Are Current Web Design Trends Pushing Us Back to 1999?

Are Current Web Design Trends Pushing Us Back to 1999?

In 1991, a groundbreaking and forever influential album was released by a then-unknown band called Nirvana, led by guitarist and lead singer Kurt Cobain. When that album appeared on the music scene, it was during a time when rock music was, in many respects, dead. Not to say that rock albums weren’t selling; for about a decade prior to that time, the rock music scene was dominated by Glam metal bands (also known as Hair metal bands) like Def Leppard, Warrant, and Poison.

The raw and unassuming sounds that were introduced by Nirvana and subsequent grunge and alternative rock bands like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden were a long-awaited change. Rock fans were tired of poseurs and sexist music that had no substance and little in the way of a positive message. The glam trend died and true rock music was starting to be revived.

Unfortunately for rock fans, that revival didn’t last long. Soon, the grunge and alternative rock scene became as superficial and poseur-like as the original hair bands that dominated the mid-to-late eighties. By the end of the 90s, and into the 2000s, bands like Creed, Nickelback, and 3 Doors Down attempted to follow in the footsteps of their grunge forefathers, creating what ended up being poor imitations of the grunge sound and fooling millions of listeners into thinking that the music industry had actually evolved and moved on from its superficial past.

Nirvana != Nickelback

But nothing could have been further from the truth. Although, on the surface, it was not evident (and might still not be evident to some people) that this new scene of music resembled the bubble gum rock of the eighties, upon closer examination, the grunge scene had become just as trendy, and just as shallow. Nickelback, in particular, was mercilessly exposed for its cookie-cutter style of music. If you don’t believe me, have a listen for yourself.

What on Earth Does This Have to Do With Web Design?

And this brings us to the problem we now see in the web design industry. Could it be that the trends we’re participating in and speaking so highly of are making the current state of the industry resemble the superficial, unusable, and bloated websites of the past — similar to how the so-called grunge and alternative bands in the post-Nirvana era resembled the glam rock bands of the late eighties?

Let’s consider a few examples to demonstrate how we could be suffering from some of the same problems.

Modern-Day Hit Counters

It’s been understood for years now that putting a odometer-style hit counter on a web page is (to put it bluntly) pretty lame. No self-respecting web developer today would even consider doing such a thing, even if a client demanded it. I can tell you right now if any client told me to put one of those on their site, I’d kindly refuse even if it meant losing the client. Some things are just not worth the money.

Hit Counters

Today, we see a similar trend: a website’s total number of Twitter followers and/or RSS subscribers proudly displayed in a sidebar or website header for all to see.

The Twitter buttons below are from Twitter Counter and are just one of many customizable examples of Twitter count widgets out in the wild.

Hit Counters

You can also easily display your RSS feed count through a service like Feedburner, which allows you to install a "chicklet" feed displaying the number of your RSS feed subscribers.

If you really think about it, is this really any different than the ever-hated hit counter? Do we want to follow someone on Twitter just because they have 30,000 followers? Does the follower count really indicate an increased quality in tweets? Personally, I’d rather follow someone who has 50 Twitter followers and is an expert willing to share and discuss their work, as opposed to someone who has tons of followers but doesn’t have much to share that’s valuable in my field.

This is not to say that a large Twitter feed following or RSS feed subscribership automatically points to poor feed quality. I just don’t think the practice of displaying Twitter and RSS feed counts has any real user-centered value. Quality of content is the primary reason people subscribe to a website’s feeds. If they’re subscribing for any other reason, then you probably don’t want them subscribing. The Twitter and RSS subscribership counters are really just a new-and-improved version of the hit counter odometer.

Modern-Day Animated Splash Pages

Another superficial and often pointless web design trend from the yester-decade of the 90s was the splash page. Sometimes it was a static page, but often, it was a bloated and self-indulgent animated intro (and occasionally with techno-music playing in the background).

Eventually, website owners realized that they didn’t want returning site visitors sitting through the same animation on each visit to their home page.

Splash PagesAn example of an animated Flash splash screen.

But instead of doing the sensible thing and eliminating their splash pages, they began adding "skip intro" links to these unwatchable annoyances.

Unfortunately, these (and similar) trends still exist in certain website niches. But things have generally improved. Or have they?

Today, many developers are building sites and experiments using cutting-edge CSS3 and HTML5 techniques. There are HTML5 and CSS3 experiments, and some pretty impressive Canvas demos. I think these are great for the developers that coded them because the experience and knowledge they’ve gained will further their own understanding of these future W3C-recommended standards. But, in most cases, these experiments and demos have little real-world value.

Splash PagesThe now-famous CSS3 Spider-Man animation.

The CSS3/HTML5 Spider-Man experiment shown above is a powerful demonstration of what’s possible without Flash. But how practical or reusable is it? I think I echo the remarks of the commenter shown below who was evidently making a sincere inquiry:

Splash PagesA comment regarding the CSS3/HTML5 Spider-Man experiment.

In particular, taking CSS3 techniques "too far" was discussed by Matt Ward of Echo Enduring Media (also a Six Revisions contributing writer), which he was motivated to write after reading this article by Faruk Ateş. What’s interesting about Ateş is that in his website bio, he refers to himself as a design and development "consultant". I think this is significant, because it’s people like him that are in the business of advising on design and development decisions who can objectively evaluate a trend or technique and recognize it for what it really is.

In both those articles, the authors remind us to remember the importance of practical, reusable code. Unfortunately, even some simple CSS3 enhancements that seem harmless can bloat our CSS and make it much more difficult to work with.

Modern-Day "Best Viewed With" Badges

Here’s another trend from years ago that I thought we had put to rest. In the past, "webmasters" used to develop websites specifically for a single browser, particularly during the mid-90s browser wars. Many sites would embed a badge or other kind of notice informing the visitor that the website was "best viewed with" either Internet Explorer or Netscape.

"Best Viewed With" BadgesAn old site with a Netscape and Internet Explorer "best viewed with" badge.

Today, a whole slew of websites, demos, and experiments are doing essentially the same thing. Even my own CSS3 chart suffers from this problem.

"Best Viewed With" BadgesApple’s HTML5 Showcase is best viewed with Safari.

And how about the message shown below, taken from The Wilderness Downtown experiment?

"Best Viewed With" Badges

How about projects such as the ieSucks jQuery plugin (implementation shown below)?

The example site above, when viewed in Internet Explorer, displays a message telling users what browser they should use using the ieSucks jQuery plugin.

Is this any different from what we saw back in 1999? In many ways, it’s actually worse.

Another practice that I think at this point we’ve mostly done away with — and good riddance because it really is pointless — is the habit of putting a "valid XHTML" link or badge in a footer or sidebar.

Good developers understand that a valid page doesn’t necessarily mean the code is efficient and maintainable and that the content is accessible (read about the issues and limitations of W3C validators). Likewise, an invalid page doesn’t necessarily mean the code is inefficient, hard to maintain, and that the content is inaccessible.

Validation badges for everything. Do they really help promote standards?

I understand the importance of promoting standards, but I think that method of promotion has been played out. Fortunately, most developers recognize this so it’s not nearly as common as it was a few years ago.

I just hope there aren’t any "valid HTML5" badges on the horizon. Or maybe the new trend will be a more marketing-friendly badge that says "Invalid CSS/HTML due to cutting-edge CSS3/HTML5 techniques". Let’s hope not.

Modern-Day Bloated, Cut-And-Paste Scripts

Around the time when IE6 was first released, client-side scripting was starting to take off, and larger possibilities were being opened. It became increasingly simple to grab a script off a cut-and-paste script repository website and just modify it to your needs. In fact, the first shopping cart I ever built was done completely in bloated impossible-to-imagine JavaScript that I downloaded off one of those sites. Many of these sites still exist.

While this was of great help to web developers, it soon made the code on many sites bloated and difficult to maintain. Viewing the source on these pages revealed the horrors that these projects contained — code-forking, IE-only scripts, <head> sections that went on seemingly forever, and inline event handlers that triggered them.

Do we see something similar today? On some level, we do.

While JavaScript frameworks and libraries have helped us create cleaner code that’s easier to maintain, the [insert-your-script-here] trend hasn’t really changed. View source on any website, and you’ll often see something like what’s depicted in the screen capture below (which is from a real site):

In the above code, after the jQuery library is included, a number of jQuery plugin libraries have been referenced, followed by some code added to the <head> of the document that goes on for about 160 lines! Yes, the code is much cleaner and easier to read than was the case back in the days of cut-and-paste JavaScript. But there are too many HTTP requests, and too much code is not in an external document. So, although the methods used today are theoretically better, the real-world execution of these methods — which is to cut-and-paste code — is often no different.

I think with a little bit of forethought, some of these problems can be minimized. In many cases, scripts can be combined, minified, and namespaced to make the code more efficient and much easier to deal with.

Of course, for some projects, there’s almost no way to avoid using multiple plugins. Very few developers will take the time to write (or learn how to write) their own content sliders or "light boxes"; there are too many customizable versions of those things available to use for free.

But the situation can improve if developers take the time to learn how to optimize the code they’re working with — even if it’s not their own code. I’m certainly not immune to these problems myself, so I’m starting to look for ways to make my code more clean and efficient.

Modern-Day Scrolling Marquees

Remember the <marquee> tag? It was an eyesore and was the butt of many web design jokes for years (along with <blink>). Interestingly, although <marquee> is a non-W3C-standard element, it actually has very good cross-browser support.

Scrolling MarqueesFirefox 3.6 supports the <marquee> tag.

Again, this is one of those things that it’s safe to say we’d sooner quit our jobs than use. Or would we?

While scrolling news tickers and other animated data feeds have thankfully become old-school bygone trends, we now have a different breed of marquees and scrollers: Twitter streams in sidebars and footers. Sometimes they’re pretty simple, consisting of just a simple box or bubble displaying the last tweet. In other cases, they’re more obnoxious, showing multiple out-of-context tweets, scrolling up and updating at specified intervals using Ajax.

The demo shown in the screenshot below is one example of a jQuery plugin that helps you easily add a Twitter stream to your site:

Scrolling MarqueesThe Tweet jQuery plugin displays a marquee-like scrolling Twitter feed on your site.

As in the case of tweets in the above demo, not many Twitter streams will provide anything of practical value when displayed in the context of a full website. Even on a personal blog, this kind of thing seems to have little practical value, especially when you consider that Twitter streams often contain messages that are really only intended for a single individual or a particular group of people.

I visit hundreds of web pages every week, and it’s extremely rare that someone’s last tweet (or last five tweets) interested me so much that I clicked to read their Twitter stream, or followed them. An animated auto-updating Twitter stream is not going to entice me to follow you; good content on your website is.

I guess the principle here is: If we’re so against auto-playing audio and video, why aren’t we against "auto-playing" Twitter feeds?

Okay, Maybe It’s Not So Bad

After considering all of this, I still think we’ve come a long way since 1999, and even with some of these questionable trends, the web design industry is still in great shape and will continue to move forward and innovate.

The ugly odometer hit counter has been replaced by simpler and more elegant feed count displays. The superficial Flash intros have been replaced by educational and forward-thinking experiments. Bloated cut-and-paste scripts have been replaced by cleaner, more maintainable code. And the scrolling news tickers and marquees that sometimes spanned the entire width of a website have been replaced by less-obtrusive Twitter and RSS feeds.

Nonetheless, consider this a warning to encourage the community to avoid taking these things too far. Let’s work at creating a cleaner, more accessible, and more efficient web of content.  Let’s not let HTML5, CSS3, and social media become the Nickelback of web design.

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About the Author

Louis Lazaris is a writer and freelance web developer based in Toronto, Canada. He has 9 years of experience in the web development industry and posts web design articles and tutorials on his blog, Impressive Webs. Follow Louis on Twitter or contact him through this form.

This was published on Jan 17, 2011


Johnny Jan 17 2011

i really loved this article, great job :}

John Cowen Jan 17 2011

Good article, enjoyed that and some fair comments.

Overall, I’m probably in favour of some of the techniques that preclude some older (and any IE) browsers because it’s important these technologies and techniques are used and promoted to help encourage browser makers to increase support. And equally encourage our users to upgrade to the best browsers.

Most sites these days do a good job of providing support to all browsers and the few who are doing stuff that won’t work in certain browsers are, I think, targeting a particular audience who won’t find lack of support for IE an issue.

You’re right though, we all need to ensure we’re not getting carried away and using technology for technology’s sake.

Morten Najbjerg Jan 17 2011

Very interesting read (and I’m not just referring to the Nirvana vs. Nickelback part). Main focus in webdevelopment should always be usability and UX / user experience. A great reminder that current webtrends must never be an excuse to not using your head when designing. Jan 17 2011

The reference to The Wilderness Downtown is a bit unnecessary, although they could rephrased it as “The fewer open programs you have, the better this film will run”

And yes, we’ve come a long way from “You can only see this website with IE5”

binocle Jan 17 2011

Great article, thank you.

You hit right where it hurts, the blind tendencies to follow stupid and irrelevant trends.

Love your Nirvana/Nickelback intro, well thought ^__^

Steven Jan 17 2011

Interesting article with some good points raised. But then I noticed your own ‘hit counter’ in the bottom left hand corner. :)

Bogdan Pop Jan 17 2011

You do have a point here, but I don’t think we are following the same patterns.

For instance, regarding twitter and facebook counters. Those are linked to social networks, where people use the information. What would anybody do with the old visitors counter? They did nothing, because it didn’t link to anything. Twitter, Facebook, Feedburner counters work more like newspaper’s circulation numbers (which many show on their first page)

In terms of best viewed in, the current case is better because people say best view in “Anything besides IE” as opposed to 10 years ago when every site was optimized for IE. So, we are moving forward. Sooner or later, nobody will use IE or IE will comply with standards and all these badges will disappear. Moreover, you can figure out how much skill a company or developer has by checking whether they have a badge. If they do have a badge on their client’s sites they probably don’t know how to make a cross browser site. If they don’t have a badge they are probably skilled enough.

Anthony Feint Jan 17 2011

With the “best viewed in” badges – I think will see more of them for the next few months simply because browsers are all playing catch up with various bits of HTML5.

There will always be bad design and plenty of examples to point to, but now, in 2011, there are way more specialized web designers than there was in 1999.

Some interesting points here. I don’t think we’re being pushed back to 1999 but some trends are just trends. The readers counter and browser selection info seems very outdated and unnecessary. As for CSS experiments, I don’t think these are such a huge problem as I doubt many people outside of the web design community will ever really see them. They aren’t being implemented on major sites. I can’t imagine the BBC implementing a feature on their site to view their news stories in 3D (works best in Safari). But some people who like to have a play around and experiment can do that. I think it’s up to web designers to distinguish for themselves which trends are going to be useful, practical trends that last, and which trends are just for fun and not really helpful at all. It’s important to keep the users in mind whenever we try something new out.

Julien Jan 17 2011

Oh man, is it a feedburner counter that I see in this site’s footer ?

RobbyDesigns Jan 17 2011

Great article, thank you for your hard work.
I would personally say that most of the things you point out are used by the type of designers who simply follow the crowd like mindless sheep and feel that showing us the website has 30,000 Twitter followers means we’re ‘not in the pack’ if we don’t follow too, even though their tweets are more than likely made by a bot that blindly follows everyone back in a childish attempt to have big numbers rather than nice people following/followed. I could go on more about what I feel is boring abuse of Twitter but I’ll spare you :)
I prefer to create modern websites, I’m probably not a name you’ve heard of because I’ve only been at it for a year butI pride myself on NOT following the pack or adding ‘trendy’ useless bits like you have wrote about and stick to what is of use to the website owner and it’s readership.

Steven Jan 17 2011

How about big fonts and centering of text and minimalism? Not that i’m against those trends but it seems like they are becoming popular again. Another way of looking at it is that web design is like fashion, some of the trends are going back in style. Good post!

Paul Wallas Jan 17 2011

I also believe that with the current responsive web design being the hot topic it is, this results in us now considering resolutions lowers than the now standard 1024×768. If browser resolutions can be categorized as a trend then this is another area where we are adopting 1999 trends.

Louis Jan 17 2011

@Steven and @Julien:

Remember that this article is my own view on these matters. Just because Six Revisions published it, doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with every word.

But as a side point: I had not even noticed that feedburner counter on this site before, otherwise I may have offered the article elsewhere! ;)

Jacob Gube Jan 17 2011

@Paul Wallas: I was actually thinking the same thing; we’re designing sites to work under smaller browser viewport sizes again. Good observation.

Louis Jan 17 2011

@Paul Wallas and @Jacob:

That’s a debatable one, because that design principle is for improving the accessibility and reach of our sites, which ultimately improves the bottom line for the client. Also, the Mobile market is exploding like no other, so that can’t be ignored.

Muditha Jayasinghe Jan 17 2011

Another way we are going back to 1999 is page speed.

Shouldn’t sites get faster with multi-core cpu’s and gigabytes of ram? A lot of sites are just slow on my DSL connection.

We are taking the hypertext protocol far beyond its intended purpose.

Jeprie Jan 17 2011

Wow, nice article. I don’t understand about this webdesign trend, I considered myself as user. What I want –and I believe most of us– is a just simple page to find information.

Many designers speaking about how much they hate flash and now they create another version of flash with that HTML 5 stuff.

Anokai Jan 17 2011

As 1st Steven pointed out this site itself is guilty of a few things mentioned in the article. :)

Vivek Parmar Jan 17 2011

didn’t know about this (as in 1999 i don’t have computer with me and didn’t know about anything as much as i know today). it’s a nice read out and learn many new things

Best article on Six Revisions…maybe ever. Good insights. Thanks.

Joey Z Jan 17 2011

In all fairness, on the “Best Viewed With” Badges, we had HOPED in the 90’s that IE would do it job right by now.

Frederick Jan 17 2011

Stumbled upon this a while ago:

I’m sure his target audience cares that the web page validates standards

Yassine Bentaieb Jan 17 2011

Very interesting article. NIce examples you used and the connections you made where interesting! I agree that some of these trends are ‘too much’ like a lot of the trends back in the late nineties where as well. But nature balances itself out in the end, and so does the web. So it’s all a part of the process of the expanding web and the new standards.

Jacob Gube Jan 17 2011

@Steven and @Julien: I was going for a retro-90s design aesthetics for Six Revisions.

By the way, Louis, thanks for the code snippet for the Twitter badge, I think it’s cute, I’ll implement someday.

@Louis: I understand the purpose of it. In fact, one of the things I’m working on is having an iPhone-optimized version of the site — like Mashable’s or Digg’s, and admittedly for slightly-selfish reasons; the site I use most on my iPhone is Six Revisions — using media queries (I’m also mucking about with iOS development, and hope I can write tutorials and articles on this topic sharing my experience). I just find it interesting/funny that, in 2002, I was designing for 800px screens, and now, I’m designing for 420px screens. I’m not saying it’s bad. And I understand that my comment could be misconstrued because I said it in an article discussing design trends that are a step back. I love responsive web designs, to be honest. I think some sites are very innovative in the way they cater to smartphone and mobile device users.

Darling Stewie Jan 17 2011

Loved this article. Nothing is more frustrating than those 4 evil words, “Best viewed in IE” – I tried to get something printed on Staples copy center and it would only work in IE. Frustrating to say the least. It was a disaster.

There should -always- be a mix of user and search-engine friendly development as well as hot design because, as humans, we care more for the look but we don’t want to be so frustrated we can’t move around the site. As a web designer, I’m a huge huge fan of Cufon ( which I think is a fine example of good development and design.

Additionally, I love the teeny weeny 8-9 pixel look of small fonts in counters like the feedburner one at the bottom of this page. They have a cute charm. Ador! :3

Russell Bishop Jan 17 2011

Some interesting observations, but quite a few simply refer to experiments. These are made to be excessively showy-offy, that’s their purpose.

The hit counter idea is a good point, I do wonder why people like to openly display their # of followers and subscribers..

Arelthia Jan 17 2011

Hit counters have never been user-centered. Just like now they are more of a way to brag about your following. A way of saying everyone else is doing it so you should also. Displaying the number of readers, followers, and users is self centered not user centered.

Great article and comparisons.

Even though websites were truly awful back then (at the time we thought it was super cool) the work done by the early pioneers did lay the foundations for the truly great design work that is being done today. It’s been a short time relatively speaking – but we have truly come a long way from the 90’s. Lessons learned, not to be repeated.

Andrew Jan 17 2011

Sure, the goal of most web design should be to create the best possible UX. However, in cases where accessibility is less important than ultimate performance (The Wilderness Downtown, for example), I’m perfectly fine with the “best viewed in ____” disclaimer.

It’s all about knowing the goal of the particular project, and executing it. Hopefully this type of development at least exposes some browser inadequacies to the general public along the way.

Chris McKee Jan 17 2011

Good article; I especially enjoyed the “best viewed in”, and the modern day bloat *cough* html5boilerplate *cough*.
Theres nothing like pushing forward with a new technology by stuffing your page fat with plugins and css resets :)

My favourite “best viewed with” tag was one that read “Best viewed if you come to my office and look at it on my monitor”

David Bushell Jan 17 2011

Great read, but I feel this article is too pessimistic until the final paragraph. It in no way covers the whole web design industry. There are some very good examples raised, but it should be said in a more positive light. If you and I are aware of these issues we can avoid them and produce great design. If others are stuck in 1999 then by all means educate, but lets not doom the whole industry! Perhaps I’m just reading too much into the title :)

Edmund in Tokyo Jan 17 2011

Could have added that frames are back. Except we hack them with CSS and JQuery so we can pretend they’re not frames.

Twitter’s a good example. In the ’90s, the toolbar across the top would have been a frame. And it would have worked better than the current thing, because now if you hit space on Twitter to scroll the page down, it goes too far, because the browser doesn’t know that the top bit of the page is hidden by the toolbar.

Andris Jan 17 2011

HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery give us some pretty awesome new possibilities. But combining too many plugins will make your website perfomance pretty lame. So it’s kinda hard to choose the right balance between cool new features and usability/performance. So the “keep it simple, stupid”-method will always be the best choice.

Btw I would never follow someone on twitter because of its thousands of followers.

Bram Van der Sype Jan 17 2011

Very good read, thanks!

I’d love to see an article that dives deeper into “Modern-Day Bloated, Cut-And-Paste Scripts” and what to do about it, as I’m experiencing this myself.

Sunny Jan 17 2011

Geesh you almost lost me with that big intro going about Nirvana, well your article did make me think back to another great release during 1999.. The Matrix, perhaps it is real and this regression in webtrends is just the first step of the Agents. Ok got a little carried away, atleast HTML5 is moving us forward, but you did hit the nail on the head with regards to those web counters.

Good piece of writing.

Jacob Gube Jan 17 2011

@kath: or “Best viewed by downloading this PSD and opening in Photoshop”

Luciano Saito Jan 17 2011

IMHO there is little to almost none connection from grunge to rock bands of these days, specially in what you call “trend”. Nobody does more unplugged shows, shows are more about light and smoke effects then the atitude in the stage itself, etc… they’re not actually making an effort to step in the 90’s bands’ shoes.
With that being said, making less of web standards doctypes is REALLY where you do not want to go. Ok, those badges are utterly unecessary, but say that “oh a website that doesn’t follow them is ok” is like saying that a poor child stealing is ok, because he needs it. As soon as you enable these behavior, it grows. And the scenario without anyone following standards is scary, lots of scripts and frameworks stop working or making necessary lots of workarounds, browser and extension devs life are made a nightmare. Not to mention acessibility issues, people who have them, will have tremendous difficulty to use the internet without standards.
As for the CSS3/HTML5, there’s one main industry that is going to benefit from it: games. Code reusability, web standards and frameworks are definitely a must in this scenario. It’s not entirely useless like you put out, it’s just lack of perspective.
There are lots of more points I’d like to share about your article, but I think that’s enough to start thinking about if we are really going backwards. Most of stuff you present is already an evolution from errors made in the past, they may not be the best solution, but still, I don’t think most of the webdevs/designers are hopping on a time machine.

andrea Jan 17 2011

hi All,
as a designer i believe , sometimes you have to leave the shore and navigate through uncharted seas.
As a user i feel like the web(users) will respond and validate what is good and discard what is bad.
Add and mix with a bit of mobile/tablet implementations and that is what we are going to deal with in the next 3 years.

Muneeb Ahmad Jan 17 2011

At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to agree with your post but after reading it I am surprised at how many valid points you have raised. Unfortunately, it is true that the older, uglier, annoying aspects of websites may have crept their way back in the trends of today but thankfully they are more useful and less annoying and ugly. Yes, there will be the rare site that has something totally useless and tacky attached to it for no real reason but it is about understanding, correcting and learning from these mistakes so that future design trends will slowly phase out these minor issues that we currently face. Apart from that, it was a fantastic post so keep up the good work! :)

Scott Jan 17 2011

I think the key difference now is that most people know what they’re doing. Back then *no one* knew he best way of doing things, everyone was still feeling their way and testing the waters of what could be done with this ‘internet’ thing.

For many of your examples you purposely picked sites that are ‘doing it wrong’. Because the web has such a low entry barrier, there are always going to be people who do not know better, cut-and-pasting script after script. But the industry as a whole knows much better.

Also ‘best viewed with’ badges in 1999 were about switching to a completely different browser, while now it’s more of the form ‘upgrade to the latest version of your current browser’. And these notices are almost never shown on regular everyday pages, only ‘experimental’ pages (which will continue to exist).

Louis Jan 17 2011

@David Bushell:

I agree, it was pessimistic, but that was by design. I did make a point, however, of not being too dogmatic, even during the negative points. That’s why the title is in the form of a question, and many of the other points are formulated in the same way — because I realize that this is a very debatable subject.

LInda Jenkinson Jan 17 2011

I’m with Johnny.Well, not really “with” him, but excellent article! Now, if they just figure out a way to optimize code so that it remains semi-readable when you have to change it…

Young Jan 17 2011

Good observations and certainly ones to trigger some heated debate – it’s still so early and already this many comments. Definitely didn’t need that long intro analogy, I thought it was slightly far-fetched, and I really don’t like Nirvana’s music :). In the historical context I see their importance going back to the bare-bones, a-guitar-and-a-disgruntled-man rock, but I can’t stand everyone praising them as the greatest band / Kurt Cobain as the greatest guitar player. Honestly I could play Nirvana with my feet, and their music’s pretty boring to me, but that’s a whole another heated debate. With that said, I think it was mean to even compare them to Nickelback. No one deserves such shame.

Back to web design, I had the same problem as many people that you knocked the experiments, though the sensational tone makes this a good article. About the social networking counters, I think they have their places. While I don’t believe in Twitter at all, I think it does make a good addition to spruce up a personal site. It certainly doesn’t belong on anything beyond that scope, however. Facebook followers and “likes” can be useful on sites that promote social networking. A recent project of mine was a community site for program alumni, and their marketing for it on Facebook really made sense. You didn’t have to navigate to FB (thus off the community page) to “like” it, which I thought was good web design practice.

But as much as we don’t want to admit it, too many people swear by Facebook and Twitter to ignore it, much like too many people in America listen to what Sarah Palin says. Our clients are just less focused on concise web design and more focused on marketing, and we should understand that.

Adam Thompson Jan 17 2011

I liked the intro about Nickleback versus Nirvana. It’s interesting to compare web design trends here in 2011 to what was being done back in 1999. Overall a very interesting read.

Gareth Coxon Jan 17 2011

Some interesting similarities show in your article, but overall I hope we aren’t heading back to 1999!

Damien Guard Jan 17 2011

If you find an expert with only 50 followers you know that he’ll be worth sharing with others.

If he has 8,000 you’re probably last to know.


Stuart Robson Jan 17 2011

What a ‘croque of shit’!


Starting with comparing Nirvana to Nickelback is your first hurdle. If you’re any kind of musician or have ears you’ll notice distinct musical, aural and sonic differences between the ‘Grunge’ of Nirvana and Creed/Nickelback. It’s like lo-fi hi-fi.

Hit Counters

The modern tweet counter is about how many tweets have been about the page not how many visits it has so that’s there with your music reference.

Splash Pages

Your example and use of the spiderman in CSS3 is showing an experiment of the new CSS elements not a splash page

Best Viewed With

Today it’s more it won’t work unless you use not best viewed with but this argument is not so bad, again the usage is on the more experimental sites rather than ‘bill and bob’s hair saloon’

Valid id

This has been happening since 1999, not something new so doesn’t hold much in your ‘current’ uses argument.

Umm…are you inferring that grunge-alternative music wasn’t sexist and had a positive message?

Brandan Jan 17 2011

Great article! As a fledgling web designer, I feel like I’ve found the “web design mother lode” in Six Revisions!

Nancy Jan 17 2011

An early (programming job) boss told me in 1989 “Just because it’s cool doesn’t mean you should do it.” I’ve held to that principal ever since. In other words, how does it (badges, rss followers, etc) serve the message the website is promoting? How does it serve the website user?

BTW, it’s ironic there is a feedburner rss # of readers counter on this site.

Steven Campbell Jan 17 2011

There are a number of trends that I don’t think you touched on, mostly to do with design: leathery textures, bubbly buttons, friendly animals, “Hi my name is _____ and I make websites,” and clichés like that.

I don’t really think things like CSS3 Spider-Man are a threat. We should always have people pushing new web technology to its limits, despite practicality. But I did see your point — widespread use of ridiculous amounts of interactive, showy code will definitely depreciate user experience.

I think that ’90s web tropes are coming back on modern sites, but even more of a problem are the numerous *modern* clichés being passed around because of design-inspiration sites like Dribbble. 1990s sites all look different, but you can *tell* a site was made in the 1990s when you see it, because in a way, they all look the same.

I fear the same thing is happening with website design today.

Russell Bishop said above: “Some interesting observations, but quite a few simply refer to experiments.” I agree with him. There’s more to be said here.

Steven Campbell Jan 17 2011

Stuart Robson up there made some interesting points, albeit aggressively. I agree most with:

“Today it’s more it won’t work unless you use not best viewed with but this argument is not so bad, again the usage is on the more experimental sites rather than ‘bill and bob’s hair saloon’”

But have to disagree with:

“If you’re any kind of musician or have ears you’ll notice distinct musical, aural and sonic differences between the ‘Grunge’ of Nirvana and Creed/Nickelback. It’s like lo-fi hi-fi.”

Of COURSE the bands are going to sound different, they were recorded in different times in different studios with different instruments and different people. You have to look past these superficial differences and into the similarities. And besides, the poster’s point was that Creed/Nickelback were imitating the sound of Nirvana but trying to put a modernly marketable twist on it, and that resulted in superficial sound that destroyed the genre and exposed the shallowness of its bands. And even THEN, a small problem with an extracted metaphor doesn’t destroy an argument.

Louis Jan 17 2011


Well, maybe later alternative bands were sexist but many older alternative bands were against exploitation of women and dealt with other social issues in their lyrics.

For example, some might remember the song Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog, which dealt with a serious social issue.

In comparison to songs like Warrant’s Cherry Pie it’s a huge improvement.

In retrospect, maybe “positive message” wasn’t exactly the right term; I was more trying to convey that there was an improvement in the overall song theme quality (but obviously there will be some bad examples within grunge/alternative, too; just not nearly as many in my opinion).

Steven Campbell Jan 17 2011

Young: “Our clients are just less focused on concise web design and more focused on marketing, and we should understand that.”

It will always be compromise, either between users/developers or clients/developers. In some situations we compromise less (like on personal projects), but we’re always giving up something for popularity or money or UX or validation.

I also liked what Luciano Saito said: “As for the CSS3/HTML5, there’s one main industry that is going to benefit from it: games. Code reusability, web standards and frameworks are definitely a must in this scenario. It’s not entirely useless like you put out, it’s just lack of perspective.”

Already with things like the Impact HTML5 game engine, we’re seeing Flash being replaced. I can’t wait to see where this takes us in terms of game possibilities.

So, experimentation is good. That’s what the 1990s were all about. Now, experimentation is still good. The REAL problem is designers repeating the slick-looking tropes all over the place. Experimentation is the only thing keeping “Web 2.0” design practices from happening again.

Okay, this is my last comment. Great article, and a wonderful debate on what I believe is the most important web design argument of today. :)

Very good and original article, however just as mentioned by @Andris the KISS method should always be the best choice.

Jefferson Howell Jan 17 2011

Generally speaking there were good and bad practices in 1999, just as there are today and will be in 2019. Splash pages were rarely a good idea in 1999, and that still holds true today. If they don’t provide a real benefit to the user, what is the point?

Ultimately any design decision should stand up to scrutiny and be defendable relative to site (and often business) goals and objectives. I say that understanding that things like content strategy and UX are implicit under the umbrella of “goals” and “objectives”, you could substitute other terms if you like.

If displaying twitter followers leads to an uptick by 20%, and those followers are important to you, that obviously has value. Whether it is a “bad” trend or not, this is the lens I think it should viewed through.

That is not to say every site must provide value to the user, just the ones that someone pays you to develop. If you want to build a pointless site on your own time, experimental or otherwise, enjoy!

Jacob Gube Jan 17 2011

@Matt: You read too much into it; keep the comments on topic please.

Andrey Jan 17 2011

I think it’s a bearded snobbery to say that 3 Doors Down is bad imitation of anything. This is like comparing Nirvana to Mozart. First of all, you can’t compare one to the other. It’s a different music with different meaning. I like 3DD more. And of somebody tries to criticize it, he better be good musician, otherwise his opinion is nothing to me. One doesn’t need to have much of brains to be a fan boy.

Who says they want to imitate alternative or grunge sound?

Joshua Chase Jan 17 2011

Really enjoyed this article. The only difference is there weren’t any walkouts in 1999! LOL Still see those far too often.

Steven Bradley Jan 17 2011

Louis your observations are interesting, but I don’t think you’re comparing apples to apples here. For example Splash pages.

The main issue with a splash page isn’t the animation. It’s the nature of the splash page itself. It’s a page that offers nothing useful that stands in front of the presumably useful content on the rest of the site.

An example page inside a site showing off the latest and greatest canvas or css3 animation is something completely different. If the example page is sitting in front of the site and you have to watch the animation to get to the home page, then I agree it’s the same thing. But a page inside a side in a section of experiments has little in common with a splash page regardless of whether or not both are using animation or playing music.

Similar for the hit counters. The issue is that a hit is a meaningless metric, not that the count is displayed. The count itself is a measure of social proof. People will more likely subscribe to a blog if they see 100,000 other people are subscribed than one where they see only 10 people have subscribed.

If you want to argue that a subscriber or twitter follower is a useless metric that’s another issue. However there’s nothing specifically wrong with the idea of showing a count of some kind as it shows social proof which has been shown again and again to influence people positively toward whatever is displaying that social proof.

You could also argue that the hit counters of years past looked tacky and were poorly designed, which also contributed to their decline. Feedburner and Twitter counters can be integrated well into a design or they can be poorly integrated in a design and appear tacky. Again that’s a a different issue than having some kind of counter. It’s an issue of good design vs. tacky design

Interesting observations, though of course trends always come and go and then come back again before going away once more.

Louis Jan 17 2011

@Stuart Robson & @Andrey:

I think you’re both missing the point. The comparison is not between Nirvana and Nickelback; the comparison is really between Nickelback and “glam rock”. You see, Nickelback only exists because of Nirvana. No record company would have signed them before Nirvana came along.

That similarity (and the mainstream’s embracing of Nickelback-like bands) is comparable to the embracing of all these questionable web design trends and practices which have long been rejected in the past.

@Jacob: Sorry, I’m breaking the rules, somewhat off the topic of web design. But you know, we’re having fun, you’re getting page views, so it’s all good! :)

I think you are attacking the wrong web design trends. Perhaps this is because what once seemed cool to you now seems passe because you know better. But I run into more people getting into web design than not that don’t know the first thing about valid (x)html, css, or anything else. I think a little text notation on a footer of a well designed page can serve as an eye opener to these people that there is more than just making it work. And the argument that validation is irrelevant is a poor one and will always be. Validation is important for screen readers and the like. If screen readers need valid code in order to read the page to a visually impaired individual I think that’s a pretty important consideration in user experience. You’re right, it isn’t absolutely necessary to validate. But I don’t think it hurts to make novice designers aware of the concept of validation with little badges or text links. At some point in the future it may become a bigger concern as well.

Counters on their own are pointless, absolutely. And most counters are merely some sort of bragging about how many readers or followers one has. But, they’re not as egregious as the late 90s counters, and typically those counters serve as a button to follow someone on twitter or add them to your RSS reader. I agree that the large obvious ones are garish, but the feedburner style (which I notice you have) isn’t obtrusive and poses no problem to user experience. Unless you put it inline with your content and not in a sidebar.

You indicated that the CSS3 Spider-man animation was an experiment, and that’s all it is. I think these experiments are great for furthering understanding of what can be done now and in the future as browser’s begin to support all the standards of HTML5 and CSS3. These experiments push the envelope of what we as web designers know can be done and make us think of how we can utilize features. Are we going to find a way to use that exact spider-man implementation, no, but being able to view source or use developer tools to dissect that is extremely valuable as a hands-on learning experience. Stagnation has never been good for any industry, if you don’t see the value of these experiments then that’s your own issue. I don’t think most developers that create these demos ever expect or want them to become some sort of overused trend in design. I appreciate that they share the hard work that goes into them so we as an industry can benefit and move forward.

And with the HTML5 showcase from Apple and The Wilderness Downtown these are both explicitly billed as DEMOS. The HTML5 showcase, after all, is HTML 5, not 4.x. And the Arcade Fire video is found on a site called chrome EXPERIMENTS. Again, I think the mark is missed about what trends we need to combat. These particular items are tech demos, all industries have them and they help show what is possible, not what should be done.

The childish way ieSucks implements itself is the problem. It makes users the enemy instead of simply informing users that there are other, better options available for browsing the web. Besides, css should degrade gracefully and users who follow browser recommendations will then be rewarded by seeing the site as it was designed while IE, etc. will still have a solid design without any broken layout.

Javascript implementation is a beast, and I am not one to claim that I do it right. But I also am a web designer, not a web developer. I think it is useful to know how large scale sites need to reduce http requests and may benefit from using things like css sprites to further reduce it. But realistically, any site that will run into this problem needs to have a web designer AND a web developer working on it.

I totally agree about twitter ajax badges. If your twitter feed needs to be updated that much you probably aren’t doing any real work. But I do think static twitter feeds can be useful resources for certain sites. If a designer tweets a lot about design inspiration or news, then it seems like a natural extension for their personal portfolio or blog.
I think the biggest problem I have with this article is the way you mislead readers for most of the article, starting with the headline stating web design trends are taking us back more than a decade. Then you proceed to rant about some things you don’t like that really don’t come close to taking us back to 1999. Finally, you state that it’s not all that bad and you just want people to be aware and not to take things too far. The misleading nature of the article bothers me. Is it just for readership? We all know a catchy headline can really help with Digg and links. But this is thinly veiled as your personal problem with loosely (if at all) related design (and developer) trends.

I don’t have a problem with you hating all of these things, obviously I don’t hate all of them. But your method of presenting them leaves a lot to be desired. You should have started out with a headline that says something like “6 Things I wish web designers/developers would stop doing” or something like that. Sensationalist headlines such as this one carry a lot of negativity about the web design industry.

James Carmichael Jan 17 2011

Popular music caters to the majority. The majority is dumb and has terrible taste in music as well as little to no knowledge about how the internet or the world works. That’s why Sum 41, Fox News, religion and splash pages exist.

The internet was terrible in 1999, and 10 years later as you are pointing out, it’s still bad, but not as bad. Escalades are much better now than they were when they came out, but they’re still a terrible idea and only cater to people who are seeking comfort in material possession because it’s the only way for them to stand out from the crowd. In the end, pop music and SUVs are profitable, so they’re still out there.

But again, if the point of this article is to point out that the internet is full of stupid things and stupid people… ya, it is, and those of us who are smart enough to figure it out are already painfully aware of it.

MuskratLove Jan 17 2011

Perhaps these trends are still around because this is what users want. I know that we, as designers/developers, should help encourage efficient usability….but our task is also to provide the desired information and allow the user to figure out what is of use to them. Not all users were created equal.

And, along those lines, for as much as we all cringe at the idea of supporting every browser under the sun it is not our place to dictate which software they must use rather, it is our place to make our content and design usable to all. That, really, is the mark of good design and development–digestible, usable, and, seemingly, secondary to the information being provided.

stuart robson Jan 17 2011

@Steven Campbell
not sure if you come from a sound engineering bbackground (I do). The techniques of recording are purposefully different as is the instruments they used, Kurt used what ever he had an old r/h jaguar restrung l/h through a bass amp compared to knickelcrack’s Mesa Boogies and PRS guitars so it rings true a little :)

Louis Jan 17 2011

To those who have been critical of my angle here:

I guess part of my issue with having things like demo pages and experiments is the fact that these things are publicly available, which is not really ideal.

Television stations and movie studios might try experimental things and show them to their peers. But they won’t necessarily put them in a production unless they have some value (assuming, of course, that the producer of the project has some sensibility). Of course, I’m overgeneralizing here; I don’t claim to know anything about TV and Movie production — just saying that we don’t see “Best viewed with a Sony 45 inch TV screen” productions.

Oh wait… “Best viewed with 3-D glasses.” :) Yeah, that’s why 3-D movies went downhill very quickly in the 80s! I could write another piece about that…

The point is, with web design, due to the nature of the industry (the openness), trends spread very easily, and it’s often hard to differentiate between what is good practice and what are bloated superficialities.

For those that took the piece as negative: Lighten up and have fun with it; it’s just an opinion. I’ve received more kudos via Twitter for this article than I have for a long time (example), so I think the article certainly has some value.

But I do appreciate the feedback and I hope people will recognize that the last positive section of the article is just as important in the overall message as the criticism in the rest of it.

Paul McClean Jan 17 2011

The Arcade Fire site was a fun ‘proof of concept’ site. Not really a good example in this case.

Steven Bradley Jan 17 2011

Louis I’m not sure if my comment above is one you think is critical if this article. It wasn’t meant to be. I disagree with how you’ve compared things, but I think the observations are interesting.

To me this it’s fun thinking about why something that went away has come back and why is it that it came back. I don’t for example think the idea of a counter is bad. It went away and now it’s back in a different form. So what specifically about it made it go away and what about it brought it back? Isn’t that one articles like this are supposed to do? Get us thinking.

I’d add that I think experiments and demo pages are perfectly fine as long as they’re labeled such. There’s nothing wrong with having a section of your site under the heading experiment and sharing. It’s not a good idea to experiment with a sales page, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t share new ideas.

Joseph McCullough Jan 17 2011

Lol, that’s exactly what I was thinking. This is a very humbling, but necessary article. And the NickelBack overlay seriously cracked me up.

Steven-Sanders Jan 17 2011

I don’t think the subscriber and twitter counters are as much for convincing someone to subscribe or follow you as they are for trying to prove some kind of credibility to draw in advertisers.

The biggest majority of bloggers displaying this information are interested in making money with their content, and are willing to display whatever they have to to appeal to advertisors.

Louis Jan 17 2011

@Steven Bradley:

I didn’t read your comment until now. Been hard to keep up because SR moderates. No, actually, you made some good points. As I stated, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but I do think you’re giving too much credit to the value of “100,000 subscribers” and such.

Quantity does not equal quality. So although it seems as though we have better reason for including these things, I don’t thing they have the value that people claim. But as you pointed out, those are debatable points, and could easily serve as a basis for a whole other article. I’ll make a note of that. ;)

Michael Tuck Jan 17 2011

Good job, Louis. One underlying message of your piece is to highlight the need to look backwards to move forward. Sticking with your “frame,” Nirvana looked backwards to late-70s punk for the genesis of their sound, improved on it (i.e. learned to play their instruments :) ), but most importantly, had something to say both musically and lyrically. Nickelback, Creed, and other bands imitated Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc without having anything new and different to present. Their entire purpose for existing was to generate buzz and make money.

The point is to have a site contain something meaningful. We can look back to the superficial excesses of the hit counters, marquee text, etc, and the equally superficial and meaningless modern iterations, and see the same things: flashy garbage that is useless except on the most surface level of “look at me” marketing.

I’m fortunate in the sense that I don’t work for commercial clients who are killing themselves to get more eyes on their sites and generate money as a result, so I don’t have project managers hammering away at me to put flashy, tawdry geegaws on the sites I design. I understand that many designers have to deal with this every day. You guys might find Louis’s article useful in countering some of this trend.

a good article, great job , thanks

Barry Jan 17 2011

I worked in the surf clothing industry for a time where even there, throwback styles worked their way into companies assortment for that year. And so it is with our culture. Those eras of style, the 50’s, hippie 60’s, 70’s etc all influence design with designers putting their own twist into the theme. The web is no different.

gedit:labs Jan 17 2011

To overshoot the mark in times of change …
Eh, I think there is a ideologicel problem with those webkit-follower ;)
Thanks for this lovely examples or should I say: some youthful follies that reminds us to laugh about our selfs.

Louis Jan 17 2011

@Michael Tuck:

If I have your approval, then I’m doing okay! :) You’re articles have really inspired me of late.

Thanks for the feedback and for understanding the basic message of the post.

Ben S Jan 17 2011

Good piece, and I agree with a lot of what you have said in terms of design. While some of these elements have moved on since 199, sometimes it’s a challenge for a lot of DIYers who use platforms such as WordPress to know when to stop with functionality and plugins.

I’m not sure I agree with you though on the hit counter comparison to Twitter counters and the like. Anyone can visit a website (sometimes by accident), but counters for things that people have to physically make the choice of opting in for can be a sign of trust and authority.

dotjinks Jan 17 2011

What depths have we sunk to when on the bands to trash list Nickleback has superseded the incomprehensible lameness of CREED!

Daquan Wright Jan 17 2011

Flash is heavy and bogs down webpages. If CSS3 animations prove to be more usable (no plug-in)and are easier on the user, then I’m all for it. Video and animation has become a bigger part of the web now more than ever, it won’t be going anywhere.

Of course there are some upgraded things from the past we do now, and history tends to repeat itself like that.

There was a time when men hunted animals with spears and bows. Now they hunt with rifles, for instance.

Michael Tuck Jan 17 2011

@Louis, that’s incredibly kind of you to say. I’ve felt the same impetus from your work at IW and your articles. Gotta make sure my next articles are up to snuff! :)

Daquan, since I’m not a fulltime designer, I’ve been able to pick and choose what I’ve learned to use and what I haven’t, and I’ve never bothered to learn how to create Flash elements. CSS3 animation is a different story, I’m hot to learn that.

Ranjit Jan 18 2011

Especially spider animation is very nice. Great article also…

Michael LaRocca Jan 18 2011

I just added over 100 free MIDI files to my blog. Seriously. I’m going retro.

Hamranhansenhansen Jan 18 2011

Yeah, Web design sucks and has sucked for a real long time. Doesn’t matter whether it’s HTML5 or HTML 3.2. We need much better tools, much better interaction design, much better art, and way, way, way better browsers. It’s way past time that the Web grew up.

Shawn Jan 18 2011

If we are going back to 99 in design again that’ll mean a few more people can rip-off/apart forum and hot or not scripts and rewrite some of it to make a new social network.

The crappy counters were more pre-99 stuff, junk like that started to clear out by then except for all the AOL users who thought that was fresh on the web then.

Forgot to mention the one thing though in this retrospective, horrible overall color schemes that just didn’t fit for the site concept. Had one client that wanted bright neon green on black for a classical french restaurant. Why yes that fits your customers perfectly…..

Helen Jan 18 2011

No Flash is not “heavy” @Daquan! Poorly optimized and misused Flash is heavy just as poorly optimized CSS3, java, javascriptlibraries and other whatnot code is. It´s not the tool, it´s the craftsman. Flash is the “lightest” way to deliver rich content and also light animation and other content when it is used the way it is suposed to.

Litso Jan 18 2011

Great article, and I agree with a lot of it. There’s just two things, that I think have been mentioned by others as well.

The examples of the ‘best viewed in’ buttons aren’t always really good ones imo. Especially with experimental projects that use the cutting-edge technologies that (mostly) IE doesn’t support yet, visitors probably aren’t even expecting it to work in lesser browsers. The “Apartman Blanca Logic” is a good example of a site that should be browser-ignorant though, but stuff like the CSS3 Chart and the HTML5 demo are in a different league.

Also, I do use the ‘valid HTML’ button. Not in the footer of my website, but in my portfolio. I’m a front-end developer and I’m selling myself as someone who knows his HTML and CSS. Therefor I think it’s actually very useful to mention what version of HTML I used and whether it’s valid. But I guess that too is an exception to what you were describing.

Anyways, you did give me a bit of an eye-opener, so thanks :)

WebCorsa Jan 18 2011

Simply desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness in your post is just great and i can assume you are an expert on this subject.

Great post…..worth reading it

The one thing that riles me at the moment when it comes to modern day web design is that all of a sudden, frames are once again cool thanks to top banners from social media URL shorteners. Grrr.

Carlos Morales Jan 18 2011

Good article and interesting points.

I don’t especially agree with your statements about HTML5 and CSS3 experiments. That Spiderman experiment that you show does his job perfectly, because its purpose it’s, well, just being an experiment.

I don’t think you can compare animated splash pages that were used in REAL websites (i.e, with a purpose) with animations created just for the sake of experimenting.

I hate splash pages, but I don’t have any problem with HTML5 or CSS3 experiments, because they are created for developers (or curious people) to visit. We go there voluntarily to check them out. When we visited someone’s site and it had (or still has :S) a splash page, it was against our will. I think that’s an important difference.

Christophe Jan 18 2011

Thank you so much for this article !
I can wait for this trend of adding “gadget” inside website to die …

Sunny Singh Jan 18 2011

I really hate this trend of HTML5/CSS3 experiments and social media. Like you said it’s not that bad, but it’s nice to visit a website that does not follow trends. It simply does what is common sense for a nicely designed and coded, usable, website.

porcelainkid Jan 18 2011

Thanks a lot for the story.
I personally believe that the reasonable webdesigners will continue within the trend of good UI/UX even on web. The user experience term is pretty hyped today, hopefully it will have some impact on people.

I’m glad for the possibilities of CSS3 / HTML5 because it provides much more fluent usage in quite small package in contrary to js / flash stuff.

And the last thing. Speaking of HTML5 / CSS3 badges:

Mehmet Jan 18 2011

You should mention the people that have simple sites but import 10+ plugins.

Just think about the animated GIF / JS driven advertising that can not be disabled.

Trickeedickee Jan 18 2011

Very well written article with many valid points. I’m sure there are a number of developers blushing while reading it. I look forward to reading some more of your stuff.

Chris Jan 19 2011

Other 1999 trends with new faces:
1. Bookmark this page = sharethis
2. Make this site your homepage = the latest battle between Google and Facebook

On a side note, how is it possible that 1999 was 12 years ago? And really, look how far we’ve come:

Danae Jan 19 2011

Haha, great read.

Why are people so scared of trends? People who make money or use it not the way it was ‘supposed’ to be also have fun making them. The Nicklebacks are maybe not so special and ‘real’ grungy like the Nirvana’s but they problably have equal fun! And what’s more important? Following the rules, like some person or group made them up? Or passionately do your work?!

Even the nirvana’s where be inspired by other bands. And also the Nirvana users/listeners are a type of people and the Nicklebacks are also a certain type of people. This will always be the same. AND: you will never know what would have happened if the great Kurt would still be alive, maybe he would have made a duet with the MEGAPOWERCOMMERCIAL band U2 or something. You-will-never-know. People are people. Do what YOU want and what YOU like!

Besides, the average websites lives like a year or two and then it dissapears in the archives to be replaced by some new trend/hype.


This not means that a quality piece of code is not important. It is! But which trend you use or not is so not important, it the creativity that makes the website! With or without trends.

The best qoute ever by Jim Jarmusch, that I use everytime I design a website:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
— Jim Jarmusch

Brandon Carson Jan 19 2011

Great article Louis! This is a great read, and so true. At least the design and functionality of all of these trends has increased dramatically.

Chris Jan 19 2011

There are some valid points in your article. Where I don`t agree is the intro thing regarding HTML5 and CSS3. Maybe there are only a few to no real world examples where the “cutting edge techniques” work, but for moving CSS3 forward in general it`s real important to push it to the maximum. Many of the ones doing that also provide tutorials of their work to educade beginners and experts alike.

Where I also don`t agree are the “valid badges”. Whereas in the year 2011 it’s not neccesary to show your conformity with HTML4 or CSS2 it will be important very soon with HTML5. It`s very important to promote it as the new industry standard and such badges can play an important role at this task.

But generally you get to the point just right.

marianney Jan 19 2011

haha, this was great! i actually did wonder about the whole blog subscriber/twitter follower counters as it reminded me of the old days of visitor counts. i did think it was a little outdated, HOWEVER i do see the benefit in counting your subscribers. it’s a mental thing. if you have a lot of followers and other people see that, they want to jump on the bandwagon too and follow. so i can’t really fault sites with a lot of followers for using that. i’d be proud to have over 73k followers on my site.

that said, what do you guys think of the new jquery popups just for IE6 and below that encourage users to upgrade their browsers for a better visual experience? i personally am done with hacking my CSS to look good in IE6.

Quixotic Jan 19 2011

Thanks for this, an interesting article, I think there are more trend”sters” out there in web design land and thus the web is going in all sorts of directions. Its just a much bigger playing field.

Vanessa Jan 19 2011

Loved the article! You covered so many things that have been pet hates of mine for years. I’ve just refused to update a website I built 10 years ago because the client refuses to update anything about the site at all. Even though I make more money because it takes so goddamn long I can’t face it. He – LOVES it
Now I understand – he must be a Nickelback fan.

Lots of home grown websites certainly like the social buttons and counters, more so than the professional made sites. Maybe the shift is back to a time when more of the web was a bit amateurish? People are learning that some webhosts install WordPress for free now and you can easily grab themes and throw code into widgets to do “cool stuff”. No idea where they all get the idea from, probably all this wacky SEO advice sites…

Milli Jan 19 2011

Thank you for this interesting article and for mentioning my jQuery plugin!

You say:
“Is this any different from what we saw back in 1999? In many ways, it’s actually worse.”

As for “Best Viewed with x,y,z”, hitcounters… i agree with you but there are three reasons why i wrote the ieSucks plugin, which by default is only shown to users who use the Internet Explorer:

1. Security

The Internet Explorer is the #1 vulnerable application on a PC.
Visit and click on the “Why” button in the ieSucks note to see some reasons.

2. Employers

I’m working nearly 15 years in web development and there are still employers who think that a webdesign have to be IE6-compatible – unbelievable! I spend a long time to create a website that works on IE7/8 too.
The web is full of CSS/X-/HTML/JS/server response header workarounds only that the website looks on the IE like in any other modern browser.
Employers are not aware of this but when you tell them that the price will increase by 40% they will.
In nearly every company i’ve worked for the IE is the main browser used to get content from the internet. But they are behind firewalls which are running on BSD/FreeBSD/Unix systems.

3. Fools

A lot of people are buying a PC because they are cheap and a lot of people are using them. Most of them are using the IE because they say “Hey, it’s a Microsoft system so i’ll use the standard – IE/Outlook Express…”.
They don’t worry about a virus which’ll be installed by calling a malicious website by the click on a link inside an email or on the web.
But they wake up when the amount of the bank account gets smaller or the ebay account was hacked…

Microsoft leaves them alone. (And all others of us who used the IE for lack of alternatives.)

Don’t get me wrong, I think you know what you are doing, but does your mother know?

Back to web design:

We all have seen the websites (mostly private ones) at the beginning of the internet area which looked like:

and so on. The internet was a new medium and – unfortunately – a lot of people thought that they have to put everything possible on their website. Javascript was a toy to create flying stars…

When Microsoft invented XMLHttpRequest (one of the few good things from MS) a lot of people saw that this is a good way to communicate to the server without posting the whole site – the technique was adopted from Mozilla and other vendors and Web 2.0 was born (oh… O’Reilly, sorry for the missing [tm]).

With this, the web experience about the usage of a website was different from what was usual. The server can respond in -nearly- realtime. The usability is on top of the list!

According to web design i dropped all css hacks and workarounds.

Look forward!

A HTML5 badge was announced today:


PS: Sorry for my bad english…

this one was really great. Especially the comparison of twitter-counter/site-counters and browser-compatibility-hints made me laugh and think at the same time.

carbon Jan 20 2011

You had me laughing at some of the points you made on this post – I must admit i’m guilty of some of them, but at least I hide my twitter feed in a slide up footer so it’s only there if you’re looking for it lol!

And the cut/paste scripts, yep – guilty. Now i’m going to go clean up my code ;)

Finally someone managed to put this into words! this is the best article i’ve read in a long time

Usman Jan 20 2011

Current Web Designs are becoming a bit backdated

Nowadays Web Designs are becoming backdated

WillyP Jan 20 2011

Fact is, your users don’t care… unless you are making a site about web technology or design… what technology you use, how many people visited your site, or freind-ed your page.

They come looking for information, or to be entertained, or to find out what going on in your life. Who cares if the designer doesn’t like IE? People use it, for whatever reason, and it is a slap in the face to your guests to tell them you don’t like their choice.

On the other hand, I disagree about experiments in HTML5 etc… These are experiments, just that, no-one expects them to work perfectly in every browser. I like seeing what can be done, even if I have to switch to Safari to do so. So, I do appreciate being informed if I’m not getting it correctly in FF. The point about ‘best viewed’ badges on real sites is absolutely true, though. My son’s school’s site has a badge urging me to upgrade to IE6. lol…

I definetly think web design is going back in time. Everything old is new again! Design was simplistic, and artsy, then everyone jumped on the flash wagon, sites got crazy and billboard like, and not their becoming more simplistic!

Social SUNY Jan 22 2011

I had never noticed this before but it is true. On the other hand how can you not encourage certain users (like IE6) to upgrade their browsers. I don’t (though I do use different javascript / css to try to make my page render right for IE) but I could see the appeal. Luckily most of my websites views are from a couple modern browsers.

BebopDesigner Jan 23 2011

Love the Nirvana example. Many things tend to be cyclical, music and fashion are a good example. But you’ve made an excellent point: we should pay more attention to what we’re doing so that we can stay away from recycling bad old habits.
We need to shake the overwhelming buzz off our head and see beyond our noses.
I’m an enthusiast, and I have lots to learn.
Thanks for the light

DesignedbyNatalie Jan 23 2011

Great article! Anything that gives Nirvana a wrap and Nickelback a flick is always off to a good start.

Daquan Wright Jan 23 2011

@Helen: Flash in relation to HTML/CSS/JavaScript is overall heavier. Think about all the sites you go to that have a countdown (sometimes it’s shown from 10 to 0, and sometimes it’s invisible), Flash tends to make users wait before they can view that rich content.

I’m not saying Flash is bad, but JavaScript doesn’t force people to wait as long. Which is why I feel Flash/ActionScript is the heavier of the components in an application. More importantly, I’ve been browsing Flash websites for over five years. I ought to know what’s heavier and lighter when weighed on similar scales.

Dave Keays Jan 23 2011

I see the need for some splash pages. Like a window display in a BnM store, you want to catch peoples eye with something important. You want it to be the first thing that hits them when they enter your store, but not every time they walk down the main aisle. You also don’t want that display to be the main motif of your store.

Rob Richards Jan 23 2011

“Let’s not let HTML5, CSS3, and social media become the Nickelback of web design.” HAHAHA, that was great!! Good read!!

neosheet Jan 23 2011

nice comparison, it just a same trend with diferent technology

subvert Jan 24 2011

good article, but personally I think it isn’t so much about falling into the same patterns – it essentially never changed, the difference is how it is styled.

today all these functions and elements, techniques and practices are still there, yet technology enables us to shape it like we want.

The best example is flash – animation has always been a good thing, if you don’t overdo it. With flash it simply was always overdone as it seems it’s to much of a work to implement flash elements just for a subtle fading of a button.

So the bad thing is not about using it or not, it’s a little bit like your grunge-example. It’s about overdoing it, selling out, or making it without thinking and respecting your message or design.

jesse Jan 24 2011

For client work, I think it boils down to this: business need. That is, is there a true business need that [name your technology] is trying to fulfill? Once business needs are defined, I think you can selectively adopt different pieces of whatever trend is hot at the moment.

For example, a lot of portfolio websites have a flickr stream, but I didn’t incorporate that into my site because I am not a photographer and don’t pretend to be one either.

Mike G Jan 28 2011

FYI: It’s an odometer, not a speedometer..

Oliver Jan 28 2011

Wauw a lot of comments! Anyway, great read, I was thinking about something along the same lines the other day. That CSS3 and HTML5 requires users to have the latest browser installed, and whether it would be acceptable to require that via a disclaimer, just like back in the “good” old “this site is optimized for IE4 or later” days;-)

Louis Jan 30 2011

@Mike G:

Wow, you’re absolutely right. I have no idea why I referred to it as a speedometer. Force of habit, I guess, since the odometer is usually right on or near the speedometer on most vehicles.



Can you correct the three references to “speedometer” in the article to read “odometer”?

richDres Feb 07 2011

There are many web design trends that need to go away. I especially can’t stand the sterile approach designers take with sites today. While I am not advocating the use of frivolous animation, it has got to the point where so many websites follow the same exact formula. One thing that comes to mind is the abused and overused “jquery-esque” image slider on the upper part of nearly any modern home page.

Pawel Poturalski Feb 18 2011

Realy nice comparison.

I completely forgot about those ’90s counters.. ;) I wonder what people will say about current counters in 5 or 10 years.

Jerrick Feb 21 2011

those fashion maybe old but they always think they do not scare of old methods as long it work and bring the message they want. They do not want to take risk or they do have another thinking behind which their visitor maybe in old fashion, their visitor may want a friendly usage website which their visitor already use to it seem long time ago. Or maybe they do have barriers to enter the new methods which maybe shortage of internet bandwidth and so on. No matter what different people do have different way to design their website.

Dan Waters Apr 30 2011

Haha! Valid points made here

Dave Lucas May 11 2011

Louis, you’re right! I would also mention how annoying blogs are that have boxes upon boxes of articles containing a headline, a sentence and then a “read more” link…

Camillar Devreut Aug 12 2011

Great read, but I feel this article is too pessimistic until the final paragraph. It in no way covers the whole web design industry. There are some very good examples raised, but it should be said in a more positive light. If you and I are aware of these issues we can avoid them and produce great design. If others are stuck in 1999 then by all means educate, but lets not doom the whole industry! Perhaps I’m just reading too much into the title.

Orfebre Martin Aug 27 2011

For example, a lot of portfolio websites have a flickr stream, I didn’t incorporate that into my site. Because I am not a photography and don’t pretend to one either..!!

Mike Stone Oct 19 2011

I think that most portfolio website will inevitably switching to HTML 5 for mobile compatibility.

Waqar Nov 29 2011

Nice post.

I’ve been in the web design & development industry since quite some time. Worked on simple as well as complex applications, inclusive of SaaS web development. What I have experienced is that it’s not we’re being pushed back to 1999 or something, rather we’re moving ahead quite fast, with new technologies emerging, and customers are desiring those technologies to be used. For example, Drupal CMS isn’t just a CMS now, it has got a great community of developers as well as great demand in market, and Drupal allows quite rapid development if the developer is aware of drupal ways and mods out there.

However, the problem I think the agencies are now facing or may face is something different. It’s the economies that are getting real disturbed right now. Rapid inflation, rapid changes in environment throughout the globe, unexpected economic climate, and hence the buyers Budgets have declined I think, but the taste hasn’t. Therefore, they require more stuff now, at lower costs, but for development firms there’s always work involved in each project, unless they figure out how to reuse the stuff as much possible.

I also noticed that people are thinking of working for some Residual Income stream plans that allow them to sustain.

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