The Evolution of Web Design – 1989-1995

Web design is an extremely young field (think browser-less late 80s as a good starting point) and yet the changes that took place in those 20 something years are nothing short of explosive! As hard as it is to believe it, at one point there was no CSS and no browsers but the web designer was still there and still had to find a way to make web work in spite of ridiculous amount of limitations and constraints.

Here’s a peek into the early days of web design as told by Hubspot, Froont and others.

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee invents HTML (and web, for that matter – sorry Al Gore) in the least likely of places – the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. Berners-Lee was looking for a way to share information between particle physics researchers and he came up with an idea of how to create cross-references from one research paper to another using links.

Safe to say, with EGA and CGA display standards being common there wasn’t much room for an aspiring designer to innovate – think plain text on a white background and design created by a combination of symbols and Tab key.

1990-1994 – Berners-Lee next step was writing Nexus (initially called WorldWideWeb) – the very first web browser. He completed the build in December of 1990 and in August of 1991 Nexus became available to the general public. Interestingly enough, few people involved in this project also worked on Line Mode Browser – the second-ever browser.

Up until 1993 the websites were very text-heavy, as no browsers supported images (the common monitor resolution at the time was 640 x 480). Mosaic (released in 1993) became the first browser to display text and images together – Netscape Navigator also arrived at the end of the year and was so powerful for its time that many websites started to carry “Best if viewed in Netscape” line.

Berners-Lee left CERN in 1994 and founded WorldWide Web Consortium (W3C) with one of the supporters of organization being DARPA, the inventors of Internet predecessor ARPANET. W3Cs aims to create a set of principles that would allow anyone to access the web.

1995Opera browser is released by Norwegian company Opera Software (initially a research project by Telenor, the largest Norwegian telecommunications company). Internet Explorer 1 and 2 (initially called Microsoft Internet Explorer) arrives later in the year.

The average screen resolution jumps to 800 x 600, the amount of colors jumps to 256 and the year also marks the arrival of web safe fonts, but the web design itself does not benefit from those changes as Web is dominated by bright and ugly colors and garish ads.

Sources/Further Reading

A History of HTML (

The Evolution of Web Design – 1989 to Present (Studio5 Innovation)

A Brief History of Web Design for Web Designers (Froont)