Thoughts #9: How Web Design Has Changed


Believe it or not, but I’ve been running websites of some kind since I was thirteen years old. My very first website was a Lord of the Rings fansite (it ended up being purely an awards site for Lord of the Rings websites), which is where I met many good online friends, and through that I got into developing graphics and eventually opened up a graphic website and portfolio, and even a Jack Black fansite. I’ve had various other small sites too, and at one point I was seriously into designing and coding, and when I was about sixteen I decided I would go to university to study graphic design.

Obviously, things changed, because I’m an archaeology graduate, not a graphic design graduate. I lost interest as I moved on to A Levels, which pretty much ruined my passion for any subject except history, and over the years I have forgotten all of the more advanced stuff. However, it was a big part of my life for some time – and obviously now, though I’m not quite as big on the design side, I’m more about the content these days. That’s why I’m using one of Ashley’s brilliant customisable WordPress themes, rather than attempting to remember everything and make my own from scratch. My mind is now full of ancient dates, pottery types and still trying to not get terminus post quem and terminus ante quem mixed up. There’s no room for knowledge of PHP and CSS, and I lack the inspiration for designing nowadays!

So in today’s Thoughts post, I wanted to discuss how web design has changed in the past ten years or so – at least to my eyes. And perhaps scorn my teenage self. I’ll even illustrate it with screenshots of my old websites… *prepares for embarrassment*

1. ‘Splash pages’ were all the rage

I will never understand why. But I remember all my friends had them, so I made one. It generally consisted of an image that you clicked to get the site itself, along with recommended ways of viewing the site: resolution, browser etc. And the image typically lit up when it was hovered over with the mouse cursor. I don’t even know why we used them, it probably put so many people off because splash pages for those kind of websites were totally, totally useless. Plus I didn’t test my site on every browser, resolution etc, so how on earth did I know what was best?! I rarely encounter them on websites these days – the main exception seems to be for things like video game websites, where they’ll often show a trailer or promotional image before entering.

How has it changed today? We rarely see splash pages on non-commercial websites.

2. As were iframes…


Two of the early layouts of my first website, A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Equally hideous. And both equally reliant on iframes! I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea to put all the content in that little frame, and have so much open space. Especially considering that I liked making desktop wallpapers, which started at the regular 800×600 resolution (at that time anyway), so only stretched the frame out when viewed. And as you can probably see by the title bars on both websites, for some reason it was cool to add lots of symbols and spaces into the website title. I’m embarrassed already, and this is two screenshots in!

How has it changed today? Websites tend to be big, the layouts make the most of the space, rather than all the content crammed into a tiny little frame. Thank goodness.

3. Award & review sites were EVERYWHERE

aeg6 aeg7

A Elbereth Gilthoniel started out as a Lord of the Rings fansite. And somewhere along the way, I decided there were plenty of those and not enough awards or review sites. And I was most definitely expert enough in the ways of design and coding, with years and years of experience to judge the websites of others. Yeah… And people within my little Tolkien based community knew exactly who the ‘harsh’ judges were, and who the ‘nice’ ones were. Which of course meant loads of people submitted their website to the nice judges, who gave out lots of awards and praise, and no-one bothered with the ‘harsh’ ones, who were the actual professionals giving constructive criticism. I do occasionally see awards for book blogs today, but not on this scale. The rounds were generally once a month or every weeks, whereas the book blog awards I’ve seen tend to be yearly (and much more carefully thought out!)

How has it changed today? I rarely (if ever) see websites dedicated just to giving out awards and reviews.

4. Everyone had a billion different layouts

es01 es02

Maybe a year or so after I started, I become aware of something known as ‘skins’ – basically your website could have several layouts, and the visitor could choose their favourite one to browse the site with. Which was just the coolest thing ever and I had to work out how to do it! So I learnt the basics of PHP (don’t ask me about it now) and how to ‘skin’ my website. This meant that indecisive little me didn’t have to keep switching the layout every two weeks – I could have several on the site at once! I also have no idea why I referred to my designs as 1.something – why not just the actual number? I don’t get my teenage self…

How has it changed today? I rarely encounter a website that allows you to pick the layout these days. Or if you have the option, it’s often related to the colour scheme and not the actual placement of various elements.

5. Affiliates were the most important thing EVER


Note how the updates concentrate on adding affiliates. Affiliates were basically people you traded links with: you displayed their link/badge/button on your site, and they did the same for you. Ideally, that would encourage conversation. It rarely did, unlike today’s book blogging community, where one of the most important things is interaction between the bloggers. Affiliates were more about getting word of your website out there than actually being interested in the site you were advertising or being advertised on.

How has it changed today? There is much more of a focus on interaction between the people behind the websites. Affiliates aren’t really a done thing – I’ve noticed that most book bloggers just tend to list the blogs they like to visit most regularly.

6. The tagboard/shoutbox was where it was at

We all had one of these – a tiny little place for leaving messages, like a guestbook but a bit more interactive, and sometimes we actually used them for real time conversations. Anyone who was anyone spent hours logged onto one of them, refreshing the page every few minutes for new replies. Oh, those were the days…

How has it changed today? I don’t see many tagboards about, plus it’s a lot easier to use the comment system, Twitter etc for conversations!

7. The mini ‘About’ and ‘Currently’ sections


Another feature that everyone included on their blogs, and we all obsessively kept it updated. I’m not sure why a random visitor to my website would be interested in what I was currently eating when I wrote that blog post, but I guess it was the predecessor of mundane Twitter posts in a way… And the trend in the ‘About’ section was one word sentences. Really. Stupid. Idea.

How has it changed today? Well we can use Twitter to inform everyone of any nutritional changes… but in all seriousness, I’m not sure. Many bloggers still create ‘About’ pages to give their readers a little information about themselves, I just hope no-one goes for the one word method to cover an entire page…

8. Designs went through phases of being ‘fashionable’

jtth3 es05 es07 es06

There was the clear-cut two column design, the everything-over-to-one-side design, the everything-really-small-and-squashed-over-to-one-side design and the rounded corners design… and so many more. I remember I always wanted my websites to have the newest ‘style’ – which is probably why it changed so much, along with me working out how to do more and more.

How has it changed today? Nowadays, it’s nice to see how so many bloggers have completely different styles – even with lots of people using the same theme, so many manage to make it their very own.

And that pretty much concludes the tour through my webdesign history… and how web design has changed in my eyes over the past ten years. I suppose in some ways it’s hard to compare with what I know now, since I’m comparing two different ‘groups’ of website owners, but the basics remain the same (or not, apparently!). Even if you know nothing about HTML, CSS or PHP, so many tools now exist to help you to create a sleek looking website. When I first started I was working with Microsoft Frontpage (just no), then when I picked up HTML etc I just wrote it all from scratch using Notepad. Now I use the HTML editor on WordPress, which gives me a lot more flexibility and control than the visual editor.

How long have you been running your blog or website? What changes or trends have you noticed over time?

45 thoughts on “Thoughts #9: How Web Design Has Changed”

  1. Love this post! Reminds me of when I started blogging back in early 2000.

    I used to enjoy ‘skin-ing’ my blogs/fanlisting hubs, I went through a layout every few weeks other wise.

    1. Aaah, fanlistings! That was another site I had, I think it was called Fuzzy Hobbit Feet or something like that… basically just a fanlisting for all hobbits πŸ˜‰ And I joined so many of those things.

    1. Yay Em! I have so many more of our website days… I even went to see if any of them were still up. My portfolio is, but it’s just a hiatus image that I never removed, haha! I’m wasting that net space, I think Isi was the host… I should get in touch really =/

      Is yours still up?

  2. I’ve owned a website for nearly 8 to 9 years and boy have they changed!! I remember being introduced to websites while on Neopets and starting out on Freewebs and also Geocities. Then going onto sub-domains and switching to domains and offering hosting too before moving onto blogging. Iframes were the ~trend~ for websites during that time and splash pages too. Just thinking about them makes me laugh haha. Yes affiliates were so important back then too! You would constantly get people asking to be affiliates and link exchanges and so on. Tagboards and shoutboxes were a little redundant to be honest, not many people utilised them unless you were a popular site.

    Thanks for such a nostalgic post Rinn! I do still have some of my old graphics saved and looking at them just makes me shake my head but proud also of how far I’ve come πŸ™‚

    1. Oh Freewebs… I remember quite a few friends had Freewebs but I was the only one who kept it going – I had a Red Hot Chili Peppers website on there ;D What sort of websites were you running? Books, or a film/TV fandom or something?
      I think you’re right about tagboards in general, but me and my website friends used them all the time to communicate. Admittedly it meant there were no more than ten people who used the shoutbox regularly, but it still got used!
      Hehe, thank you for commenting, it’s fun to meet someone else who has had a similar experience! Did you use Photoshop for your graphics? I started out with Paint Shop Pro, and still mostly use that even though I have Photoshop CS2 =)

      1. I did attempt to make like fanlistings but I was so bad at coding xD I hardly ever changed my layouts haha. Yup! I used Photoshop 7.0 first then moved onto CS2 which I still think is the best version yet! I dabbled in PSP a few times but found it a little more difficult to navigate so I mainly stuck to Photoshop but when it came to like making blinkies or glitter text (yes I made glitter text back in the day! xD), Animation Shop seemed like the best program.

      2. I don’t remember if I used some sort of coding to automatically add people or whether I actually just added each person manually to the fanlisting… I bet it was the latter, haha!

        I got my copy for CS2 for free – Adobe were giving away the whole CS2 package about a year ago so I grabbed it =D I looked up the most recent Photoshop the other week for work as we’re working on some posters, and it is SO expensive! About Β£600 here.

        Ah, blinkies, I remember! How did you make glitter text? I used to make ‘animated’ avatars (I say animated very lightly…) and smilies too. I had need for a shifty looking emoticon at one point so I made one… as you do.

  3. I was also into web design when I was younger, so this post brings back good memories of me using Angelfire and Geocities, haha… I would spend all my time choosing avatars, gifs, and music for my websites. I was IN LOVE with splash pages, and it felt like opening a present every time I clicked on one.

    I think that my design preferences have shifted from overcrowded-and-need-to-see-everything-on-one-page designs to more minimalist designs. It’s probably a combination of technology advances (faster, easier, better) and growing up, since the middle school kids at summer camps I worked at still liked to add sparkles and excessive content to their presentations and websites.

    1. Oh, I forgot about Angelfire! Didn’t they pretty much enable you to go crazy with gifs, pictures, music and even animated backgrounds? I don’t know how computers coped…

      Yes, it’s nice to see lots of content on one page – if it’s well presented and necessary. That’s why I’m fussy about what’s in the side bar now (and one of the reasons I’m glad I’m not bothered with blog tours anymore – no more link images cluttering up the sidebar!)

      1. Ahahaha, yes they did! I have to admit that sometimes my screen would freeze up, so my computer did have a hard time coping… oops.

    1. Not actual text, I know I had blinking texts on GIFs though. I had scrolling text, that I remember! I started designing in about 2003 =)

  4. Oh man, this took me back. I had a few websites around that time(none of them last long), and looking back, I have to say I’m rather glad I can now only refer to them in the past tense.
    Oh, and fun fact: my first website was devoted to hermit crabs, of all things. I had them as pets growing up and I was OBSESSED with talking about them. I rather miss having hermit crabs, actually, but not so much the website.

    1. Hahaha Stormy, I’m sorry, but the hermit crabs thing made me laugh so much – that’s so cute! What did you have on the website? Facts and photos and things?

      1. Haha, yeah, mostly! I also had care & keeping page. It actually did pretty well for a website by a 12-year-old, because a lot of people really don’t know how much care hermit crabs need, since shops along coasts will sell them so easily and treat them horribly(Ahem, not to go off on a tangent). So things like the best way to house them, why they needed humidity, what they could eat, etc.

      2. Aww!

        I can imagine that it did actually, that’s a pretty niche audience. Hopefully you indirectly saved some little crabs then! =)

  5. Like others have mentioned this is a great nostalgic look back! In fact, I went to see if I could see what my first website (it was for Jane Eyre of course :D) looked like through the wayback machine. Yours is much MUCH nicer btw! I think all those things that were left behind in web design was for the best – it’s interesting to think that all the things in your post were so cool once upon a time!

    1. I love that so many of us had websites in the past, all on totally different subjects, and now here we all are as part of the book blogging community =D What did you use to make your site?

      Yes, I’m incredibly glad that flashing backgrounds and auto-play music are also ‘out’… although I do occasionally encounter them on Tumblr…

      1. I know! It’s interesting that both of our interests with our first website still was related to books though – so I’m glad I have been consistent with that. πŸ™‚ I used geocities for my first website.

        Haha, I haven’t come across that yet on tumblr – and I hope I don’t!

  6. I love this post! I had a fansite starting around 2000, but I’d had other sites before that. I didn’t (and still don’t) have the graphics skills do all the different layout changes like you did. I basically had to beg people do them for me and then some of them were kind of crappy and I didn’t want to use them, but I felt like I had to. I also did the fanlistings for a couple of years. I loved the iframes. I went crazy with them.

    1. I’m glad you like it, Jenna! =D What was your fansite about? I’ve never been happy with my graphics skills – at one point me and a friend (Em, who has commented above!) made a graphics site where we’d offer custom mades for people. She did the graphics, I did the coding. I remember working really hard on a layout for someone, and they never got back to touch or used it =(

      Haha, the iframes – I remember some people had about four or five on one page, like content in one, navigation in another, another for affiliates etc…

      1. It was a Gilmore Girls fansite. It was fun, but a lot of work and in the end I just got burned out and the costs were adding up. Hosting is A LOT cheaper now, even if you use a ton of bandwidth, which I did.

  7. OMG this post! Nostalgia! LOL SPLASH PAGES wow I remember those. I think I’ve been blogging since 2001. I started out with the iframes and splash pages on a geocities site (cringe). Then – and this was a fad too – I got hosted and moved from several hosts until I finally bought my own domain, which I still have for my personal site. Now people start off on good blogging platform free sites like blogspot or and there’s no need for the “someone please host me soon” angst. I also remember we used to change our layout like monthly based on the season or movies out or whatever. Now, we make one layout for a blog and it stays. I also did skins, and I think I still have skins as an option on the personal blog for some of it, but I didn’t do that for the book blog. This post was so much fun!

    1. Hehe, I remember Geocities websites had really weird URLs didn’t they? And I remember preparing layouts to celebrate certain things too! Was your first blog a personal blog, or a book blog?

      Glad you enjoyed the post! =D

      1. My first blog was a personal site (which I still have at, though it is suffering now due to the book blog that we started this year). I don’t think it was geocities that had a strange url, I think it was just your username. Man, that feels like ages ago haha.

  8. I love this post so much! Hah!

    I’m currently doing a website for a client who wants a splash page *shudders*. And LMAO IFRAMES! Wow I remember those.

    I totally wish I had some of my old website designs but I’m not sure I do. I mainly started when I was like 12 and playing Neopets and I’d make “pet pages” for my pets and code my user profile lol. But I definitely see how some of my “pet pages” went through various design phases. I think a huge one used to be having a very graphical, fixed background with boxes drawn into the design, then you’d absolutely position text boxes in those areas and the content would have a vertical scrollbar. At least that was huge on Neopets lol!

    1. Oh no, so someone still uses them at least! Haha, I guess at least they haven’t asked for iframes as well…

      Oh yes, I remember that as well! Trying to position those boxes was a right pain. All those scrollbars and frames – such a mess. It was so important to make your Neopets profile look perfect, haha!

  9. What a great reminder of how far we’re come in such a short period of time! Oh man, some of those fashions were truly awful. But it was (and still is) such a great way to teach yourself about deign and coding!

    1. Oh, most definitely! I learnt quite a bit in a short period of time, just from practicing it and testing out different methods. I still remember quite a bit of the HTML, but none of the PHP and I can’t even remember how to start off a CSS stylesheet…

  10. This post made me so nostalgic πŸ™‚ I used to be really into webpages when I was younger, until I was about 17 and then I dropped it until I made this blog but YES to everything that you said here. I was actually thinking the other day about iframes… why did we want everything squished up? And also layouts had much more pop fiction in them than you ever see today. I used to have celebrities in the layouts and each one would be the v1.12384793, just like you said! And the currently page… that made me laugh, I was SO good at updating it ALL the time. I also had the desktop grab where it would show what my desktop looked like every 20 seconds, because WHY would anyone care about that? lol. I forget nearly everything now, except the basics, which I do regret… but gosh, luckily some of those trends are no longer πŸ˜›

    1. I guess those tiny designs looked really cool for some reason, haha! I don’t know how it is with fansites now, I don’t really visit many but I bet they look so different. It would be hard to judge with the LotR fandom as I expect many of the sites only thrived whilst the films were still releasing/relatively recent. Although The Hobbit may bring those sites back =)

      Haha, I know – it was soooo important to update that bit ;D I think I did it for every post, plus whenever I felt like informing everyone what I was up to, haha.

      A desktop grab? I didn’t have one of those! =o I obviously wasn’t cool enough! Did it automatically grab a screenie of your desktop and update it then?

  11. Oh my gosh! This post made me feel nostalgic. I totally maintained webpages with splash pages and iframes. I also made it a point to redesign my layout every other month. Loved that part! I was 12, and somehow I convinced my mom to purchase me $70 graphics software (paintshop pro 7!) I still have it too. Building webpages was a massive hobby of mine back in the day and part of the reason why I can’t imagine not blogging now.

    Something that I recall being really popular back in the day was:
    1. Owning your own domain
    2. If you were still on Geocities or Anglefire or, then you tried to become really good friends with people who owned their own domain, so they would invite you to be hosted with them.
    When I could finally drop in favor of, I knew I hit it big time.
    I definitely don’t see that anymore. Owning your own domain doesn’t hold the same status as it once used to. Plenty of people seem content with keeping their or addresses.

    1. I swear that as soon as one layout was up and working, it was time to plan the next – and make sure to include iframes of course ;D I still have Paint Shop Pro 8, it’s still great for this sort of thing.

      Hahah, yes! Did you ever use a .tk domain? They were free, but I think you got a little banner across the top of the webpage or something? I used one for a bit before a friend offered to host me, then I had subdomains.

      That’s very true. I guess because so many of us use those platforms, we’re fine with it. I just bought mine because it felt a little ‘cleaner’ (if that makes sense!)

  12. This is bringing back so many memories of older web designs, some of which are only going back a few years. It’s interesting how web design has changed. As you said early on in this blog, it used to be about trying to cram as much information into the smallest section, but now it’s all about making sure people can read what you have to say. I hate to think about what it will be like in another 10 years yet that is what makes design so fascinating, it changes so often, what is popular today is not likely to still be the done thing in 5 years time.

    1. I wonder if it adapts to screen size… perhaps in 10 years, we’ll all have giant computer monitors and websites will go for layouts with content filling the whole screen ;D

  13. OMG all those points have made me so nostalgic! I remember doing and being part of all those!! O those were the days… I can here my 12 year old self now….

    1. Haha, a trip down memory lane ;D I worked so hard to make all of that stuff (even if some of it doesn’t seem that way…), and I learnt a lot about design and coding. I wish I remembered most of it! 😦

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