We have quite a few questions about some web design trends in particular, but I was wondering if you could help me put together a quick reference to what the main web design trends and breakthroughs have been.

I am not looking for a comprehensive list of each trend organized for example by time, I'm thinking more in the lines of 'inventions' that changed web design and development. They can either be aesthetic, like extensive use of gradients, or flat design; or technical like @media queries, @font-face or responsive design. Well, are media queries aesthetic or technical? By themselves, they hold no aesthetic value, but they allowed a whole generation of sites and acted in a way like a trend for a long time.

(Related question: How do design trends originate?)


1 Answer 1


Not sure if this is a good fit for SE, as it'd take a lot of work to make an exhaustive list, but I'll give it a go...

Breakthroughs in web design (not sure these all fit your definition of 'design trend' but they certainly influence what was done visually.)

(In very roughly chronological order...)

  • the invention of the web (Tim Berners-Lee)
  • Mosaic (first web browser)
  • JAVA Applets (I know, crazy, right? But these were the first ways to provide some simple interactive visual elements such as rollovers)
  • Animated GIFs (which are still going strong!)
  • RealVideo/Audio (first widely adopted plugins for streaming video and audio)
  • PointCast (One of the first wide usages of 'push' technology)
  • CSS (finally we has some real control over things!)
  • LiveScript/JavaScript essentially inventing the concept of 'interactive design' as applicable to the web.
  • A mix of early non-web browser content viewers (iTunes, Watson, etc) that pushed the concept of 'universal content'
  • WAP (how we made mobile web sites before the iPhone)
  • Adobe Flash
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver/Fireworks (This really was ground breaking at the time)
  • self-publishing tools (Blogger, Wordpress, MoveableType, etc.)
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, etc.)
  • PNG file format (we were getting so sick of the GIF's limited transparency options)
  • jQuery (what I'd call "JavaScript 2.0"...bringing interactive design closer to the hands of the designers)
  • SVG file format (still has a ways to go, but we finally have a native vector file format for the web)
  • Broadband (DSL/Cable/etc
  • iPhone/Android/Etc (touch interaction, responsive web design)
  • WebFonts (finally!)
  • IE 9/10/11 (seriously...the release of late-model versions of IE has meant we're slowly but surely at the point where no one cares about IE6 anymore--which has been one of the biggest things holding us back for so many years)
  • Webkit (the adoption of a more universal rendering engine by many browsers has been a huge benefit)
  • ARIA (standards to enable much richer interactions but still be accessible web content)
  • HTML5 (which tends to lump in CSS3 as well...a way to create many of the things that in the past relied on plugins)

As for pure design trends, I don't know that there were breakthroughs originating purely from the web aside form the early 'cyber' days where even in print we insisted on using Chicago, zeros and ones, gradients and reflections, bubble type, etc. Fortunately we grew out of that. From thereon, I think design trends were design trends regardless of the medium...they were there on the web, in print, in advertising, on TV, etc.

  • Very nice overview :) But I thought "WorldWideWeb" (later renamed "Nexus" to avoid confusion) was the very first web browser developed in 1990 at CERN :)
    – elegent
    Apr 9, 2016 at 22:01

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