A Brief History of Web Design Tools And the original sin

Early Major Design Players

Xerox

Everybody knows Xerox. The name is practically synonymous with paperwork services provided at every corner of your town or city. In the technology-pushing 80s, the team of specialists at Xerox PARC, a subsidiary of Xerox Holdings, introduced some essential modern computing capabilities in office work, including laser printers, early editing software, Ethernet(!), OOP and prototype-based programming, MVC architecture, AspectJ, Interpress, and more.

WIKI: The Xerox Alto is the first computer designed from its inception to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface

Interpress — the first brick of modern design

Xerox PARC came up with Interpress to enable the basic design of pages for printing. Specialists coded the required layout for pages. Back then, the focus was on newspaper printing; i.e., it all started on a pretty large, enterprise-grade scale.

Some Interpress documentation

Adobe

Pioneers in modern printing, Chuck Geschke and John Warnock realized the massive potential of print. They wanted to commoditize it, make it available to people at large.

PostScript takes off

The commoditization effort manifested in PostScript, with freely available specifications and general compatibility with any machine. Anyone could learn it, and manufacturers could simply buy a license and employ PostScript for any of their in-house purposes.

Some PostScript documentation

PDF — Electronic equivalent to paper

In 1993, Adobe released the first version of PDF — a “digital paper” format that makes things all the more accessible and simpler to manage.

“Imagine being able to send full text and graphics documents over electronic mail distribution networks”

All because at its core, PDF is not a programming language (unlike PostScript and Interpress). So it makes it ultimately easy to view and manipulate paper on the screen. And this is how…

Desktop publishing was born.

Design and desktop publishing as we know it was commoditized and democratized. This was the major step of design technologies reaching a mass audience of regular users. And the perfect medium for their applications and implementations didn’t take long to appear.

The wild wild web

The internet was establishing itself as a new medium for a wide range of efforts and initiatives right at the moment when desktop publishing was skyrocketing. The emerging world wide web was a big mess back then where anyone could do anything. This opened massive opportunities for everybody looking to come up with the next big thing. Under such competitive circumstances, browser wars were waging.

Early web creation tools

The early web creation tools were pretty complicated. When there simply weren’t any best practices to let one learn from the “doing it right” examples, it was kind of a trial and error scenario for all emerging solutions. For one thing, there wasn’t a standard, most commonly used browser to tailor content to — there were a bunch of options, all struggling to satisfy users.

Flash

When early web tools like Frontpage, Dreamweaver, and others proved only further to complicate the programming process, Flash came as a major game-changer. Flash was a fantastic world where designers could work in free form and design whatever they wanted.

Designing for the web today: Issues and Challenges

Not many people discuss so eagerly nowadays — how “the original sin” hasn’t changed that much at the core. Yes, we are using modern, digitized visual design tools. And yet, we are still doing everything based on the conventions created in the golden days of printing.

Page paradigm

All the tools we know and design today are built with the page paradigm in mind — they are based on pixels or vector images developed for print — but the internet doesn’t work this way. Working in an environment essentially different from the final medium may not be the best way to do things. After all, the goal is to create a medium-specific output.

Thinking in “boxes”, as opposed to thinking in “papar”

Connection to the medium

The tools we use today try to embrace the “form follows content” paradigm but can’t since they are firmly attached to the dogmas of the past. The design is a shallow wrapper without underlying content, serving more as a decoration rather than a wholesome, meaningful, and impactful element. The design can come out quite abstract when done in some superficial format far from the final product looks.

Collaboration

A common mistake in a full-cycle project is working on design, content, and coding separately. Many specialists nowadays create a design that developers have to adapt to the software architecture and vice versa.

Bridging the Gap Between Design and Development

In the mid-2000s, we shifted to the no-code or low-code revolution. We’re now living in an era where design and the tools we use are changing rapidly.

The future of the web

As promising as the prospects in the market may be, new design tools are still functioning via a printed outlook of the world rather than fully via digital screens. And we still need to do something about it.

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