Let's revisit 13 terrible trends from the 90s, and how you can implement them on your site.
There are some internet trends we choose not to speak of. They harken back to an era when the rules of web design and etiquette were yet to be written; when the limits of what could be done were few, and when the term “taste” was interpreted more liberally than it is today. We refer to this time as the 90s. Although there are some trends from this era we’d like to leave dead and buried, others have been remastered and are back in vogue. Today we revisit 13 terrible web design trends from the 90s, and how you can implement them on your site.
In the 90s the internet, in many ways, felt like one giant chatroom. Often you’d arrive on a site only to be greeted by a big, bold “Welcome To My Site!” (exclamation point necessary). It makes sense when you think about it, as Google and search engines weren’t as widely used as they are today. Most people would get to websites by typing in a domain and hoping it took them to an actual site. Seeing a big, bright sign welcoming them to a page probably wouldn’t have been the worst. Today, using the first fold of your website to greet your guests and nothing else would be considered a waste of space. If you’re a content-focused website, you’ll probably want to be filling the top of your site with the top stories of the day. If you’re a service business, greeting your visitors isn’t altogether out of the question, but you need to get right to the point of what it is you do. If you don’t, it’ll probably affect your SEO. That said, sites like The Verge, and, until recently, The Outline have added some sort of greeting under their logos on the top fold. In this age of over-SEO optimization, I find it kind of charming.
Here’s one we still see. Pop-ups getting you to click-through or sign up to something the minute you get onto a site, and not disappearing until you do. Ultimatums don’t bode particularly well for sites today, in an era when there’s always some other website you could be spending your time on. But, in the 90s, with less choice at hand, they were more widely used, and presumably more successful at getting visitors to sign up. It’s a bad user experience when forms like this pop-up mere seconds into your visit. But this has definitely returned with the resurgence in popularity of newsletters and email lists.
I’d love to see what percentage of the internet sites that were “Under Construction” made up at any given time in the 90s. They were so popular. Now replaced by “Coming Soon” pages, which we recently wrote a post about, nothing could beat the excitement of a website completely shutting down as it refreshed its look. There are some that have remained under construction, even today.
Apparently in the 90s, if you had a website, you had the potential to break news at any moment. Whether you were a hobbyist tech website, a lawn mowing company, or the BBC, it seems a sense of urgency was a vital part of running any website in this era. And nothing says urgency like a scrolling marquee somewhere on the screen. Do your next marquee well with these items from CodeCanyon.
The metric of success for all websites in the 90s appears to have been to blow the minds of your visitors any way that you could. The more what they saw blew them away, the more they’d presumably stick around. But we’re not talking about the funny GIFs we see today. We’re not talking about moving images reappropriated from TV shows into memes. We’re talking spinning globes, dancing animals, rotating objects. If you had something moving on your website, then you could find an audience (apparently).
#Authenticity is the name of the game these days. But in the 90s, people absolutely lived for what we now see as clichéd stock photography. I’m talking “Businessmen shake hands” levels of cliché. While this type of stock photography has by no means disappeared, there’s a much larger focus on photos that seem more lifelike in their look. Stock photography is also, more generally, used more appropriately. But rest assured businessmen and women who have made a fortune modelling in stock photography, you’re industry will remain alive and well for years to come.
I don’t think I can quite communicate how much of the internet ran on Flash in the 90s. You literally weren’t a website unless you were running a bunch of Flash items on your website. Today, it would be a punishing thing for any website to do, as SEO is not kind to Flash, but in the 90s, people were living for it.
While Medium, a website consisting of mostly text, was like a breath of fresh air when it came onto the scene a few years ago, sites that existed solely of text were a little less elegant in the 90s. In its early days, Amazon’s website was literally just text, aside from its logo. The Apple site was text accompanied by only a couple of images. These websites of major brands were basically Word Documents that were put online. And it was a while before the types of website layouts we now know and accept became standard.
While the 00s would unleash a tidal wave of skeuomorphism, the 90s introduced a more subtle version of that trend in bevel and emboss texturing. They were almost always used when designing buttons, making them look pressable. It was the first step on path to make on the internet look more literal.
Apparently in the 90s, and even the early 00s, you could make money by simply dumping ads onto a landing page and letting them sit there. This page still exists and presumably, people are still paying to have items listed on it.
Pre Google Analytics, website creators were obsessed with letting everyone know how many hits their website had generated. Hit counters in flames hit counters in comic sans, hit counters that vaguely resembled airport tickers: all the rage in the 90s.
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Seems cute and polite in an era of cookies, doesn’t it? Back in the 90s, a lot of sites had guestbooks you could choose to fill out to let the world know you’d visited a particular website. Bless them. Now today, you’re signing that guest book whether you like it or not.
Again, mind-blowing. Who wouldn’t want to peruse a site with a cursor that sparkles? It appears that anything the moved was in vogue in the 90s.
That ends our journey through an era of websites that predates the rules we know and abide by today. But the horrible web design of the 90s is slowly returning, at least some elements of it. As we wrote about in our piece on brutalism, “bad web design” is making a comeback – probably because most websites have started to look the same. It’s like the internet is rediscovering its childhood again. I only hope we’ll know when we’ve gone too far (If anyone sees a flaming hit counter, let me know it’s time to leave the internet.)