I’m still too busy with projects to finalize, but I’m not too busy to think, and I was thinking this morning over the difference between the websites of today and the websites of yesterday. In particular, I was thinking about automation and streamline abilities we now have.

For instance, I worked on two gigantic behemoth corporate websites back in the 90’s and early 00’s.

Example 1

The first was a big name, national home building corporation. By today’s standards, you would assume that they must be using database calls and a host of other techniques available in the 90’s to make website design and maintenance easy.

The reality? At the time it was still quite common even for large companies to be maintaining their websites page by literal page. I and another web designer worked on a site of thousands of pages on a page by page basis. Can you imagine? CSS as we know it today was only in the infant development stages and was not commonly used, never mind the fact that we still have browser incompatibility today with CSS. Image in 1999?

This particular company was smart, though, and before I moved on to other fields of web design, we were in the process of migrating the entire monster over into a Lotus Notes driven site. Much better. Database driven sites can be handled more efficiently, especially when you start talking thousands of pages!

Example 2

Surprisingly enough, this company – though smaller than the home builder – had equally as many site pages. This was not the result of a national corporate empire but a purposeful random ideology by the company owner, who insisted that all pages of the site not follow a common design theme, be fun and funky, and well.. let’s just say that the owner had strong opinions about what he wanted and while they certainly didn’t mesh with web standards or current design trends, they seemed to work for his company.

The bad thing about this ideology was that there was no logical organization to these thousands of pages either from the user end or from the back end. It was a designer’s nightmare, and the owner kept a tight reign on any attempts to make it otherwise.

Though it was already early 2000, he was not using any sort of database system, nor was he in a position to transition to one. That means that keeping up with and adding to the site was an exercise in patience. Many different web designers had already worked on the site and their many styles of coding, in conjunction with the owner’s firm direction towards a sort of chaotic madness of front end styles, made it the most challenging of all the web jobs I’ve ever had.

Why do I bother to mention these examples at all?

Because now days the answer to the two above situations is simple. Use CSS. Use a database. Use include calls. Streamline. Follow a standardized template. Why make it so painful for yourself? That’s the only logical answer from a modern web design standpoint, and the only answer at all from someone trained recently. And you know what? It makes sense.

However, looking back, it’s important to remember the evolution of the web and the timeline in which companies adopted certain standards both for their own servers and technology and development. As the web was growing, so was companies’ understanding of the web and how to use it for their growth advantage. What we take for granted now did not happen overnight. What we think of now as the way only the littlest of the little guys do things (every page individually coded) used to be common even for the big guys.

Many designers like myself, who experienced the changeover first hand, probably share my view that the current way of doing things is vastly superior to the old way, but also have an appreciation for the amount of work and dedication necessary to maintain a behemoth like the examples above, and an understanding of why sites were like that. You can also imagine the amount of problem solving required to conquer design questions made simple by CSS and modern web browsers.

In Conclusion

All hail the modern era of web design! But let us not forget those who went before to pave the way through the rocky times of conversion and complete lack of standardization compliance of any kind and the suffering they endured to bring us to this time of relative ease.

For the sake of this entry, we will ignore the pain of current lack of CSS standardization support and .png image support by mainstream browsers…

The End