We advise our clients to consider a site rebuild after 5 years - but what differences can we discern at that distance? Head of Development Olly Jackson, Head of UX Alex Turnbull and Senior Designer Liah Moss break down the websites of today vs 2014… 

 

Alex kicks us off...

 

Within the web design community we’ve become accustomed to the continual change and evolution of websites, and have accepted it as part of the ebb and flow of working in the medium. To those not immersed in the details of web design and development on a day-to-day basis however, identifying what has actually changed and why can be a little more challenging. 

At first glance, it may not seem that there really has been all that much change in the past 5 years. The very best websites of 2014 were simple, clean, with beautiful typography, engaging copy, and striking imagery. They were fast to load, easy to use, and provided a seamless experience across a range of devices. While this hasn’t changed, the benefits of these tenets have today spread far and wide across the web, improving the experience of many of today’s sites. 

Not everything has improved, however. With the additional tools that have developed to allow us to bring these benefits to end-users a web of complexity has arisen that threatens to derail all the progress we have made in improving users’ experience of the face of the Internet...

 

From Liah’s design perspective...

 

Five years ago, websites were designed to a 960 grid to accommodate smaller screen sizes. You can tell by the sheer amount of space on the left and right sides if you happen to come across one in the wild. You couldn’t look at a website without a carousel image swiping past, hiding content for all those to (not) see. 

Let’s also not forget the explosion of parallax - two different layers, moving with mixed speeds to produce varying depth, creating that Sonic the Hedgehog visual-vibe. I actually still quite like this. 

Fast forward five years and websites tend to be much cleaner (once you wade through all the pop-ups and cookie banners). With help from the likes of Unsplash and Pexels, beautiful free photography is much more readily available to enhance visuals. Photoshop has been taken over by Sketch / Adobe XD depending on who you ask as far as web design software goes, making web design easier and quicker than before for designers everywhere. 

Exciting visual experiments are being created in Web GL (examples found here https://demo.marpi.pl/biomes/) , and mobile has gained more importance with more and more people going straight to their portable screen.

 

Olly's Tech take...

 

Building websites has always been as complicated as you want to make it. You can easily knock out a single webpage in some static HTML with some vanilla CSS and Javascript. But, things get complicated quickly! To help with all of these challenges, the “web development toolset” has moved on significantly in the last number of years. It’s rare to find a website these days that doesn’t involve some sort of build process - using one of any number of technologies like SASS, Gulp, webpack and more... 

Whilst adding complexity to the development stage these technologies, in theory, deliver a better experience to our end users and allow for more rapid development. A mildly annoying side effect of these efficiencies is that often these webpages are harder to “take apart” to see how something has been done. 

In a continuing trend, the supported features across the main web browsers have settled down a bit. Depending on your browser support matrix, gone are the days of testing in 4-5 different version of Internet Explorer, and shimming various esoteric browser features to render consistently... phew! 

Webpage performance also feels like more of a prominent issue than 5 years ago. Starting with tools like YSlow, Google’s PageSpeed Insights (and now Lighthouse) there are many ways of analysing website problems and providing insight. Google will now actively flag PageSpeed Insights issues via the Google Search Console - so there is no hiding more from these sorts of problems! 

 

To conclude... 

 

All of the design and technology improvements made over the last 5 years have helped us build better websites. But, we should never lose focus on the fact that we’re building websites and services for real users with real needs - and understanding those needs is where we should be focussing our efforts.