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This is an older article from my early freelance days. I'm writing new ones.

The Evolution of Websites: How 10 Popular Websites Have (And Have Not) Changed

I was in high school in the mid-nineties when I first encountered the ever-expanding world of websites. At the time, I didn't realize that my future career would rely on this industry -- one which did not exist when I was in elementary school. Now in the year 2008, having created websites for over half my life, I look back and see how much websites have changed in the last decade and a half. At the same time, I can see how little they've changed as well, and I've realized that the internet as we know it today is only a teenager, with many years of growth still ahead. So in the vein of change, let's look at ten popular websites and their evolution throughout the last many years. (Note: Click on pictures to view larger size.)

Apple Today / 5 Years Ago / 10 Years Ago

Apple has always championed simplicity and their websites have followed this axiom. Except for their early websites which (like everyone else) utilized the upper-left logo and left-aligned website, all their websites in recent memory have employed center-top navigation, consistently clean layouts, and gridlike simplicity.



Amazon Today / 9 Years Ago

Amazon has changed very little over the years. Amazon has always pioneered retail shopping ease and although they have the least-updated design of any website here, it's probably because it works. In Amazon's case, their first concern is not "cool design," but fulfillment of its purpose (in this case, maximum sales).



Adobe Today / 5 Years Ago / 9 Years Ago / 12 Years Ago

Over the years, Adobe has had the difficult task of portraying themselves as a software company (product information) and as a creative company (imaginative design). It's interesting to see that even their early site have a large amount of images.



CNN Today / 5 Years Ago / 8 Years Ago

At first glance, it seems that a news site like CNN hasn't changed much, but when you look at the layout, typography, and inclusion of new media, you'll see how much cleaner and easier to navigate the current website is.



Nike Today / 5 Years Ago / 8 Years Ago

As you can see below, even their early sites strove to be hip with consumers. The second image shows how in the last several years, most larger websites require international compatibility and like many other companies, Nike requires new visitors to pick a locale. Nowadays, Nike lots of Flash in their site and they continously win Flash awards for these sites.



Yahoo Today / 4 Years Ago / 8 Years Ago / 12 Years Ago

Yahoo defined the gateway/homepage concept and they've always had a text-heavy front page. In recent years, they've really cleaned up their design to incorporate a cleaner grid, uniform typography, and easier-to-navigate content. 


Microsoft Today / 5 Years Ago / 10 Years Ago

Microsoft has always been a technology company with a strong audience among technologists and programmers. As you can see, their past sites have always followed this demographic, disseminating content efficiently as possible. Only in the past couple years has Microsoft's website tried to appeal more to end users as well. 



ESPN Today / 8 Years Ago

ESPN has always followed a simple formula: Show the main stories on the front page, supplement them with links to other popular stories, and then have easy-to-find linkage for every sport they cover. As the years have gone on, they've continued to find more ways to utilize Flash, javascript, and asynchronous technologies to deliver more information in better ways (like the rotating scoreboard in their current site). 



Starbucks Today / 7 Years Ago

Although their website from seven years ago looks dated, it's still much "cooler" than what you would expect from 2001. Furthermore, you can see how it was common for sites to used sliced graphics for their home page back then.


MTV Today / 5 Years Ago / 10 Years Ago / 11 Years Ago

The problem with trying to cater to current trends of culture is that you may regret it in the years ahead. It's hard to believe that they had a Java version of their site and even harder to believe that they once sported a "Best Viewed with IE" badge. In the second image, they seemed to swing too far in the "news" direction, but nowadays, have settled down nicely with their brand.


In Conclusion

Although it's easy to laugh at the past designs of many of these websites while praising current designs, remember that you are a contemporary of today and five years from now, you might think that even these current sites are a mess. Overall, I'm sure most would agree that design standards have been raised over the last decade, and it will be exciting to see what the next ten years hold...

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About Me

My name is . I freelanced for a decade. Now I'm the digital director at FiveStone, a creative agency in NYC. Learn a little more at this vanity site or email me at