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I want to build a website for a retro thing that was popular in the mid 90s (beginning of the commercial internet).

So I want use old designs that was very popular at that time.

The first thing that comes to my mind was those "under construction" animated gifs. People often put animated gifs everywhere.

alt text

But also those awful repeating backgrounds.

So yes, I want my website to look exactly like in the mid nineties ;)

(please suggest practical and usable features, I guess an Java Applet menu would not work today, or saying on the bottom that this website is optimized for Netscape 3)

EDIT: for those that wants to see the result: Retrology

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Since there is no one right answer I made this community wiki –  John Conde Nov 7 '10 at 15:42
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13 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

How about how about Bruce Lawson's hilarious css zen garden contribution?

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This is amazing! –  Pierre 303 Nov 8 '10 at 9:55
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The "style" of an early to mid-90s website is basically a website without any style. It's plain to save on bandwidth as well as due to technical limitations of web standards (or lack thereof). Take Amazon's original layout (1995):
alt text

It doesn't have to be gaudy and with tons of animated GIFs or under-construction signs (they were a common sight, but not on operational business websites).

Another good example would be pets.com (1998-2000), which won a lot of awards from the advertising industry for their website design. But I can't find a screenshot of it.

Anyway, even though most of it would be considered poor design these days, there are still both good and bad 90s web designs. For instance, a grey background is pretty "retro", as are a 256-color palettes, 90s clip-art-style web graphics, and Times New Roman type face. Frames are a good throwback as well, as are gopher links and hit counters. But things like midi background music, clashing day-glo colors, stock animated-GIFs, etc. are more characteristic of poor designs than 90s web design in general.

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grey background, 90's clip art, times new roman: slashdot (before redesign) –  MrG Nov 8 '10 at 9:15
    
oh... my... god! +1 –  Andrew Heath Dec 6 '10 at 3:00
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You can take a look at my home page, I did it up very mid-90s. Use old style HRs footers with last updateds are good, that gray background browsers used to have by default. Old style browser icons. Animated GIFs were novel and were all around.

Basically think: geocities/angelfire.

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I like the download Netscape Navigator. –  Marco Demaio Dec 4 '10 at 15:20
    
+1 for mentioning <hr>'s –  Stephan Muller Dec 5 '10 at 20:17
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If you're planning to make a "personal homepage" throwback, forget about using any of those fancy "cascading style sheets" - you won't need them.

Open up your favorite WYSIWYG editor (Microsoft Word will do in a pinch) and throw together something with plenty of colorful text and daring use of fonts (when in doubt, go with Comic Sans).

Remember to use graphics with a "web safe palette" and, yes, you'll be needing plenty of animated .GIF's.

If you want some examples of how business sites looked, however, you're probably better off picking the names of a few brands which still exist today and visiting the Wayback Machine.

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First site that comes to my mind is http://webpagesthatsuck.com/

Look into old school category. By the way, this site is awesome as its proposal: learn design through what NOT do samples.

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Thanks to your link, I found this page: webpagesthatsuck.com/does-my-web-site-suck/… –  Pierre 303 Nov 8 '10 at 8:03
    
Bad web design != 90s web design. And that site has a lot of over-generalizations and misguided/outdated advice, as well as nitpicks that have nothing at all to do with design. IMO, it's much more practical to learn general design principles and best-practices rather than try to enumerate and memorize all the millions of ways you can screw up a a website. –  Lèse majesté Nov 8 '10 at 9:40
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  • Image of website owner
  • Under construction animated gif
  • visible hit counter
  • visible tables
  • repeating backgrounds
  • monospace typefaces
  • generic link colours (blue, purple, red)
  • drop-down menus
  • making each menu item a different colour
  • bulleted lists
  • "Click here!"-links
  • clip art
  • background music
  • grotesque layout (everything is distanced evenly/has same size)
  • Times New Roman typeface
  • heavy, almost psychedelic gradients
  • borders around images
  • everything geocities, basically
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Oh you are just gonna love this.

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Yes that is perfect! –  Pierre 303 Dec 4 '10 at 20:31
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Use the internet wayback machine at http://archive.org/web/web.php. You can search for any site and see a timeline of how it's evolved over the years. Classic examples would of course be Yahoo, Google and the like but you can also pick a blog like Scobelizer, etc and watch how it evolved.

If you know your browser history milestones (Netscape, IE 5, Mozilla, Firefox, Chrome, webkit) you can look at those dates and watch how sites evolved to pick up the new functionality.

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There are few things that I remember :

  • Most of them tend to use frame design.
  • They often had counter to tell you This page has been visited xxx times.
  • They looked like Geocities pages.

For the last point Geocities doesn't exist anymore, however they are some website re-hosting the geocities content. You might want to take a look at them for more ideas.

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mouhahahahaha counters. I LOVE THAT. I used to make some styles for those. They are still poping up when you type my (real) name in google. –  Pierre 303 Nov 7 '10 at 14:56
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Use a Courier font. It's really reflective of the 1950s, but it really feels old.

alt text

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nah, the nineties were all about Comic Sans! –  piquadrat Nov 10 '10 at 20:09
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Interestingly, I think you can achieve your objective without purposely shooting for the ugly stuff, sort of like a classic car that isn't a Pinto. It's not as nice as the new stuff, but you can appreciate it within the context of the day.

Some things I recall:

  • Links must be underlined, blue; visited are purple. (still prevalent)

  • Gray background is a must.

  • Frames were very common, as mentioned already.

  • Contact us often had an animated envelope.

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You forgot that you should have a landing page where you get to chose between "View site with frames" or "View site without frames"!

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Similar to that "hi speed" and "low speed" –  Pierre 303 Dec 5 '10 at 20:43
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Make those low resolution images, made of MSPaint or something! Sidebars with low-res gradients would work too! Annoying bright colors, as well as tons of flashing gifs with very slow development and looped advertisements are definitely shouting "internet @ 90's". Wow, I suddenly felt nostalgic about the old days after looking at Pierre's link. I wonder how it would turn out if one of today's most popular social networking sites were developed during the 90's. Imagine FB, looking like a site from geocities LOL.

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