Trip Down Memory Lane: Early Designs of Popular Sites 2021 Tips


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Over the years, websites update and change their design style gradually, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but like it or not, the Internet is a rapidly evolving organism. Interface design trends are always changing and you may see these ideas reflected in previous website designs.

For this article I want to present a small collection of previous designs on popular websites, examining how they have changed through various iterations. What many would call the “web 2.0” era added many new ideas to the design culture.

By looking back, we can learn which interfaces worked well and, more importantly, for what reasons. History is always a powerful teacher in hindsight.

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Youtube

Almost everyone should be familiar with YouTube by now. It is the most popular video upload network and handles a lot of data compared to other websites. It was initially launched in 2005 and has grown very rapidly since then.

I can remember the first couple of YouTube designs that really stood out. The website has always been about simplicity and ease of viewing experience. Its modern design has been updated quite a bit and it has also connected to Google for user accounts. But this is a company that made a lot of good moves and grew very quickly.

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October 2006

This screenshot dates back to the fall of 2006, shortly after YouTube’s launch. It has been touched up since the initial design in 2005 and it looks much better. The tabs at the top allow for easy navigation, while you can also watch videos on the featured stream.

This major update was so prominent because made users more interested in the use of channels.

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September 2007

A year later, in 2007, there were a series of updates. Around 2007-2008, YouTube experimented with many custom rotating widgets on the home page. These were created using Flash, as many of the video players were also native flash players. He too video list design is much easier to browse At a distance.

Right in the listing UI, we’ve got all the key details, including uploader, star rating, view count, and video category. The header and navigation tabs have been embellished with bright blue gradients. However, the design still feels minimal and very easy to interact.

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January

YouTube continued to update its same basic design with minor changes until the very beginning. They then opted for a very different approach to darkening the background color Y creating a new column for all category links.

Today’s YouTube layout still reminds of this redesign. Minimalism is an important feature, but there is more to the actual design than just plain white space.

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Digg

Before I even understood the Internet, I remember browsing Digg. That website had a lot of good news and the comments were often funny. Founder Kevin Rose brought Digg online in November 2004. Since then, it has gone through many upheavals as a lone entity until it was sold to Betaworks in January.

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February 2006

One of Digg’s earliest designs featured a clean blue top bar navigation area with some typical website links. The voting badges were more raw shade of yellow, blocked and smaller. Also, the categories and related links felt very cramped in the sidebar. But this is how great websites usually start.

It was a design that worked and got the ball rolling for Digg to capture a user base and grow quickly.

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October 2008

This screenshot from October 2008 shows my personal favorite design style. This is what many Digg users know and love as it had so many unique social media features. Story Submissions Now Included thumbnails, the categories were located in the header with drop down links. Also voting badges got a major update and it looks much better than the original design.

The user profiles adapted tremendously well and there were even “screams” to link friends to their favorite stories. Digg was a pioneer of internet-based social news, and looking back, it’s brilliant to see all the work this team put into the company.

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January

I know that many Digg users found this update to be the most disappointing. Community members were now only gaining attention based on the number of followers their account had. The old power user system was much better considering it was a shared circle of reciprocity. But the release of Digg v4 broke a lot of old links and functions on the website.

The design itself really works because it is minimalist and elegant. I don’t think it helped Digg though, because their older designs already incorporated more complex features. For many users, this felt like a degradation in functionality. But for another startup or social news community, this layout design could be a creative starting point.

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WordPress

WordPress, the most widely used open source blogging platform, has dramatically changed the entire world. The way we write and share information has changed. Anyone with some money for a web server can install WordPress in less than an hour.

Parent company Automattic has been working diligently to include new features and scale the business with each passing year.

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August 2005

The initial design of the website was very simple and did not include pretty logos. This screenshot is from August 2005. I can recall that there were some adaptations of this design, but they were all very simple using white backgrounds and not many colors.

WordPress started as an open source project, so it was always an initial endeavor. It’s funny how much the website itself has grown.

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August 2008

Now this screenshot was taken from August 2008 and reflects a similar design to the current website. All links from the top navigation tab leading to free themes, plugins and official documentation. I also like how they are using a dark header area contrasted with a bright blue midsection.

This exact style has been updated over time, but the design of the official WordPress website still retains many of these main features.

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eHow

The eHow website is a great place to read about common tutorials. It has been seeded with content since the early 2000s and is currently managed by Demand Media. I really love the current design as reflects a typical online magazine website. But the content is written in an easy-to-follow tutorial format and you might be surprised by its unconventional design style and high-quality written content.

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August 2004

Simple, clean, somewhat small but easy to read. This is how eHow was in August 2004. The category lists were pretty straightforward and you could find related navigation elements designed as tabs on the side.

The design idea is rough, but it works. eHow ran this design for a couple of years until it was finally upgraded to a more modern concept.

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August 2008

I really like what the team did with this 2008 iteration. The title is easy to read and definitely catches your eye. Also, the website actually looks like a tutorial post instead of a mockingly brilliant directory listing.

The home page now uses widgets to list featured FAQs and similar ideas. The sidebar area uses vertical navigation to contain all the main categories. This is quite common on frequently asked questions websites, including Yahoo! Answers and answer bag. But you will also notice that eHow started pushing for more user interaction. The links on the top tabs go to writing profiles and pages to create your own how-to tutorial.

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Delicious

When Delicious was first released in 2003, it was using the URL del.icio.us. Many web 2.0 applications followed this trend of using alternative TLDs to create a shorter word. But eventually the site was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005 and they started using the most common delicious.com.

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August 2006

This initial design from August 2006 shows a very simple bookmarking website. It was already owned by Yahoo! and they still had a popular section on the main page called hot list. This will show how many people have bookmarked each link and what tags are being used. It is somewhat surprising to see a registration form on the home page, but it is certainly a way to attract more users.

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August 2008

Here we are 2 years later, in August 2008. The site has changed a lot, in my opinion for the better. This was probably the best design Delicious has ever used. I remember the the tag interface was beautiful and really easy. The links were in the form of small tags, and when clicked, all the tags marked by other users were displayed.

Definitely my personal favorite design and I think other social bookmarking services could learn from this.

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Flickr

Just as YouTube pioneered the future of Internet video, Flickr pioneered photo upload services. They allowed users to tag sections in the photo, add geolocations, set up photo album collections, and many other useful features. The recent redesign is a big change from previous designs, but it’s still the same wonderful photo-sharing website that we all know and love.

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August 2005

The first design of the Flickr website was basic, but it worked. New users may have gotten confused because you don’t explain the purpose of your website very well. However, you can easily log in or sign up for a new account, browse photos, browse tags, and other common features.

The design was very small and fit the screen. You can also say how old-fashioned the button styles are with shadows that look like blocks and hard edges.

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August 2008

Heading into August 2008, you will notice a lot of changes. Button graphics look a lot cleaner in the first place. In addition, the font is larger and easier to browse from a distance. I feel like this is too much more attractive website design. And this same design style remained the Flickr home page for a long time.

People who used Flickr years ago may remember that their HTML-based search input buttons still retained the same square layout. It was relative to the original Flickr product and almost feels like a typical website brand. Also its only hyperlink scrolling states would change the entire background of the link text which was still a fairly new concept at the time.

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Final thoughts

These sample websites provide a lot of information on the advancement of design trends. The Wayback Machine deserves to stay online for decades, cataloging website designs that will be archived for future review. It’s a wonderful learning tool and a peaceful reminiscent of internet nostalgia.

Web design approaches have grown very rapidly since the early 2000s and I hope we can see even more growth in the years to come.

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Final words: Trip Down Memory Lane: Early Designs of Popular Sites

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