My Life As A Web Designer, Part 1: The Wild 90s
Web Designers Need Tools Too: A Look Back
I’ve been designing websites on and off for about as long as the web has been around. That ancient history stretches way back to about 1995, if you can remember that far back. Back then the web was a wild and unruly place with few tools available to tame it. You just had your copy of Netscape Navigator and its lousy little web page creator or you were roughing it in a text editor (BBEdit anyone?) or worse. But then new tools began to pop up which, for better or worse, opened up website creation to the masses. And then expensive tools that allowed you to do more or do it better, but were not for the masses. Through the years I’ve used an incredible array of these tools, and I thought I’d take a little time over the next few days to relive the past and introduce you to a new tool that may be the future of web design.
The Rise of WYSIWYG
Some of the first tools to spread web creation to the unwashed masses were WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) tools, notably Adobe Pagemill and Claris Homepage (Claris was a spinoff of Apple Computers, later renamed Filemaker, Inc. after its by then only product). These tools made it easy to create basic web pages including text, images, basic formatting (that’s all there was back then) and in later versions tables for creating page layouts, frames, forms and even in the case of Homepage database integration with Filemaker Pro databases. The programs appeared in 1995/1996, played leapfrog in the features department as they both made their way to version 3.0, and were killed off as the millennium turned. Many, including myself, continued to use them for years after they were officially dead (I’m not dead yet!) and Homepage’s Wikipedia page claims to show it running on Windows 7. Yes, you read that right, a program basically from Apple was released for Mac and Windows. Times were different back then, and not so good for Apple.
At the time I was teaching educational technology to teachers, part of which always involves keeping up with the latest tech tools, so I owned and used multiple versions of each. For me the killer feature of Homepage was the Filemaker Pro integration; I set up surveys for my educational technology classes in Filemaker, used Homepage’s automatic database connection feature to create web pages from that database, and as if by magic had online surveys for students to fill out with the results going directly into Filemaker for me to analyze. It was an amazing thing, and it kept me nursing Homepage along until about 2004/2005.
The Death of Design
Unfortunately the masses were not ready for easy to use tools, and the World Wide Web became overrun with blinking text, green on blue text, headlines with every letter a different color, frames and, well I could go on, but if you’re old enough, you remember. The good news is it also gave rise to the website Web Pages That Suck, which is still around, showing that bad taste never goes out of style.
As I said at the top, this crazy time, when most of the Web was still free, was when I started designing web pages. At the time my friend Jonathan Benson and I began to dabble in a little web design business and we did a few sites in the Las Cruces/El Paso area. Actually I think I did the websites and he did the networking, but I’m sure he will correct me if I’m wrong about that. While these tools certainly made it easier to make the pages and sites, you still had to know something about design to get it right. Fortunately I had already been doing page layout/desktop publishing stuff, and basic design principles tend to transfer fairly well from one medium to another, so I don’t think I made too big a fool of myself. But I’m not going to go looking for those sites, just in case.
Researching this has been a fun trip back to the past, just looking at the links below and doing some of the reading has reminded me of how things used to be and the incredible changes the Internet, the world, and I have gone through in the last twenty years. If you lived through it and were involved in technology, it makes for a fun nostalgic read.
Adobe Pagemill Links
Claris Homepage Links
- Macnn Review (Says something about how old it is)
- Homepage Tutorial
Tomorrow: Part 2: The Naughty Aughts