Supersonic Playground Ltd
Evolution of websites

The evolution of web design

At Supersonic Playground, we’ve been creating standout business websites for six years, but most of our team have worked in the industry for more than 20 years. During this time, we’ve seen how the website buying process has evolved.

7 minute read

In this blog, we’ll be exploring the changing trends, from DIY to outsourcing, to the introduction of user experience and how CMS (content management systems) have impacted the market.

Where it all began

In the early days, websites were a novelty. They were for the big corporations that could afford to pay a developer to get them on the net. It wasn’t an essential business move, but it did play a part in status at the time. If we look back at these old websites, we see trends in design and layout, but due to the limitations of systems and browsers, they were very basic compared to modern standards. In the early days, websites were mostly simple HTML created to showcase some ‘about us’ text for the elite brands of the time with no consideration for users or visual design like we see today.

The rise and fall of Flash

As the want for a website increased, the internet became a key player for businesses, and there was a boom in the late 90s and early 2000s. There were two options for businesses: HTML sites for those that had content-heavy requirements and Flash websites, where there was a wave of creativity and animation-heavy experimental designs. Before Flash, the internet was a dull place; Flash injected a sense of modern design and excitement that the web hadn’t seen before.

In 2008, Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPhone 3G which would not support Flash due to concerns around security and speed; this would later see the fall of Flash in web design.

The introduction of CMS and Web 2.0

During the early to mid-2000s, there was an increased need for professional web design and with that came the birth of platforms such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla (CMS). This changed how websites were built and managed, allowing for both back and front-end development; these sites could support text, images, downloads and more.

With the rise of technology and dynamic websites came Web 2.0 which saw a transition from one-way content (site to the user) to two way content also known as user-generated content (UGC) and social media with the likes of community forums and Myspace.

The DIY revolution

In the late-2000s, we started to see the introduction of free or affordable themes and DIY platforms, allowing non-designers and developers to create websites cheaper and easier than before. Platforms such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify and others made it easier for marketers and business owners to use WYSIWYG editors to craft out their websites using the most basic features and functionality. Which led to a boom in DIY web designers and theme-based websites, and it started to create the impression that web design was very cheap or even free. At the time, it was also much easier to get yourself ranking on search engines due to the less complex way that search engines would index websites.

The change in demand

As the number of websites increased, so did our reliance on being able to access our favourite businesses and unlimited knowledge online. With this, we also witnessed a change in what users expect from businesses. No longer was a website a luxury; it was a necessity for companies wanting to lead the way in their field. Demand for knowledge also meant that users were looking to businesses to talk in detail about their industry, products, services and relevant topics. Content became king, and it was where those that are leading the way today, embraced content marketing in a bid to keep up with this demand. As demand and the way we use the internet changed, it became imperative that website owners considered content, optimisation, responsiveness and SEO.

The unpredictable consumer

As the way we use websites has evolved, so have our expectations. Very soon, businesses found themselves trying to appease a demanding consumer that expects personalisation, contextual content and deliberate user journeys. It became essential that companies know their ‘niche’ and understand their users. For the first time, it was less about brand and selling and more about the user. It’s here that we’ve seen the introduction of user discovery and the importance of informed wireframing and user experiences as well as personalisation, especially in the more prominent brands. All of these additions require specialist skills, and therefore they often need entire teams to deliver a successful ‘customer-centric’ website. It’s no longer enough to rely on an internal marketer to DIY your site if you want to rank in today’s market for keywords, let alone generate conversions.

The stalemate for DIY platforms

As a result of the change in demand and businesses embracing a more customer-centric approach, it became apparent that DIY builders just weren’t sophisticated enough. Platforms such as Wix and Squarespace are limited when it comes to allowing users to access back-end code, which means you can’t access advanced customisation. It also means that they’re not being used by developers who want to be able to edit everything. In a nutshell, as soon as you need a website that is in any way custom or complex, you exceed the limits of what website builders and themes can offer.

Reaching equilibrium

After years of evolution, disruption and a significant increase in technical capabilities, the market reached equilibrium. What we mean by this is that the web design market has stormed three significant phases:

  • First phase: web design and development were specialist services limited to agencies and business that could afford them.
  • Second phase: the introduction of themes and builders democratised web design and opened it up to DIYers, which changed the perception of web design to ‘cheap and easy’ so agencies weren’t needed.
  • Third phase: the recognition that there are benefits to DIY platforms, but there are significant downsides too.

Where we’re at now is this middle ground where there is an appreciation for the art of web design and the stages you need to go through to deliver a successful website, especially with today’s consumers. Therefore, if you have a limited budget, you’re happy with a basic website, and you have the time to do it yourself, then platforms like Wix and Squarespace are great. But, if you want something more professional, effective, higher-end and specialist then you’ll need to hire an agency.

A summary

As you can see, in the web design industry things have come full circle. There has been a significant shift in the way that the market perceives ‘web design’ from only for the enterprise, to the boom of DIY builders and a place where business owners have a choice based on their needs, wants and budget.

This shift is also noticeable in the DIY platforms mentioned earlier. They’ve started to realise that while opening up the advanced back-end development is daunting to their target market; it’s essential to offer this as an option for freelancers and agencies to diversify their offering and encourage the ‘professionals’ to also use their platform or face the collapse of their own business.

What this reminds us is that every business is unique. As a result, there will always reach a point where customisation and bespoke sites are necessary, and this just can’t be achieved without creativity and technical skill.

The takeaway

In today’s market, keeping up with your competitors and the demands of your consumers means that it’s so important to outsource when you lack the internal resources and skills to deliver projects.

While Marketing Managers that continue to create websites in-house using of the shelf themes may save time and expense in the short-term. They risk creating sites that don’t live up to customer expectations and can hold the business back from potential opportunities and growth.

Letting an experienced web agency create a tailored solution for your company’s needs is a much better way of allowing your team and yourself the time to focus on the thing you do best: on growing your business.

We hope you learnt something today about the evolution of websites and how the market is changing to meet demand. To keep up with the latest news and trends, sign up to our newsletter here.

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