Perusing the Digital Junk of a Web Designer

If you’re not sure how long you’ve been in the web design industry, take a look at your data. It says a lot about who you are and the things you’ve done.

For someone who started in the mid-90s, my data archive has folders to say. From hand-coded HTML documents to complex (and still sloppy) PHP, the files run the gamut of design fads and technology of the moment.

A lot of it comes from sometime before cloud storage made it easy to move our files from device to device. Moving to a new computer meant creating backup copies on physical media (CDs, DVDs, external drives, and magnetic tapes). This was essential – because you never knew when you’d need a very nice piece of art again.

Just for the kicks, I decided to do some trash diving (er, treasure hunt). I’ve combed through a portion of the digital spam I’ve accumulated over the years. what did you find? What does it all mean? Let’s find out!

old tools

I have a habit of sticking to different apps and scripts that were useful simultaneously. Perhaps they did advanced jobs (for their time) or simply made a monotonous task a little easier.

Some remain useful, while others collect virtual dust. Among the highlights:

FormToEmail-Pro
The PHP form processing script included the ability to set required fields and a primitive CAPTCHA system. All settings are contained in one file. The release date is 2010, so it’s probably not safe to use these days.

NoteTab Pro
Old text editor with lots of useful features. The app does short work of tasks like stripping HTML tags, changing text case, and complex search-and-replace scenarios across multiple files. It was one of the first tools I used to tag my token.

I like this so much that I still use it. The version I’m running is from 2014, but the oldest installer on my drive is from 2004. You can still download it.

eye candy
I first started using this set of Photoshop filters in the ’90s. They allow you to create all kinds of interesting special effects – which can be a good or a bad thing. I’ll admit to making some pretty obnoxious graphics with it. 😳

The product is still around and has survived despite the company being renamed. It installed on my system but doesn’t see as much use as it did back in the day.

HTML font handler and body tag
Before the spread of WYSIWYG tools, this applet introduced useful bits of code. I especially loved it for finding hexadecimal color codes and ASCII characters. This is long gone, but not forgotten.

What do you say about web design
Outside of code editors, tools aimed at web designers tend to be very specialized. And that hasn’t changed much over the years.

Perhaps the biggest shift is in how they are packaged. Many of the jobs that used to be covered by standalone apps are now web-based. This allows us to use it anywhere and on any device.

These one-time scripts are now available via CMS plug-ins. They have also been given a graphical user interface, which is much more convenient than code hacking.

Eye candy photoshop filters

Lots of fonts and various digital assets

In the early days of web design, digital assets such as fonts and artwork were sold on physical media. Buy a set and you’ll be swimming in funny things when compared to what’s available today.

Corel has been a big player in this market. Their products were fun because they also came with a reference book. Flip its pages, and when you see something interesting, the book will direct you to the disk where it can be found. I guess you could say it was an early way to filter the results. 😄

I copied every one of the available fonts – all 1800+ fonts – into a folder. While there are a few classic modes included, most of them look like they came straight out of the ’90s game catalog.

Then there are the thousands of icons, Photoshop brushes, textures, shapes, and vector images. When was the last time any of these items were used in a project? Let’s just say it’s been a while!

What do you say about web design
The topic here is how web design was at the highest level. Before CSS was the force it is now, intense visuals were often used to make an impact.

Creating complex drawings was a common practice. When you search old sites, you will often find crowded wallpapers and futuristic banners. And since the style of web typography was so limited, the designers tended to throw every crazy font they could into the project.

The results were mixed. Even if a website looks pleasing to the eye, it may lack essential clarity. Not to mention the few to no access features. Thank God for the shift towards minimalism.

Font Styles Book.

Projects faltered

Not every project deserves to be included in your portfolio. Some do not reflect the types of clients you are looking for. Others may not even be able to launch it.

Having spent a quarter century in the industry, I was not surprised to find a number of these projects in the archives. There are dozens of sites that no longer exist or are nothing more than concepts.

Among the items that stood out was my personal site, circa 1999 (coincidentally, the same year I started freelance work). The design largely reflects the technology of the time. Created using HTML format and using table layouts. And it measured 602 pixels wide — almost responsive without even trying.

Finding this site was both bittersweet, as I used to take pride in having a personal web presence. But time is running out, and there is not enough of it to prioritize this type of project. Sadly, he’s sitting in cold storage with the others.

What do you say about web design
Being a web designer is an exercise in patience. Sometimes, you need to try projects that don’t work to learn from. It makes you better in the long run.

I can attest to that, as the number of projects in this category has dwindled in recent years. Maybe it has to do with the maturity of the web. But it may also be a result of being a little picky about the clients I work with.

This is the result of applying what you have learned.

Screenshot of the author's personal website, circa 1999.

The history of the web designer, as the files told him

Finally, hoarding files paid off! Joking aside, digging into the past was a fun exercise. It’s something I would recommend to any web professional who has the equivalent of a few years of saved history.

You’ll likely find some surprises, besides items you forgot. Most of all, you will see how far you and the web have progressed over time. It can serve as a comforting reminder as you move forward with your career.

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