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Web Design Museum (webdesignmuseum.org)
372 points by davesailer 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

It's really a shame that so many of these exhibits are company homepages; it really puts a strange spin on the internet and makes me wonder how weird our look at history is compared to "what it was really like."

For example, I remember the split frame layout (nav on top or left, body in remainder) dominating web layouts for a long, long time -- the CSS float to keep navigation "on top" was really just mimicking that for a lot of people.

Similarly, pop-up windows were such a huge thing for a long time, whether it was for a music player, or for site navigation, or just links opening in little miniature windows meant to be hovered over the main page so that you never "left."

The closest that any of those sites come to capturing the "feel" of the internet in that time for me is probably the Microsoft Games site.

Incidentally, one of them looks really broken: https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/gallery/true-is-true-2001

It is impressive how design has changed thru the years. Just compare the 1996 Space Jam web https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/gallery/space-jam-1996 with its current design https://www.warnerbros.com/archive/spacejam/movie/jam.htm

> The jamminest two minutes of trailer time that ever hit a theater. It's 7.5 megs, it's Quicktime, and it's worth it. Click the graphic to download...

Oh god if only the modern web was 10% as light-hearted as this was

It's a site for a kid's movie.

SpaceX (https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/gallery/spacex-2002) is the one that really struck a chord with me. Not because of the design itself, but because it shows just how old the company already is, while only stepping into mainstream spotlight fairly recently.

What's crazy is that blue origin is older.

So, it takes couple of decades for overnight success.

This surprised me too; I had to do a wikipedia lookup to confirm.

It makes me sad that the web design museum is mostly made up of corporate sites. Companies didn't take the web too seriously in the 90s and early 2000s...at least as it pertains to design.

If you wanted to look at good design back then, you went to fray.com, glassdog.com, 0sil8.com, zeldman.com, and others I don't remember. Oh boy those were the days...

Thanks for the nostalgia trip. That's a very special era to me personally, and shaped my entire life and career since then.

I'm a very nostalgic person in general (due to health issues now making me face mortality etc) and I think the late 90s online scene was the most incredible "scenes" I've ever experienced. Everyone was a hacker, and everything was customised and modified and tweaked to within an inch of its life. These days it's a mission to even theme your OS to how you want it, but in those days running anything "stock" was almost a crime.

It's a real shame to look at where our interfaces with technology went. From the modern web to modern OS design to modern app design, it's all just so illogical and... shallow? Like a celebrity's fake face and smile. I'm not sure what the word is.

Linux seems to be one of the last places where you can find efficient and intelligent design (most of the time :P), and an encouragement to customise and modify to your liking.

I could not disagree more with your third paragraph. Many of these old UIs were esoteric to the point of being nearly unusable. The art and science of UI design has rapidly evolved since those days. The purpose of the UI layer is not to serve as a medium for self expression of its creator. It’s purpose is to create an intuitive link between the user and the data or system beneath it. Modern UI design has done a much better job of making this link more intuitive and transparent.

Yeh I was kind of broad with that statement due to tiredness. I was specifically thinking of Windows 10 vs Windows 98, examples like that. It's not just Windows either, but so many websites go for this "huge whitespace, zero content" style too. Just trying to find the address or contact details for a restaurant can be a frustrating experience these days.

But yes, that era did have a lot of over-design as well, and we've studied and progressed UI/UX in a lot of truly awesome ways in recent times. I just wish we'd get past this "minimal" crap.

In the 80s with the "democratization" of technology we all dreamed of a future where all the population would become tech-savvy, instead we dumbed down devices and their interfaces and now everything looks like is made by hasbro and automated to the point that users don't even need to know what they really want to do.

Fortunately Fray has all the old site up as an archive[0]. Also can't forget k10k.com and everything they linked to.

[0] http://fray.com/index-old.shtml

Man, people still aren't as creative with their headings (see the simple icon overlap in the iTunes heading) as they were in the days when when you had to use images as headings to even use a unique font.

Even though such capability can be abused, it's kind of depressing to still miss this option in most projects due to time, etc. from a graphic design standpoint.

Thanks for linking this!

It's great that, for how avant garde this stuff was, it still works great in modern browsers.

Is this supposed to be "better" than company ones? I don't see much improvement to be honest.

They had k10k on the first page which I remember well. powazek.com was also great.

It's a surprise that zeldman isn't on there, his site is still going strong.

What was interesting to see was kottke.org that's been showing up on HN for a long time [0]

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31413

For over the top, awesome design, a lot Flash guys looked at 2advanced.com... Also egomedia.com


... or 2advanced.com, gmunk.com, tokyoplastic.com and other Flash wizards.

Oh wow, glassdog.com that brings back some memories!


Looking at these older websites (for me thats 1996—2002) I remember spending a lot of my time on figuring out how they really worked underneath it all.

It was truly an exciting time where the differences in design and style for websites were big.

Today, you don't really see personal websites anymore, and things have somehow become streamlined and pretty much just standard. There is hardly any wow effect on the web anymore, and that's sad I think.

I don't think you follow the right people/channels. I see a wow effect every week.

Edit: some examples...

http://taotajima.jp/ http://mathis-biabiany.fr/ http://robinmastromarino.com/ https://demos.littleworkshop.fr/track

Which Channels Should I follow ?

https://www.awwwards.com/ is a good start.

I really enjoyed taotajima.jp until I tried to use my ‘back’ button.

Think there is a way to get the same effects without turning a page scroll into a page load?

People still have personal websites, but they are rarely designed in any special way. Easier to use something that works.

And the distribution networks greatly penalize personal websites. Anything to stop your friends and followers from clicking away from The Platform. It's sad and I believe has killed many a promising blog.

Also this joke has a lot of truth to it: Which of the 2 possible websites are you currently designing? https://twitter.com/jongold/status/694591217523363840?lang=e...

"you don't really see personal websites anymore, "

we can thank blogs (blogspot/blogger/etc)and then social media for that.

Yeah, maybe also mobile...and the "news feed"-ification of the web, too.

On the other hand, Web standards makes it easier to use the Web.

That must be why I have 3 dofferent browsers installed in case a website doesn't work on one of them.

When was the last time you really needed that? I haven’t had to in years, and I work in .gov. The only thing I see is needing to enable Flash and that was awhile ago.

I see it frequently in testing. But then, I'm on the web dev side.

Sometimes if I see a web site I think might be too ambitious, I'll open it on each of my testing machines in different browsers, and about 70% of the time, my hunch is right, and it either fails on one or more, or the output looks significantly/unusably different.

It’s interesting because I also do a lot of web development and have really been enjoying being able to develop in Firefox and not need to worry much about things working in Chrome/Safari, with a little care checking caniuse.com for the newest things.

Firefox-first definitely seems to be the way forward for web developers. We fell into the trap of Chrome-first and ended up having to fix everything for FF and IE, creating a lot of work. Soon discovered that if we just developed for Firefox everything would generally "just work" in the other browsers.

I generally also find the devtools to be better but both Chrome and Firefox have years-old bugs involving source maps, breakpoints, etc. so I end up cycling between the two during any given day.

Last week. For some reason just over the past month or so, a couple times Google Hangouts has randomly decided it doesn't support Firefox one day, then work fine the next.

A bit further back (maybe a year or so?), I've also had issues with Youtube and my bank's website. Both of those seem to have been fixed, though.

That’s probably just Google’s aversion to paying for QA. I get the same kind of problems in Chrome and their apps which randomly go away after clearing the cache, resetting the app, etc. I suspect the root cause is that most of their developers want to work on cool things rather than fixing the previous round.

It's easy for the masses, but less interesting for people who are interested in how things work.

But have we really reached the end of evolution in web design now? The best looking sites now look mostly the same. Nice fonts, spacey, elegant color scheme.

Maybe the next big trend is command line interfaces on the web. :)

Sure... and during getting a reasonable HTML5 and CSS3, Javascript went mad, and it still lacks an stdlib...

Note if any maintainers are here: some of the captures, like Habbo.com, are done with ClearType enabled, when it was in fact only available from 2006 with IE7.

The blocky text rendering was a significant part of the look and feel of those websites.

Some sites, like Time.com, prerendered parts of their text antialiased to an image.

You might want to also exhibit secondary pages. The front page is often not representative of the overall experience with a site, since it has different objectives and techniques (that was especially true back before the single-page era).

These sites are better lookin compared to their modern version.

The facebook pic in the top banner is cool how it fades.

Why is modern design better? It is just the mobile aspect?

Works better on more screen sizes. All standard web tech; no flash/Java/browser specific things.

Less clutter and visual distractions once you block adverts. Also much much easier to navigate with a consistent design guideline vs having every page randomly assembled with no oversight. Standardised components and design also makes larger websites possible without having to manage 1 billion pages and elements.

Modern design is not better. It is more accessible, less offensive and with no creativity or personality.

Wow furthermore apparently that guy on the logo is Al Pacino

Man, this was the time when me (and every computer literary teen) fancied himself a dev and webdesigner. And we were like, considered geniuses too - for being able to code some PHP and copy some cool designs :3

good times

I remember how long it took me to accept that the web was transitioning from 1.0 to 2.0, with things like word processors, email, and "IRC" suddenly moving into the browser. Fast forward, one or two decades later, the websites in this museum indeed look truly ancient and boring. Time flies.

k10k.com! Used to spend hours browsing that back in the day. Some seriously good design despite how basic the tools were.

And pixel fonts for the win.

I’m glad I no longer have to wait for Flash to finish loading, or to figure out the navigation of whatever site I’ve landed on, but things are less interesting now.

I was trying to read up on what this was, it said it was a site focused on pixel perfect design? What does that mean exactly, lots of images, spacers, and pixel fonts?

It was an early webzine and community that showcased cutting edge web & digital design in the late 90s and early 2000s.

For me it fits into the same early 2000s movement pushing the boundaries of digital expression as The Designers’ Republic did in graphic design and Warp Records in Music.

Many of those sites were designed with such bandwidth, resolution and color constraints. I wonder if they could add some sort of toggle to see display those images in the original intended resolution, or what was common for its day. The jump from 640 to 800 to 1024! The Web-safe 216 colors. Modems from under 3+, to 14, 28, 33, 56 kbps, ISDN, T1 and broadband! you had to use lowsrc attribute in <img> tags while the better image loaded, or pre-loading images in javascript. Glad all of that is over, glad I lived through it.

Compared to others, the Apple site from 2001 holds up really well.

I don't know. Of the major companies represented, I think Ford from 2002 [1] looks the most like modern web design.

[1] https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/gallery/ford-motor-company-2...

Still feels a little dated but if I had to guess when it was made I would say 2010.

Funny to see them marketing their machine as a means to copyright infringement.

Buying music on iTunes or CDs and then burning it onto CDs to eg put into hifi systems or car stereos is not copyright infringement. It was a way to play music that was bought online and a way to make mixtapes of legitimately owned music.

Saying that advertising a CD burner is inciting copyright infringement is like saying that advertising a knife’s sharpness is inciting stabbings

Ah, ripping (eg CDs to iTunes) & mixing was and again is unlawful in UK.

Does anyone actually care about copyrights anymore? I've received a few notices and promptly reported them as spam or thrown a letter in the trash.

By the time I was 17 I literally pirated a million dollars of software.

An obvious criticism about the implementation of this museum deserves to be mentioned--the postcard size of these screen shots misrepresents the websites visual impact. Page load time was a limitation, and a significant tradeoff in any design. Shrinking the page doesn't communicate the impact of sites like K10K to the visual landscape of website design.

This is pretty cool! Where are you getting these images from?

I would love to see this expanded to different genres of sites too. I've noticed that (niche) fashion websites have their own aesthetic that is a bit divorced from the mainstream. I'm sure we're all aware that Asian design trends are also very different.

In the day I collected screen shots of K10K promoted websites in FileMaker Pro. I suppose these images are screenshots sitting in someone's CDROM collection. :)

Why aren’t they in order by year?

Also, the page buttons at the bottom aren’t working for me (I’m using safari on iphone x).

Nice site altogether :)

Thank you for bug notification. On the desktop you can use filters by years. We are now working on the new version of Web Design Museum where it will be possible to filter sites by years also on mobile phones.

Except on Firefox/MacOS, once you select a year, you can't deselect it.

Would it be possible to incorporate some more recent websites as a point of comparison? To my mind web design has changed pretty significantly in the last ten years and it would be nice to see the progression.

Look at timelines outlining the development of the most important world websites over the past 20+ years. https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/timeline

I think what you're really looking for is some curation and webdesign criticism. A scattershot site like this is a resource. Maybe this is your opportunity to do some writing (nudge, nudge). I look forward to reading your Medium article. ehehe.

Y'know, seeing that tall/thin site with a side menu just reminded me: http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html

Similar to another site, http://www.versionmuseum.com

The page screenshots look nice, but does the site let us look at the original HTML code and media resources that made up those pages?

Thank you for your comment, but it is very difficult to reconstruct the HTML code or media resources of these old websites. For example flash technology is now completely dead.

which is really unfortunate, there were some killer flash website with really subtle layout, animation and aesthetics that I haven't seen yet in any HTML5 websites.

Well-known sites probably have old copies stored on the Archive.org's Wayback Machine.

Great idea but your website seems to be using very old style. Its not working properly on mobile.

We are now working on the new version of Web Design Museum, which will be better optimized for mobile phones.

I hope the Web Design Museum will have it's own screenshot too.

Yes, but until 2027 :-)

Some really aged well, especially those with more extravagant designs.

looks like the site is crashing...

Adobe's old web sites still look quite good.

To me, what this illustrates is that too many companies today don't understand there is a big difference between a web developer and a web designer.

Companies that have both are the ones with the sites that stand the test of time.

And boom, you are old.

Shhh. The nostalgia already did that. You didn't need to say it, too!

I still really like some of the design trends back then. I think a lot of it was because they only had to work on desktop.

I also like those old isometric pixel drawings that were so popular. It was fun to play with as a kid because you could pretty easily follow along with paint, albeit with a lot lower quality.

Gap looks about the same so many years later.

Well now I just feel old. Thank you.

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