Designing Websites Like It’s 1998

Andy Clarke hops in a time machine and designs a website using modern web development methods — if by “modern,” you mean 1998. I used all of the methods he mentions (e.g., framesets, nested tables, spacer GIFs), and so reading this article made me smile and cringe at the same time. I especially liked how he made framesets sound awesome, and that bit about spacer GIFs being “perfect for performant website development” was a nice touch.

There was a point in time where I thought I’d be nesting tables ’til the end of my days. When I stop to think about the methods I used to use, and the methods that are available to me now (e.g., flexbox and CSS grid, powerful frameworks, webfonts), it’s amazing how far web development has come. But Clarke ends his article with a note of caution:

CSS Custom Properties, feature and media queries, filters, pseudo-elements, and SVG; the list of advances in HTML, CSS, and other technologies goes on. So does our understanding of how best to use them by separating content, structure, presentation, and behaviour. As 2018 draws to a close, we’re certain we know how to design and develop products and websites better than we did at the end of 1998.

Strange as it might seem looking back, in 1998 we were also certain our techniques and technologies were the best for the job. That’s why it’s dangerous to believe with absolute certainty that the frameworks and tools we increasingly rely on today — tools like Bootstrap, Bower, and Brunch, Grunt, Gulp, Node, Require, React, and Sass — will be any more relevant in the future than <font> elements, frames, layout tables, and spacer images are today.

This is one thing that I love most about web development: as far as we’ve come, there’s still always something new just around the bend, be it a new specification, some new framework or technology, or something else entirely, that can radically change the field. While it can be frustrating and painful to update and evolve — I shudder to think at how many of my table-based layouts are still out there in the wild, waiting to be converted to something less 1998-ish — it does keep things interesting.

If you enjoy reading Opus and want to support my writing, then become a subscriber for just $5/month or $50/year.
Subscribe Today
Return to the Opus homepage