5 factors that contribute to the evolution of web design

By: Deepu Balan    |    In: Web Design       
Evolution of internet

It was during my college days back in late-nineties I bumped into the world of internet and websites. Ever since I have been closely following and practicing all the budding trends in web design industry. Now in 2011, when I look back to those days as a web designer, I can see a lot of alterations through which the web design industry has moulded into the present state. I am sure, it’s a process and it will keep on changing with the time. There were so many factors that influenced the way we look at the web design process. Based on my observation, some of those factors that changed the way we design are enumerated below.

The broadband revolution

Broadband is often called “high-speed” access to the Internet, because it usually has a high rate of data transmission. In general, any connection to the customer of 256 kbps or greater is more concisely considered broadband Internet access. In short broadband means, the Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Among various methods of landline broadband access, fiber optic internet is most familiar. From the bust of the dot-com bubble through 2006, however, the main trend in the industry has been consolidation of firms and offshoring of manufacturing to reduce costs. Many companies have taken advantage of fiber-optic communications to deliver a variety of high-throughput data and broadband services to the public.

The broadband revolution has made a big impact on the web design process. I still remember those days when we used the Photoshop image slice tool extensively to slice down bigger images into smaller pieces, in order to reduce overall page load time. And we used many other image compression tools to reduce the image file size. All that we wanted was to get that page through those screaming dial-up modems as fast as it could.

But now things have changed after the broadband revolution and we are no more worried about image dimension or files size like before. Even now we are able to stream HD movies for hours without interruption, which was merely a dream just a few years ago with a dial-up connection.

Cloud Hosting and Cloud Storage

Now with the popularity of cloud hosting, the hosting has become very cheap and trouble free. The longstanding idea of renting a server or sharing a server space is no more relevant. Instead of using the power of a single server, cloud hosting offers the power of many servers with server clustering. Whenever you need more hosting power you can get it instantly from the cloud and you can release it back to the cloud if you no longer need so much power, so that the resources can be used by others.

The main advantage of cloud hosting is its scalability, you can easily scale it up or down based on the demand. Cloud hosting companies normally charge based on the pay per use method, so that you can pay only for what you use. No need to reserve huge server resource to meet massive instant bandwidth requirements.

Since with cloud hosting we get plenty of bandwidth and storage than before, we can now develop graphic-rich websites with more flexibility and features that too without worrying too much on the server side. Gone are the days when you had to limit the whole website under a 100mb or 250mb hosting package with hardly 1 GB of monthly bandwidth.

New generation browsers

Competition among web browsers for the supremacy in usage share has perhaps started during the late 1990s by Internet explorer through replacing Netscape as the dominant browser. Ever since, Internet Explorer has been in the top position despite strong competition from the likes of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari. Based on the way they process code, each of these browsers have its own negatives and positives. When we consider speed, Google claims that Chrome is the fastest browser.

All these browsers including the latest version of IE provide greater flexibility and support in its own way for web technologies such as CSS3 and HTML5. Now with these modern browsers web designers got the freedom to think beyond Photoshop, now they can design most of the design things purely using HTML and CSS without the use of images. CSS3 – HTML5 duo together is shaping up to be an exciting technology of all time, which can make impacts on almost all areas of webdesign such as typography, animation, visual effects and so on.

CSS based table-less layouts

As the dotcom boom receded in 2001 and the Web development industry shrank, coders with more industry experience were in higher demand. In a large number of cases UI development was carried out by coders with greater knowledge of good coding practice. It was around this time that many became critical of messy coding practices and the idea of tableless design began to grow.

The primary objective of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is the separation between design and content. The term ‘tableless design’ refers to the method where the page layouts are controlled without the help of HTML tables. Tableless design renders web pages with lesser HTML tags when compared to the traditional table based layout method. Since all the instructions regarding the layout and positioning are moved on to an external stylesheet file, the pages will become lightweight. It is said that by converting a website into tableless layout we would be able to save around 50 to 75 percentage of the website’s total bandwidth usage. In short, a tableless layout can guarantee faster access of products and information to the end user. So the basic idea is to reserve the use of <table> only for displaying tabular data, and use CSS for layouts and positioning.

Being completely self-taught in web design, I was more comfortable with the table based layout during early stages of my career back in 2002. I stumbled across the idea of tableless layouts while going through some discussion forums, I was really curious and decided to give it a try. There were hardly any tutorials that point me on the right path that time. While surfing through some forums I got the URL of a very well designed CSS website, I was really amazed when I looked at the page source. Being a noob myself, I started going through the source and learned the basics of positioning techniques and I still remember how happy I was when I completed my first tablelesss layout. But the sad part (but funny) is that, our client rejected the tableless layout and insisted on replacing it back to the table based one. The lack of browser support that time was the main reason behind his aversion. Anyway that incident was really a turning point in my web design career. Similarly the tableless web design (or tableless web layout) philosophy has changed the whole web design process universally.

Open source content management systems

Content management systems or CMS is becoming an inevitable part of modern web design system. Gone are the days of static websites which could be updated only by experts. Developing and maintaining a website is no longer a complex task which requires high level technical expertise. Thanks to all beautiful open source content management systems which are available for free. Now with the introduction of popular CMS technologies like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla etc anybody with very little computer knowledge can easily create and maintain highly usable and visually appealing websites with minimum effort. WordPress is widely supported among hosting companies, thanks to its popularity. Many hosting companies such as iPage offer simple 1-click installation of popular CMS software such as wordpress. A website owner can easily manage, edit and update his website’s content on his own without seeking any professional assistance. Accessibility is another important feature that makes a CMS special, we can edit, delete and update a website’s content online from anywhere in the world without the help of any softwares like Dreamweaver.

In short, the objective of a content management system is the separation of structure from design. Most of the open source CMS technologies are developed on PHP and MySQL. Now web designers specialize in frameworks than tools.[ad#ad-1]

Conclusion

The above data is purely based on my personal observation, and there are many other elements I am sure. However it is amazing to see how much the concept of web design has changed over the years, and we can expect a lot more changes in the coming years.

Written by Deepu Balan

Deepu Balan is a self-taught web UI designer and developer who is really passionate about web design related stuffs. You can follow his updates on twitter @bdeepu