Web Design is the ‘Window Dressing’ of Today – A Look Back in History

A Blog by Linda Darlene

“When Photoshop came around, I thought I’d died and went to heaven.”
~ Marilyn Minter

Remember how window shopping was a recreational activity at one time? Back then, the ‘dressing’ of store windows was an important way to entice customers into the stores. Likewise, web design has become the ‘window dressing’ of today, with the task of a web designer to design ‘online storefronts’ to grab attention and to entice organic visitors to want to scroll below the fold.  It’s interesting how times have changed. Let’s look back.


Do you remember when you bought your first computer? I bought my first one in 1998, a used Macintosh from a friend who was upgrading. Oh, how proud I was of that computer, and myself for entering the technology age. I felt I had arrived, having gone from word processing on an old IBM PC to the ability to do desktop publishing — which was mainly word processing with style, layout, and color.

Macintosh Classic

Back then, there were old word processing programs like WordStar, WordPerfect, Microsoft Write, and the premiere desktop publishing program, PageMaker. Those were the days, huh? For me, that Macintosh with its WordPerfect and Pagemaker started my career in graphic design, with the designing of newsletters for a variety of organizations.

Only 28 years ago, the virtual technology world as we know it now did not even exist.  On August 6, 1991, the first website ever was created, and by 1993, the INTERNET (interconnected networks) came into existence for the general public. The number of websites in 1994 had increased to 2,738. Nowadays, there are over 1 billion websites, with more and more people building and designing sites of their own.

No original copy remains of the first website, but it sort of looked like this.

Pretty uninteresting, huh? My, how things have changed!

These days, using the internet to ‘shop’ has become a norm, with 93% of online experiences beginning with “window shopping’ online. Studies also show that 30% of consumers will not do business with a company that does not have a website. [1] Imagine trying to sell your goods without having a store!  A business would not seem credible. Likewise, if you have a business nowadays, you must have an online presence to show credibility. And it’s not just enough to have a site; the website has to well ‘dressed.’

Window Shopping

Photo Credit – Chicago History Museum

When I was a child living in Chicago, my sisters and I considered it an exciting outing to ride the “L” (elevated train) all the way downtown to ‘window shop’ with my mom and my aunt. With childlike wonder, we gazed into the beautifully designed storefront windows of the now-defunct department stores such as Marshall Field’s, Wieboldt’s, and Carson’s. Their window dressers each tried to outdo each other with their window displays, arranging the goods within them in such a way to entice buyers to come inside. Oh, how we wanted to go inside — but we were there just to window shop. 😦

Accordingly, web design has become the ‘window dressing’ of today.  Web designers design their ‘storefronts’ to grab attention and to entice customers to want to scroll below the fold to take advantage of the offered goods, products, or services. With so many choices for these website-browsing customers, the ‘design’ of a website becomes even more critical.

So what makes for an engaging and enchanting ‘design?’ Design, itself, is an artistic rendering intended for a specific goal or purpose. It is a plan, a conception, or an outline that is purposeful, and with an end purpose clearly defined. In web design, the plan must include all of the site components, from the header, tagline, introduction, description of product or service, and all the other pertinent details to assure that a customer has all the information needed to make an informed decision to buy.

How a client will navigate a site is also part of the design, but data and functionality are not the only facets of design; we must also consider well-executed aesthetics. What good is it to have great navigation and excellent information if no one is attracted to it? As in window dressing, engaging web design takes balance, alignment, emphasis, proportion, movement, pattern, contrast, and harmony. And getting all these elements right is what makes one site more attractive and pleasing than another.

Below, is a quick video that uses geometric shapes in animated form to visually demonstrate the elements of ‘good’ design.

Beautiful ‘online storefronts’ don’t just happen. They take the planning of many fine details and considerations. Indeed there is more than meets the eye in creating websites so that visitors will want to do more than just ‘window shop.’ -:)


Footnotes
1 – “Do I Need a Website for My Small Business?”Betsy McLeod, Blue Corona

2 – Check out my blog: Aesthetics in Web Design Should Not Be an Afterthought.

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