Websites have come a long way. Back in the day when I started designing and programming the newest and coolest feature was frames. Now THAT was a short lived design craze. Back in the mid-90′s when the internet was starting to take off the purpose was information. Put the company brochure online. As designers, we did our best to make sites look good. We tried to make them easy to navigate and upkeep. But when you made navigation buttons out of images and the navigation code resided on every page of a site, it was a pain to make too many changes once a site was going. And it was all so new, the expectations were low. People were just impressed that they could find the information. And with bandwidth being what it was, you didn’t want your site to be overladen with graphics anyway. No one would wait forever, even back then.
Enter Flash. Developed in 1996, Flash quickly became the “it” in the web design world. Everyone had to have a Flash-based site, or at least an intro page or some sort of flash on their home page. The point of a website often became lost. The site had to be cool. The search engines can’t index it. All well. Many people don’t want to install Flash. Tough. No one can find our content. It doesn’t matter because our site is so awesome! The question many clients asked me right off was, “Can you make a Flash animation for my site?” And I would ask them, “Why? What do you want to try and tell through an animation?” Sometimes there were great reasons to use Flash and it was the perfect tool for the job. But usually they just wanted a “welcome page” like everyone else. And I admit, I had one. It was cool….the first couple of times I went to my own site. Then I got tired of it and took it down.
Around the same time Flash was taking the internet by storm another type of site was brewing, e-commerce. Amazon.com launched in 1995, but didn’t turn a profit until 2001. It managed to survive the dot com bubble burst and proved that online selling could be profitable. eBay is another great example that also began at this time that helped prove that customers were willing to use the internet and buy online. Companies began to see the internet as an actual marketing tool and that the rules of marketing still applied. The biggest rule, keep the customer happy. And you do that by giving them the information they are looking for. Intro screens began to go the way of the frame.
What really brings the internet back to the age of information? Blogging and Social Media. In the early 2000s blogging began to creep into the techno vocabulary and political realms. By the mid-2000s, blogging had gone mainstream. Sites like WordPress made it easy for anyone to start their own blog. And social media outlets such as MySpace, Facebook and even Twitter helped individuals connect and often promote their own blog. Facebook helped bring companies into the Social Media age with their easy to use fan page. Facebook has become so popular that many companies are abandoning a website in favor of a Facebook fan page. Or at the very lest advertising their Facebook page over their web address. And while these outlets allow some customization, you don’t have to. WordPress, Tumblr and other blogging tools have tons of free templates anyone can use. And no one really seems to mind, as long as the content is good.
What does this mean for the world of web design? Content is once again king. The content itself is now more personal, not just your printed brochure rehashed in HTML. Usability has taken the place of “awesomeness”. People want to see a video of who they are going to be working with. They want to read your blog and get to know you. Customers want to belong to your community, so you need to interact with them. And they want to be able to do all this easily and quickly. They want to be able to share it with their friends. And considering the economic crunch, why not use a free tool that makes updating your site and keeping up with social media easy. One ad agency, redpepper, built their site on Tumblr because it’s so easy to use and customize. Since many of these tools do allow for customization, companies can use design to reinforce their branding and make their community experience even more recognizable.
Give the customer what they want, and they will keep coming back. Awesome!