The web design revolution
Hot on the heels of desktop publishing came a rapid growth in internet use in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For the first time in human history, with internet access it became possible for anyone to reach a mass audience without having to deal with a middle-man like a printer, publisher, or broadcaster.
However, this wasn't what most designers would consider a golden age of graphic design. For the first decade or so of the web, the visual quality of the average webpage was constrained by low resolution screens, low bandwidth connections, and underpowered web standards. And, of course, you don't need an eye for design to be able to publish a website.
And amazingly, until the introduction of Sketch in 2010, professional designers were still creating the majority of their mockups using software intended for photo editing and print design.
Key moments in the web design revolution
1995-2003: Microsoft Frontpage, a package which allowed WYSIWYG webpage creation, as well as file management of a web server. Packages like FrontPage were envisaged as all-in-one design, development, and website management tools, but the industry evolved more specialized roles for designers, developers, and product managers.
1996-present: Macromedia Flash, later Adobe Flash, a deprecated animation and video platform that is now disappearing from the web. Before the arrival of better web standards in the form of HTML5 and CSS3, Flash not only delivered the majority of streaming video on the web, but could also be used to create entire Flash-based interfaces and websites.
1997-present:Macromedia Dreamweaver, later Adobe Dreamweaver, a more advanced website design and development package.
1998-2012: Macromedia Fireworks, later Adobe Fireworks, an image editor aimed at web designers.
2010-present: The release of Sketch in 2010 began a new generation of lean, inexpensive UI design and prototyping tools, with mobile app design in mind in particular. Sketch's pared-down features enable designers to work more quickly and intuitively than in traditional packages like Photoshop. (You can learn Sketch with Sketch 101, our free email course!)
2013-present: Marvel, initially a prototyping app, has since developed into a simple browser-based design, wireframing, and prototyping tool.
2014-present: InVision, a browser-based, collaborative prototyping tool. Pictured here is Inspect, a feature that helps designers hand off their work to developers.
The next revolution: collaboration
For all their sophistication and power, the software platforms that dominated the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s were still focused on the model of a single user, working at a single machine, running a single operating system. This is still the assumed starting point in almost all software design, including otherwise stellar contemporary software packages like Sketch.
It’s pretty incredible to think that in today’s world, where we are constantly digitally connected to one another—and where we talk a big game about collaboration—most designers are still working with software that only allows a single user to work on a file at a time, and offers no real-time insight into what others are doing.
However, this is beginning to change. The most significant step so far towards a truly collaborative design platform is undoubtedly Figma, a browser-based interface design tool that was released in 2015 and just received a major update.
Figma allows multiple designers to view and work on the same project in real time—as well as leave comments, build and view prototypes, and work from team libraries of design assets. Think of it as Google Docs for designers.
Figma also has the advantage of having been designed with true collaboration in mind from the outset. Importantly, this means that its developers are released from the difficult and time-consuming task of trying to integrate collaborative capabilities into an existing single-user product.
This platform is emerging at a time when we are coming to understand that problems tend to be solved more successfully when tackled collaboratively: co-creation is becoming increasingly influential as an approach to problem-solving in the design of healthcare services and other complex systems.
As design educators, at Designlab we’re particularly excited about Figma’s potential to allow students and mentors to work together on assignments in real time.
Collaboration is the next revolution in design software—and we’ve put together a free email course about Figma to help you learn the basics!