The early days of the Internet were an interesting time for web design. Designers were still finding their feet with how to best display information for the screen, and a lot of inspiration was taken from print design. Smaller screen sizes and much slower connection speeds also played a big role in the overall design (although that didn’t stop outrageously slow-loading Flash websites from appearing).
Many designs back then look awful in the harsh light of day nowadays – but remember that back then, the web was relatively young and design trends hadn’t come as far as they have today. We thought it would be interesting to have a look back and see what some of the most famous companies in the world first looked like back in the early days of the web. We hope you find this collection eye-opening, and that it reminds you that even if your first version of a website didn’t look great, at least you may have looked better than Google in 1998.
Apple had a reasonably minimalist design back in 1998 (at least for the time). It’s interesting to see how their tone of voice hasn’t really changed too.
Google in 1998 was still a fledgling search engine that had been developed at Stanford. It was around this time that Yahoo turned down an offer to buy Google for $1 million.
Interestingly, Amazon in 1999 doesn’t look too different to Amazon today. While it’s been cleaned up quite a bit, you can still see a lot of the original Amazon in the modern design, and it’s still quite cluttered.
Back in 1996 search engine Yahoo placed a lot more focus on it’s directory of sites, instead of the search bar – which stands in a very stark contrast to today’s Google.
Microsoft.com, back in 1999, was an extremely corporate affair which differed quite heavily from its rival Apple.com. It was also very light on images, given the slow connection speeds many people had – and like many other sites at the time also offered a text only version of the site.
Ask Jeeves, 1997
Ask Jeeves (now more commonly known as Ask.com), pre-dated Google and allowed you to search in the form of a question. Much of their homepage was dedicated to explaining that fact, along with samples like “Am I really in love?” and a section named “Question of the day”.
In early 2000, eBay (which had been going for over a year) had an extremely cluttered display – very similar to Amazon at the time – although this obviously didn’t stop it from becoming an absolutely huge success.
IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, back in 2000 looked remarkably similar to Amazon and eBay from around that time. The cluttered visuals are almost certainly the result of very small display screens and the idea that you need to get as much above the fold as possible – an idea which tends to make more sense for print than it does for the screen.
For many people, AOL was the first website they saw when their 28.8k modem had finally finished connecting to the Internet. Here’s how it looked back in 1996, with it’s confusing mess of colours that don’t go together and text that looks like it’s been crushed together.
Wikipedia has always been quite heavily focused on text over images, but this was especially true for their homepage back in 2002.
Back in 1996, Sony was still trying to get to grips with the write way of talking to customers online. Good copywriting wasn’t particularly commonplace during the early days of the Internet – and my favourite example of this is on Sony’s old homepage with the text “Welcome to the Sony Online WWW Server!”.
No discussion of the dawn of the Internet would be complete without a mention of the now defunct GeoCities, which – to many – hosted the first website they have had.
Video hosting platform YouTube is a relative late-comer here, first launching in 2005, but it’s interesting to see how much has changed since it’s arrival.
Back in 1996, Sega was promoting the Sega Saturn, which came out 2 years before this homepage was live. While the design is ludicrously dated by today’s standards, it’s interesting to see how it’s much more visual than sites like Amazon and Microsoft.
In 1999, music sharing website Napster was one of the most popular sites on the Internet, despite it’s homepage using a variety of image links and animated gifs.
All of this goes to show – 15 years ago, web design looked awkward, cluttered and almost ridiculous. While the state of design has improved drastically since then, how do you think we’ll perceive our current site designs in another 15 years?