Web design: from the very start

As a web design company, this is the first article we have published about this line of work, so it seemed appropriate to start at the very beginning; the launch of the World Wide Web.

Since these early days, web design has become an art form in itself. The early days of design look very ancient these days, but unfortunately many of us are old enough to remember being impressed with them at the time!! Having said that, I don’t think anyone could have been impressed with the Pepsi website of the 1990s – see below if you aren’t easily offended!

To try to illustrate the progress of both the designs and the technology that is now able to host them, I have selected a few websites from then and now.

CERN Website

We’ll start with the very first web page.

Whilst working for CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet and then made it publicly available on 6 August 1991. He was keen to ensure that the web would be freely available to everyone, and this has been a major factor in its expansion and global impact over the intervening 28 years.

Sir Tim continues to strive to ensure the improvement and protection of the web’s future, and, such is his contribution to the world we live in today, he featured in Time Magazine’s “100 Most Important People of the Twentieth Century”.

This was the webpage launched by Sir Tim Berners Lee and is a series of links to other pages. Images weren’t able to be loaded at that time so it really is a reference web site best suited to people with similar interests and skills with regard to the progress of the project.

The first ever web page – 6 August 1991

Les Horribles Cernettes c. 1991

The first image ever uploaded was of an all-female parody pop group, which was formed by employees of CERN to play at the company’s social events. They were known as Les Horribles Cernettes!

When Sir Tim needed to test his most recent upgrades to the web, he approached a photographer for the image so he could upload it. Rather surprised by the request as the internet was only being used by physicists at that time, the photographer recalled the conversation between them:

“Why do you want to put the Cernettes on that [the internet]? It’s only text!” And he (Sir Tim) said, ‘no, it’s gonna be fun’.”

And so the internet was born…

eBay Website

It wasn’t long until the newly invented internet was able to offer all sorts of new services to people without location restrictions. In September 1995, Ebay (under the name AuctionWeb) was established to allow people and businesses to sell just about anything to each other. This was one of the first companies to enjoy the boom of the dot.com bubble when the rush to establish a presence on the web was making entrepreneurial people very rich, very quickly.

eBay Website 2019

The website’s design is still rather limited but functional. The name AuctionWeb was later ditched in favour of eBay when it became apparent that both the public and the press were referring to the business as eBay.

AuctionWeb (eBay) Website

McDonalds Website Dec 1996

McDonald’s Website

The earliest McDonalds website we found is an American one and dates from 1996. The progress in the use of colour and some basic imagery is apparent. This internet presence would have been a really great step forward, but it was a really simple website that really just acted as a high-tech advertisement.

In comparison to today’s interactive and dynamic website, it is amazing to realise that this technological progress has occurred in just over 20 years.

McDonald’s Website 2019

Pepsi Website

I’ve been saving the best for last to illustrate the difference between web design back in the 1990s and today.

I think the designer(s) were trying to take advantage of every new piece of technology, colour, feature when they created this website.  Notice the background pattern used to fill the blank screen around the web page itself.  The use of this green colour bears no relation to the corporate identity of Pepsi which utilises mainly red and blue!

The main aim of a website is to connect with your customers and promote your goods, but it is hard to reconcile this design with those goals!

Pepsi Website 2019

Pepsi Website December 1996

Thankfully the madness of the 90s didn’t last long and Pepsi’s current website is in line with the current design trends.

Notice also that the corporate colours are apparent and, unlike the 1990s version, this website is very obviously promoting Pepsi!


Design is very subjective; what one person loves, another hates but there is serious research carried out to ensure that websites achieve the goals of the commissioning organisation or business.

This includes using the correct fonts styles, deciding where buttons and “Call to Action” areas are placed and also ensuring that the colour scheme employed is suited to the market sector.

Next time you look at a website, you’ll know what the designers are trying to portray by  the colours used!

The Psychology of Colour