Web design usability seems to be a bit of a touchy subject in technology, design and UX fields in recent years, as a push for some semblance of standardization forms a perfect storm alongside the advances in technology. While the modern capacity of the internet, with the advent of things like AJAX and HTML5, have made it possible to provide such immense elegance with such base simplicity, there seem to be two camps on where web design should go from here – standard utilitarianism versus vast expression and complexity of design. The problem here seems open and shut for either side depending on point of view, but the fact is, that it is not. Let’s take a step back to the early days of the world wide web, the mid to late 1990s, when web design was in its infancy, and the technology to support it even more so.
When the world-wide-Web was unceremoniously launched in the mid-1990s, there were limits to what could be done with a web page. Simplicity limited people to the use of tables, frames and bullet points, as well as basic image and text concepts which are admittedly still in use today, albeit to a lesser extent. In an environment of technical and visual limitation, people tend to be at their most creative due to complexity-related restrictions, and the early Web demonstrated this in force. While there was a basic set of general design trends, there was little to no standard to how web pages were designed, and it was all aesthetic choice made by the designer. A page was a unique snapshot of how someone thought and felt.
This lent to some difficulty when surfing the Web, as people had to learn how to navigate any given site, and it sometimes took a bit of guess work compared to modern designs. Conversely, when more sophisticated technologies began to show themselves in the early 2000s, a shift to utilitarian design and standardization suddenly exploded. Along with this, many websites with large followings surreptitiously died when they converted to this utilitarian standardization, and most would cite it was because they lost their pizzazz, their soul. Yet, websites became generally easier to use at this point, but in the same sense that tax software is easy to use. It did not make it engaging.
Enter 2007, when AJAX and HTML5 became big, and it allowed for more design and pop to be added back to pages while retaining some sense of standardization and ease of use from one site to the next. With the engaging, unique individuality added back to the sites, while retaining their standardization and lack of confusing layout, websites are now far easier to use, and there’s less fatigue and confusion when surfing the net. What most people don’t realize is that the boom in being digital that has happened of late is just as affected by the emotional design of pages intermixed with standardized layouts and design tropes. The polarity of this argument is therefore absurd. When people see websites, they instantly know how to navigate most, but each one has this emotional tone, personality and identity which, as seen in the past two decades, web design usability cannot truly exist with only one or the other.