Technology has guided design throughout history. Take the printing press. Before it was invented, scribes had to painstakingly copy books and literature manuscripts. Once the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, typographic design turned from an art that was done a bit differently each time to something that required following more complex systems and rules set by the limitations of the type and press. The dawn of printed books and Bibles helped ignite the Reformation that changed the world and Christianity as we know it. Since the beginning of modern history, technology and design have been strongly linked.
Later, typefaces such as Futura, my favorite, by Paul Renner, became synonymous with new and modern. Futura was even selected as the typeface used on a commemorative plaque placed on the moon during the Apollo missions. The technological needs of the Cold War-era required designers to create advertising and propaganda that spoke to the political and social feelings of the world. Because technological superiority was a major part of the Cold War competition, there was a need for design that caused viewers to think about the future and associate designs with advanced technology and western government.
Digital Art and Design
One of the most dynamic changes in communication that our world has seen since the printing press has been from the computer and the internet. On February 19, 1990, the first version of Adobe Photoshop was released. (Web Design Museum) (Story) At that very moment, the world of design was changed forever.
Now graphic designers could easily manipulate images and text on their computers and see the results in real-time. The relative ease of use and ability for anyone to start creating raised a new generation of computer-savvy designers that could do things digitally rather than just with traditional mediums.
Early Web Design
Later in the early 1990s, HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) was created by Tim Berners-Lee. Before, the internet had been ugly, dominated by terminal-style documents that could only be accessed through primitive methods. (Raggett, Lam, and Alexander) While the internet was still far from what we know it as today, the markup language that forms the building blocks of the web had been created.
HTML is a language that uses tags such as <title>, <a>, <p>, <h1>, and <ul> to define various structures inside of an HTML document that is then rendered in a browser. H1, for example, is the tag used to show the name of a page. (Web Design Museum) It is typically, by default, the largest text on the page. While HTML did provide some design elements such as different header sizes and lists, it was still far from being able to create colorful and engaging content.
AT&T placed the first banner ad on a website by Wired Magazine. (LaFrance) Compared to the <0.1% average clickthrough rate of today’s banner ads (Chaffey), this first banner ad had a click-through rate of about 44%. (LaFrance) If you had never experienced the constant barrage of online advertisements as we have today and there was an image that said “Click Here,” wouldn’t you want to see what it did? I know I would.
AT&T’s advertising campaign that was the parent of this first banner ad focused on all the potential new things that could be done in the future with the internet. It predicted that the internet would be used to tour museums, catch up on the latest tech news, video chats, tablets, e-commerce, and more. (LaFrance) So, you could say that design (and advertising) helped predict the future of the internet and helped open the eyes of the world to what was possible with technology.
Designing the Web
It wasn’t until late 1996 that CSS (cascading style sheets) was created. (Bos) Along with HTML, CSS is one of the most fundamental languages used to create a modern website.
CSS is especially important to design because it defines the styling of a website. Now designers can create designs for websites and transform webpages from looking like Word docs into something with visual interest. (Bos)
The term Web 2.0, first introduced by Darcy DiNucci in 1999, refers to the concept of website content being created and shared by the website’s users. Web 2.0 marked the birth of the type of site we now refer to as social media. Design on the internet is no longer limited to that of web design and photo galleries. Now design can take the form of user-generated content, shared across social graphs or networks, and created by users for other users. (Web Design Museum)
Web 2.0 meant that graphic designers had another role in the internet ecosystem. No longer limited to designing websites, design could then be applied to creating shareable content and advertisements.
Where Are We Now?
Nowadays, the web is in a transition phase. Some web designers, such as ones featured on awwwards.com, are pushing the limits of what the web browser can do. (Awwwards) Web pages can now allow users to interact with and explore 3D worlds, elements on a site can now react to music and sounds, and the line between what can be done in design programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator and what can be coded on the web is virtually nonexistent.
Design is no longer limited to what can be done on paper, in an image, or even a video. Technology has allowed design to outgrow its constraints and break into the world of interactivity. Now design can’t just be static. Design must be living and react to changes made by the user and the environment in which it is in.
Where Are We Going?
Over the past 500 years, technology has driven the mediums for which designers have created content and designed solutions. Over the next 500 years, it’s likely that design will continue to break out of the page and into the lives of viewers. Neither paper nor the browser will be enough, and design will be forced to be integrated into the real world through augmented reality and future display technologies.
Personalized experiences will continue to guide the creation of designs and advertisements to allow design to speak directly to an intended audience with a message relevant to their needs and situation. Technology and design are so closely linked. With great leaps in technology come new challenges and opportunities for designers.
Awwwards. awwwards. n.d. 3 October 2021. <https://www.awwwards.com/>.
Bos, Bert. A brief history of CSS until 2016. 17 December 2016. 3 October 2021. <https://www.w3.org/Style/CSS20/history.html>.
Chaffey, Dave. Average CTRs display and search advertising - 2021 compilation. 24 February 2021. 3 October 2021. <https://www.smartinsights.com/internet-advertising/internet-advertising-analytics/display-advertising-clickthrough-rates/>.
Karman Project. The Space That Makes Us Human. 2021. Web. 3 October 2021. <https://media.karmanproject.org/>.
LaFrance, Ardrienne. The First-Ever Banner Ad on the Web. 21 April 2017. 3 October 2021. <https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/the-first-ever-banner-ad-on-the-web/523728/>.
NASA. "File:Apollo11Plaque.jpg." July 1969. Wikipedia Commons. 3 October 2021. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Apollo11Plaque.jpg>.
Raggett, Dave, et al. Raggett on HTML 4. Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.
Story, Derrick. From Darkroom to Desktop-How Photoshop Come to Light. 18 February 2000. Wayback Machine. 3 October 2021. <https://web.archive.org/web/20070626182822/http://www.storyphoto.com/multimedia/multimedia_photoshop.html>.
Web Design Museum. Web Design History Timeline. 2017. 3 October 2021. <https://www.webdesignmuseum.org/web-design-history>.