How has web design changed in the last 19 years?

Why 19 you may ask. That’s because Catfish Web Design was born in 1999.

Way back then we were called Catfish Multimedia. ‘Multimedia’ was a popular word at the time in advertising circles (my old stomping ground) but it meant nothing really, and we soon renamed ourselves Catfish Web Design.

Back in 1999 websites were mainly the preserve of large corporations but we have always worked with smaller businesses, charities and not for profits. In fact, when we started out one of our target markets was law centres – mainly because of my contacts in that area. We still work with a few pf these organisations, but funding is even tighter now than it was then.

In the ‘old days’ hosting was expensive as was hardware and software. When I set up Catfish I had no coding experience so took evening classes and bought the ‘Dreamweaver’ software. It did work like a dream for me!

There was no such thing as a ‘content management system’ so clients were unable to update their websites themselves. There was pared down version of Dreamweaver called Contribute but it wasn’t easy to use and caused a lot of headaches. I seem to recall that we needed a licence for each client who used it.

Websites were very text based and decent imagery was expensive as there were few stock photography websites. Clients baulked at the expense of engaging a photographer as ‘it didn’t seem worth it’. Imagery really was the bane of my life.

There was a very basic colour palette and online payment systems were in their infancy. We used Worldpay rather than Paypal for years until Paypal cleaned up their act and now it’s the ‘go to’ solution.

Who remembers animated gifs and page hit counters? We tried to avoid gimmicks like this and adopted a ‘clean and clutter free’ approach – a good strapline in the 2000s when people were trying to declutter their lives and their houses. We wanted to extend this to websites.

There was a period when Flash websites were all the rage. Yes, it opened design possibilities with animations and interactive content but was often unusable. It certainly didn’t suit our clients who needed to convey a message about their services or products. Flash was a distraction and hopeless for search engine optimisation.

It did confirm my desire to follow the path of usability and in the early 2000s it was usability that became more important than gimmicks. There was a focus on content, the positioning of elements for ease of use, the user ‘journey’ and intuitively placed information.

In the mid-2000s we got Web 2.0 and the growth of interactive content, more use of icons and a better more extensive choice of fonts. Content was becoming increasingly important along with SEO and websites were really starting to focus on the user.

Today, things are more visual than ever. There is less text, more imagery, flat graphics, a greater emphasis on typography. Plus, we have the ever-growing use of mobile devices which makes us re-evaluate how websites are structured to provide the optimum experience for users. Internet speed also allows for more complexity with design and functionality.

Content management systems (CMS) are a huge advantage as these give people complete ownership over their websites. It goes without saying that every site we build now is on a CMS. Even though social media plays a big part in any business’s marketing strategy, clients need to be able to upload time sensitive information to their website at the touch of a button.

So what about us? How have we managed to stay on top of the game and relevant?

Catfish Web Design has building bespoke websites since we began. We have never gone down the route of using templates. Over the years we have created extremely flexible systems that can be customised to suit each clients’ needs. We are adding to our arsenal all the time. The learning and creating never stops as technology constantly changes. Keeping up with new technology and trends is crucial to ensure we are offering our clients the best.

October 2109 is the 20th anniversary of Catfish Web Design, and we feel the need to celebrate. I started a business from scratch in an industry I had absolutely no knowledge of. I have built a small team of experts who produce outstanding work and I would not be here today without them.

Web design and Catfish has come a hell of a long way!