forward and look at present-day Amazon:

amazon home
We missed our chance…

As you can see, Amazon has significantly improved their design (thankfully), and even gave us that handy search bar right in the center. Their focus was on improving user experience and it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded as they have grown to be one of the largest names in online retail.

1996 – Space Jam

Space Jam was launched back in 1996 along with the movie but has always been given a hand at being one of the oldest (and most interesting) websites on the Web to date. It’s worth taking the few seconds to view the page source and compare it to any of the other old websites that are still live. It’s one of the cleanest-coded websites on the Web.

space jam site

1998 – Google

Launched in 1998, Google has become one of the largest companies in the world and has organized the world’s information ever since. When it launched, was initially in beta. Take a look:

first Google

And back to the present:

google home
Google’s current home page (May 12, 2014).

One quick note on Google’s progression: they are the epiphany of simple design. So many designers jump to the most complicated designs with flash, moving images, and other oftentimes unnecessary additions before thinking simple. It’s hard to imagine that even Google started off with some extra junk on the homepage.

2002 – Wikipedia

Wikipedia is the Web’s largest encyclopedia, which can be edited by anyone. It launched in 2001 and is still kicking. Here’s a snapshot of the website back in 2002:

Wikipedia 2002

Text, links, more text, more links…

Okay, so maybe a few images would have been nice, but Wikipedia has stayed true to its audience in providing content for its users from day one. The content is intended to be educational and informative, not necessarily entertaining. Here’s the current site:

wikipedia home

The difference typography can make…

The first thing you’ll notice on Wikipedia’s home page (English version) is that there are pictures. It’s also a bit more organized than a list of links, even though it’s still really just a list of links. The sidebar has even been updated with dropdowns.

2004 – Facebook

Facebook is a popular social media website that connects people from around the world. It first started as a Harvard University student search by Mark Zuckerberg; however, it eventually turned into a very popular social media site. Its first version was “thefacebook”:

Image credit: Wikipedia

Thefacebook was a simple site. Register, login, and search. And of course there were pictures of students. (Don’t bother looking for the website though; redirects to Speaking of pictures of people, here’s the current Facebook site:

facebook home
Because you don’t know what Facebook looks like.

The addition of stronger colors, a sleeker typography style, and a better header shows what the simplest of changes can do.

Present Day – Everything

Today, we see some of the most innovative ideas in Web history. Full-width sliders, stunning backgrounds, responsive designs, simplistic designs, flat designs, and a variety of combinations of them all. The most interesting designs come from the most creative web designers. Here are some of the websites that won (or almost won) awards in 2013 and 2014 and what they bring to the history table:

jet edge home

Jet Edge is a private jet service. They love luxury, as you find out on their website. This scroll narrative shows us just what a CMS can do in the hands of an awesome web designer.

kaspersky cybermap

Kaspersky’s cyberthreat map shows us what an interactive, colorful website can really do. It’s extremely colorful, informative, and slightly frightening. But most of all, it’s mesmerizing and if you take a look at the website you’ll feel the urge to spin the world as fast as you can.

speak home

Speak shows just what a simple scrolling design can do for you. They sport their minimal design and moving background images to make for a great interactive experience.


All websites bring something unique to the table. Typography, bolder colors, an updated sidebar, adding an actual search bar, and even an interactive scrolling globe can get your point across. But regardless of the method you use to get your point across, make sure it reaches your audience effectively.

All of the websites we talked about share a few common (and often repeated) similarities. They are all simplistic and focused on the user’s experience. The older sites were limited, but it was very clear what they were aiming for and, in most cases, was effective. So, what does the future hold for us? What web designs will we see in the future that makes us look at our current designs and say “what were they thinking”?

Author Bio: Ryan Gavin is an associate of Ignition72, a Maryland web design agency. He believes in a Strategy First approach to web design.

primary source: The Wayback Machine. header image courtesy of

Catalin is the founder of Mostash – a social marketing boutique – and he’s always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.

  • I’ll be the first to say it – that Amazon screenshot was certainly not 1996!

    • 1996+8

      The Motorola RAZR V3 was released Q3 of 2004

      • Ryan

        Good eye to both of you! All of my screenshots came from the Wayback Machine, which apparently moved me from the end of ’96 to the most recent they had available: May 22, 2006. Thinking back on it, a ’96 screenshot would likely be all books, as that’s how Amazon started out. I’ll see if I can get it changed. Thanks!

  • invity

    Wow.. Beautiful Awesome Thanks..

    Web Development India