November 2, 2020 | 3 min read time

As a digital agency established for over 10 years, and with 2020 being a year to forget, we decided to take a look at the websites of some of the world's leading brands from years gone by. We're going to go back to an era of painfully slow dial-up internet connections, very basic HTML (and even 'Flash').

Of course, these aren't websites necessarily designed or developed by Wonderful, this is more of a fun compilation of old classics we enjoy looking back upon.

This article is inspired by the launch of the Web Design Museum, curated online by Petr Kovar, which exhibits over 1,500 carefully selected websites that show web design trends between 1991 & 2006. Enjoy our pick of the bunch. 

Apple.com 

Taking a long walk down memory lane, a 20 year long walk in fact, we can see Apple's design ethos was still pretty clean and clear, despite the design constraints of 2000s internet and web development. 

Apple Website from 1990s

The faux-metallic navigation design they made famous prior to their 'glossy' beveled app icons is present, with the rest of the site being dominated by text-based links accompanied by sparingly used (but very attractive) product imagery (internet speeds then were slow enough that if they were to use much more imagery, the page would struggle to load at all). The navigation is more aligned to a folder-style or OS-inspired tabbed layout, perhaps indicative of how users were used to using operating systems at the time. 

Old Apple Website Yahoo!

Yahoo was a long-standing rival  search engine to Google throughout the 90s (and arguably more dominant), and this look back from 1996 demonstrates the original simplicity of the site. 

Yahoo Website of 1996

Interestingly, the amount of indexed and featured websites back in the mid-90s made the categorisation and browsing by topic possible, something that today's users would struggle to achieve. Now littered with ads, content links and much more, Yahoo has evolved away from the clinical search functionality for which it was known.  

Google

We couldn't take a look back at Yahoo and not compare to Google. Back in 1999, Google was in Beta, and its safe to say they hit upon a winning design formula, one which hasn't changed much in over 20 years.

 

Google Website from 1999

We tried looking as far back as 1998, but Google.Stanford.Edu wasn't available (humanly linked to as 'The version which may actually work some of the time' in a text link on google.com at the time). 

I guess we'd expect internet and technology based companies to be leading the charge when it came to 'web design' in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was eCommmerce sites which really required more advanced thought, design planning and information architecture (all of which would evolve into a more refined UX discipline over time), paving the way for some of the sites we see today. 

Amazon 

Amazon is the one of the world's largest companies, with a reported market value of $1.14 trillion - but like many eCommerce (and now tech) giants, the platform came from relatively humble beginnings, especially when looking back to the 1999 version of amazon.com 

Amazon Site from 1999

Echoing Apple's style, the tabbed navigation to the top gave top-level product categorisation, whilst down the left was a vertical secondary nav (popular in the late 90s) which listed out more categories and sub-categories. 

At this time, Amazon was still leading with it's original product offering, Books. However, it was still clear to see the beginnings of the huge diversity and range of products they would go on to sell.  

The Million Dollar Homepage

The envy of every digital and tech specialist everywhere at the time, The Million Dollar Homepage was one of the firs examples of successful viral marketing. In August 2005 Alex Tew, a British student, launched the site, which soon became an Internet phenomenon.

The page was simply a million pixels divided into a 1000px x 1000px grid. Tew offered to sell 1 pixel for one dollar, with the smallest advertising space an advertiser could buy for their link being 10px x 10px. Genius!

Million Dollar Homepage

The Million Dollar Homepage gained unprecedented popularity in a very short time, and the last 1000 pixels were sold on January 1, 2006 at an eBay auction. The concept of this was certainly what made it a success, as opposed to the design, and it's often referred to as the inspiration for many a so-called '.com millionaire'. 

Wonderful Creative Agency

It would be remiss of us not to take a look at our own Wonderful website in this throwback reminisce, so here's a peak of our site from 2010, demonstrating just how far a brand can truly evolve over time. 

The Wonderful Website 2010

We hope you've enjoyed this stroll down memory lane, and encourage you to check out the Web Design Museum for more digital history. 

If you think your website is looking dated (perhaps not as dated as these examples), and are looking to enhance your presence visually and are looking for a web design and development partner with a true focus on user experience, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. 

 

James Gray
James Gray, Head of Digital: Experienced marketer with a passion for all things digital. He nerds-out about data, using it to power the strategic thinking driving our online and offline campaigns.

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