There’s a saying in fashion that “everything old is new again.” Acid wash jeans, overalls, and bell sleeves all ebb and flow in popularity. It seems we recycle the same trends, over and over again. And it seems that the practice of web design has been around long enough to follow suit.
Web design has come a long way in the past 20 years: websites used to be cluttered with pop-up adds and too many design elements. Pixelated clip art and graphics cluttered home pages. Mobile browsers used to only load desktop sites. Web design and optimization have thankfully made website navigation easier – but now, a yearning for simpler times seems to make retro websites all the rage.
Some websites are calling this latest movement “anti-web design.” Millennials, at least the oldest ones, seem intrinsically attracted to the earliest days of the internet, and current web pages are following suit. Clients are increasingly looking for sites with a more bare bones, retro aesthetic. Nostalgic websites are beginning to eschew the sleek modernism of current web design in favor of the sometimes cumbersome, but still hip, browsing days of old. In fact, it’s become something of an art form in tech design circles.
Here are a couple of examples:
Windows93.net, a tongue in cheek reference to Windows 95 (which was supposed to be released in 93), is an art project spearheaded by a couple of French musicians and tech aficionados. They imagine what the operating system would have looked like, had it ever been released.
Neocities is a site by a web entrepreneur in Palo Alto, based on the old web hosting platform Geocities, of the 90s. It allows you to build your own site with retro stylings.
Is Anti-Design Here to Stay?
It’s hard to say why these retro designs are enjoying a heyday – from a psychological perspective, you might say that people are uncomfortable with uncertainty and yearn to interact with the old and familiar. Anti-design could also be an ironic movement that aims to get people talking about the focus on user experience in web design.
In general, it doesn’t seem likely that these retro designs will take off – except for maybe the most tech-minded groups. Intuitive, responsive web design will continue to be the factor that drives conversions and gets more customers into your virtual doors. In the meantime, retro web design can provide some comforting nostalgia for our browsing entertainment.