The Web Design Concepts That Were Ahead of Their Time

Hard as it may be to fathom, the web has been a part of our world since CERN placed it into the public domain in 1993. And if you were building or browsing websites during that era, you might not have imagined how much design and functionality would evolve decades later.

Using this new and experimental medium, web designers repeatedly innovated and pushed boundaries. There were risks involved – but that’s also what made things fun. It seemed like everybody wanted to play a part in helping the web reach its potential.

In reality, most experiments didn’t work out. Some faltered just as quickly as they launched. At the very least, they could be considered good learning experiences for a young industry.

Yet there were a few trends, tools, and techniques that were groundbreaking – even if it took years to see them that way. Viewing the web through today’s lens, you might say they were a precursor of what was to come. Without them, we might not have some of the slick features we now take for granted.

With that, let’s take a look at some web design concepts that were ahead of their time.

HTML Frames

Here’s how the W3C describes HTML frames:

HTML frames allow authors to present documents in multiple views, which may be independent windows or subwindows. Multiple views offer designers a way to keep certain information visible, while other views are scrolled or replaced.

In practice, frames made it possible to display multiple HTML documents simultaneously. As you might expect, this led to some unique implementations. Some ended up being more useful in the real world than others.

Navigation was one of the more popular uses. For example, a designer could create a vertical navigation UI within a frame located on the side of the screen. Clicking a navigational item would then load the content into a larger frame in the middle.

Headers were also a natural fit for frames. The element could stay in place while the user scrolled through the main content area.

In all, these were attempts at making websites a bit more user-friendly. There was also potential for improved performance, as clever usage could result in images only loading once per session in static frames, rather than each page view. This was a big deal in the days before caching was commonplace.

Looking back, frames offered an early way to create “sticky” elements that stay in a fixed position upon scroll. And while the old HTML spec has been deprecated, we can now use CSS to build these features.

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Michael - Web Developer

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