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Home News Article: Back in my day -...

Back in my day - turning website design on its head

Published on Friday, July 14th 2017 by Aaron Whiffin

When I started making websites in 1997 there was no such thing as Google[1] or Facebook, and most people had to connect to the Internet with a dial-up modem which was painfully slow.  To demonstrate how cutting-edge the web was in 2001, I graduated with a BSc in Maths & Computing, and during my three years at university, we were not taught about websites at all! [2]

Of course a lot has changed since then, the web is certainly faster, arguably contains more relevant information, and is undoubtedly used considerably more in everyday life.

As web developers, over the past 17 years our job has evolved beyond recognition. Not just with newer technologies such as smart phones, or the way in which search engines work, but in the entire way that we look at design and content.

Users can be very impatient; gone are the days of users happily putting up with technical glitches, and hunting around messy websites, these days users can be fierce and unforgiving; a website must show them exactly what they want and quickly, or they will go elsewhere.

Casting my mind back to my first commercial website in 1997, the emphasis then was very much on my client; We would create a website structure then ask our client “what content do you want to put on your website?”. Nowadays this is one of the biggest mistakes a web developer can make; we need to concentrate not on our clients, but crucially on their clients, the end users.

So now the question we put to our clients is “Who are your clients, and what do you want them to do on or with your website?” and from that the content, site structure, design and functionality can be planned. Throughout the build we need to ensure that at every stage the end user sees exactly what they need to see in order to want to move forward to the next step, and typically buy a product or pick up the phone.

I’d challenge everyone to put themselves in their clients’ shoes, look at their website with an open (perhaps blank) mind and see whether they see exactly what their clients need. If core services are hidden inside a small ’services’ menu, or if a user has to hunt for a ‘buy’ button or phone number, then perhaps the website isn’t as efficient as it could be and enquiries are being lost.

This is known as UX (user experience design), and is arguably the most important factor in modern website design.

We are Webbed Feet UK, we are website designers.


[1] Google was a research project in 1996, and the domain name wasn’t registered until September 1997.

[2] The only module that mentioned the Internet was networking, specifically TCP/IP.