Be amazed and slightly disturbed by this fascinating collection of 20 big brand website redesigns from the earliest archived examples (that still contain content) to today. Some designs you may have seen before while others may surprise you. Which site redesigns do you think have shown the greatest improvement? Screenshots sourced via the Internet Archive & Google.
Google Website Design - November 11 1998
Yep, this is actually the earliest design of Google's home page our researchers could find which is contrary to the pics floating around of the complete Google page that came out a little later and featured their first logo draft. This page is so old it doesn't even have the search box in there, users need to click the first link titled 'Google Search Engine Prototype'. Classic.
Google Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Let's face it, Google's home page may not be the most aesthetically pleasing but it was never aimed at designers. It works due to its simplicity and has helped billions of people discover the internet. Lesson learned - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Apple Website Design - May 8 1998
Hard to believe but this probably looked cool in 1998 and took minutes to download via 56K dial up modem. Do you remember this design?
Apple Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Apple have produced few redesigns over the years however this one is fairly new. Apart from the obvious changes in trends, comparing the two designs demonstrates Apple's shift from being an elite computer supplier that caters to scientists and engineers to a completely consumer focussed and culturally embedded brand. Against the might of Microsoft they prevailed so wether you love or hate Apple's websites, points must be given for their persistent rise to the top. Would be great to see a completely mind blowing site once in a while though... are you reading this Apple web team? We challenge you to build a site that is as revolutionary as your products have been. Let us know...
Twitter Website Design - October 6 2006
We kid you not. This is the earliest version of Twitter that we dug up and it wasn't all that long ago. CSS was first proposed way back in 1994 so the creator of this gem has some explaining to do don't you think?
Twitter Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
We're all so familiar with Twitter these days that their site designs just seem to slip by but compared to 2006 it's a major improvement.
Facebook Website Design - 2004
No list of historic site redesigns would be complete without the thefacebook. Obviously we all love FB but considering their resources from day one (seed money, Harvard connections etc) you'd think Mr Zuckerberg could have brought in a good designer. Que sera sera...
Facebook Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
There it is... the dusty blue color scheme we all know. Don't expect any cutting edge visuals though... FB's excellent implementation of herd mentality over the years have afforded them the power to keep it 'all about the function' while ignoring the form. The emperors' clothes may not be pretty but who needs pretty clothes when you're the emperor? The lad from Harvard took his site to a place most of us can only dream about and that's why FB is where it is today. Kudos to you Mark, you're no graphic designer, but you're damn smart. Nerds 1, Jocks 0.
Adobe Website Design - October 25 1996
If the words "Oh my!" come to mind then you are not alone. Adobe have been the undisputed kings of design software longer than many of today's top designers have been designing so this website design is mystifying to say the least. Wow.
Adobe Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Hello! That's more like it. Interesting to see the emphasis on youthful illustration vs the technical approach to most of the previous versions of their site before this one. What do you think?
Mozilla Website Design - December 12 1998
Mozilla have always had a kind of coolness about their brand and this homepage design was kinda funky for the day thanks to the T-Rex and the chunky use of color. It was also liquid which made it pretty advanced back then.
Mozilla Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Change can be a good thing and over time Mozilla's foxy little Firefox critter won our hearts. The general public only dipped their toes into Firefox but in the design world we all came to appreciate the stability that Firefox brought to a world dominated by Internet Explorer 6. These days Firefox is a little wobbly which has allowed Google's ever-improving Chrome to gain ground but good to see Mozilla have not dropped the ball in the website stakes.
Wikipedia Website Design - July 27 2001
What did you expect? Any text based encyclopaedic style site living in dial-up days has only one choice... no graphics!
Wikipedia Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
There's no denying the effort and dedication that has gone into the Wikipedia project over the years. Their immense efforts have rendered them exempt from having to design a nice interface - but it would be nice if they did... just saying.
Microsoft Website Design - December 5 1998
Yes... hmmm. Well that's Microsoft's site back in 1998. Corporate blue & white colors, multiple bloated menus, confusing... sounds like Windows OS for most of it's life lol! Perhaps that's being too harsh considering they were the pioneers of the personal computer software age. And herein lies the conundrum; how do you pioneer computer software and personal computing but take decades to get it almost right? Some believe Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak got their ideas from downed UFOs at Roswell which is why their products have always had bugs. Nice theory but not a nice website for such innovators. Period.
Microsoft Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Somebody once asked "Why try harder when you're number one?". Well it's that kind of attitude that gets you bad write-ups by people who design websites and apps. Come on Microsoft, give us something other than bland for your next site OK? We know plenty of amazing designers...
PayPal Website Design - January 25 2000
Ouch! What is that? Baby pooh color? Seriously though, considering the vintage of this design it was pretty complex, with the rounded corners and all ;)
PayPal Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Ahh that's much better! Finally someone who cares about their website even though they are number one. Spacious pics, easy scroll and simple chunks of info. Perhaps there is hope for corporate web design after all. Top marks PayPal web team.
Skype Website Design - October 27 2003
Who said history was boring? Just look at this circa 2003 web design with a logo straight out of Photoshop's default brush effects (admit it, you used this brush back then too right?). Not sure about the green color sheme and nor were Skype's designers because they luckily ditched it shortly after this design. Was a good effort at being different though and trying to make something as boring as P2P Telephony into something exciting. Tough sell.
Skype Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Whoa! That's more like it! Check the flow from heading to heading... these guys have obviously considered eye tracking habits, semiotics, color emotion, and simplicity. They seem to focus on 'niceness' and 'friendliness' to entice the user in rather than try to explain anything up front. The site gives the user plenty of opportunities to learn more which is a nice touch considering their success of late.
Digg Website Design - December 11 2004
Digg's 2004 site design is exactly what you would expect for the content and technology available in 2004. Enough said.
Digg Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Somebody slap me! Is this the same company? We had to cut the page content a little to make Digg's current home page screenshot a reasonable size for viewing, it's packed full of articles and things to see. Unlike the sparse first versions, Digg is now positioning themselves as a major source both visually and textually with different layouts of similar content on the same page to create a sense of interest and change. It will be interesting to see where they go next. Watch this space.
Youtube Website Design - April 28 2005
Ugh! Pre-Google Youtube is a shocker and not exactly enticing. Please take a deep breath and quickly scroll down to their current site...
Youtube Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
It's been a slow road to improvement even with Google's resources behind the Youtube phenomenon. In defence of Youtube though, you try building a video serving site that needs to function flawlessly for millions of people at any given time. Finally though, the site is improving in the looks department as the current site demonstrates. Getting there.
Stumbleupon Website Design - June 4 2002
Stumbleupon's earliest versions were cute and and refrained from trying to bog down the user with things like graphics, good content and the like ;)
Sensibly they focussed on getting people to simply click to install their toolbar and ask questions later. Interesting correlation between their logo colors, Microsoft's current logo and Google's logo. Understandable though as simple colors help to alleviate people's fear of technology and may appeal to the child-like explorer in us all. Appropriate and fairly successful in Stumbleupon's case.
Stumbleupon Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Stumbleupon has grown up recently as their latest website demonstrates. The home page still offers the user a single obvious choice - to create an account and get started, so this obviously works for them. The language has changed though with words like 'giant' and 'best pages' used to hammer home their place in the market to anyone who 'stumbles upon' them for the first time.
Intel Website Design - July 31 2009
Intel had earlier sites than this but they were missing too many elements so the 2009 site is where we start and it's a nice start too. Back in 2000 simplicity was all the rage (yes it's back now, we know) and this site was a prime example. Clear branding space, three main menu choices, pleasing color scheme and backed by an image conducive to their core offering. Exactly what you would expect from a large tech company yet this site is a rare bird in the world of mega tech companies.
Intel Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
The competent design work continues and this time with a dash more style. You could be mistaken into thinking they are overdoing their brand color due to the amount of blue in this design but it actually looks surprisingly better at full-screen.
Samsung Website Design - December 30 1996
Aaaahg! Protect your eyes! Welcome to the world of dreadful design. This beautiful piece of work (not) was designed on a napkin then photocopied 50 times before being scanned in and saved as a pure jpg... not really but it looks that way. Ouch.
Samsung Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
OK it's safe to open your eyes now. Much better redesign effort from the ever improving Korean company in this design. Color, space, small chunks of content. Pretty much on-trend although image cropping is not completely working with the images juxtaposed like that, but then the site might start to look too much like Apple's site... ;)
Istockphoto Website Design - October 1 2004
Istockphoto also have earlier sites however they are full of broken links so we dug deeper and found this little critter. Nothing like a dirty amphibian in muddy water to get one in the mood to purchase. And what are those icons for credits... tadpoles? The more you look at this design the more creepier it gets. Moving on.
Istockphoto Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Is this the same company we hear you ask. The answer is yes. In fact this redesign is fairly new at the time of writing this so many of you probably haven't seen it. What do you think?
Smashing Magazine Website Design - November 13 2006
Smashing Magazine are not a 'big brand' so to speak but they are big in the design world. Back in the day the saying was "It's all about the content" which is exactly what the talented folk at Smashing Magazine focussed on with this early version of their hugely popular site. Better things were to come...
Smashing Magazine Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Yes this design has been around for a while now and for damn good reasons. SM took a truckload of great content and made it all completely discoverable via a liquid interface with responsive degradation to die for. Absolutely seminal work from one of the best in the business.
GitHub Website Design - July 5 2008
GitHub's early sites were all business. Not the the kind of site you have over for a Xmas party unless you talk in code but just right for hard core geeks.
GitHub Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Nowadays GitHub understands that the language of visual communication is just as important as programming languages to designers and developers. A clean and attractive redesign takes an already excellent service to welcomed heights. Good job.
Envato Website Design - October 4 2008
Another 'not so huge' brand but one worth mentioning. The crew all remember seeing this design come out back when Envato had a site called FlashDen (now ActiveDen). Apologies for the missing title images (broken links) but it was too nice a design to pass up and is almost useable as-is today.
Envato Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
This is a recent redesign and one that speaks of a relaxed but determined confidence via the colors, layout and text used. The message is simple just like the design, "What we do works. What we do can work for you too. Everybody wins". Nice job.
The Next Web Website Design - June 26 2009
During our search for big brand sites we found this early version of TNW and although they are not quite a 'big brand', we thought it worthy of inclusion. Not sure what TNW were thinking when they threw this number together. What do you think?
The Next Web Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
Today TNW is a major source and their current site reflects it. Being seen as innovators probably puts pressure on the web design & dev team so they tend to sporadically tinker with the site and keep it on-trend.
CSS Design Awards Website Design - August 26 2010
With respect to the big names above, this article was inspired by our recent redesign so we thought we'd share the first version of CSSDA. The traditional two column layout worked a treat for years with our innovative (at the time) tight-grid of screenshot thumbnails that slid away to reveal all details. The design was so successful it has spawned a couple of copycats over the years.
CSS Design Awards Website Redesign as at September 1 2014
If you are reading this now (around the time of writing) then you are currently on this site and are invited to snoop around if you haven't already. For those reading this in the future, the site's focus was on better performance in both responsiveness and file size. The site uses svgs and CSS almost exclusively for all graphics with only the screenshots and award images as bitmaps.
So ends our scroll through 20 historical website redesigns. Hopefully it inspires you to think about your next website redesign and you are welcome to send it on to your clients to get them thinking about their next redesign :)
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Research Source: The Internet Archive.