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A Decade of Design Evolution

This entry was posted By Cubert on Saturday, July 10th, 2010 at 3:23 pm and is filed under BoxedArt, Inspiration, Nostalgia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Web design styles have been evolving rapidly in recent years, and the design industry has sprouted up like an over watered Chia Pet, incubated in an industrial green house, and crammed full of Miracle Grow laced with crystal meth. I clearly remember the time (circa 1990′s) when the only sites available to help you put up your website were along the lines of and You got a basic script that did mostly what you wanted, hacked away at it, and tried to figure out how to make some sort of basic layout nesting and re-nesting tables until finally a family of birds moved in.

Themes? Templates? Skins? There were a few “free template” sites around back then, but they were fairly obscure, and commercial templates were virtually non-existent. A script came with one look – plain, and if you wanted to change it, you spent a few weeks in Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop pasting together graphics and inserting rotating gifs. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then you haven’t been webmastering until sometime in the 2000′s when starting up a site had become easier and prettier.

Since commercial template design entered the scene in the 2000′s, the styles on the market have been constantly changing, especially over the last few years. Below, we’ve compiled a comparative sampling from 2001 through 2010 showcasing the evolution of designs. You’ll be shocked at where we started with our layouts and just how far we’ve come.

2001: The Year One Experiment

BoxedArt’s Home Page in 2001

BoxedArt's Homepage in 2001

BoxedArt was introduced in 2001 with just 4 sections: Templates, Interfaces, Mascots, and Photos. There were not many, if any, other commercial template sites around at the time, and we followed the template trend from our network’s free template site. It was really the first time that website owners could purchase ready to use layouts to apply an instant format to their website’s content. Here’s how it began:

One of BoxedArt’s First Templates


This was one of BoxedArt’s first templates. Heck, it was one of the first commercial templates ever released on the web. No PSD files included, no text prefilled in the content section, and no photos used in the layout. Just a simple table based layout with 16 monochrome gifs.

All templates added during this year were from the same designer and followed a similar trend:

Additional First Edition Templates

HighTech18" Template Business21 Template HighTech27

Later in the year, we got fancy and added mascots, banner positions, an text indicating where you placed the content, just in case you were unsure where it went:

Style From End of 2001


2002: From Experiment to Establishment

By the end of 2002 we had updated our look several times. There was a lot of trial and error figuring out what worked and what didn’t. The below site design went through several revisions; we removed network sites, altered the content layout, and we also simplified the template access plans. Previously, it was some awkward mix of download credits + access length. We changed to an “all access system” instead, which was much cleaner. Little did I realize at the time, that we had set the model for what would be copied innumerably, down to the site’s welcome text. Looking back, I’ve also noticed how clear the call to action was on this design, long before I’d heard of that phrase.

BoxedArt’s Home Page in 2002

BoxedArt's Homepage in 2002

The templates also began to evolve throughout 2002, however, the earlier designs of 2002 mimicked those released throughout 2001. The concepts were very simple, and generally provided no text in the content are. However, the graphic quality improved, as did the use of creativity, and we did advance to the level of including .psd files with our downloads:

Early 2002 Templates

Well Built Classic Alien Circuit Ice Power Cash Gray

We also had a few that weren’t created by experienced designers, and these were cruder than BP’s oil spill. However at that time, there still weren’t many commercial templates out there, and these were still proved to be somewhat popular for early 2002 releases:

Crude Mid 2002 Amateur Templates

Meeting Place Modern Office Classic Red Frame Omega

We also introduced flash templates, however the flash effects were extremely underwhelming, and the designers that developed these flash themes were not as adept at website design as the newly hired HTML template designers:

First Flash Template Attempts From 2002

Matrix The Hub The News

In the later half of 2002, we employed the services of more seasoned web designers, and the template changes were more drastic than than this comedian’s response to a heckler. We finally see content filled in throughout the templates, a variety of layout configurations, a liberal use of stock photos, and creative navigation systems. These are the first true commercially viable templates, and some of these styles remain relevant even today.

Late 2002 Templates

Host Planning The Cafe Corporate Technology

Kids Zone Corporate Rat Race Commercial Zone

Beauty Trance Real Clip Art Orchestra

2003: A Glossy New Image

I still look back at the design from 2003 fondly. It was the site’s first layout that wasn’t sort of pieced together. The design was very glossy and candy-like, and we created over a dozen versions and styles for the site, refining the final concept numerous times both pre and post launch. The main category count for product types also ballooned to 12, and the limited edition and custom design sections were added to the site.

BoxedArt’s Home Page in 2003

BoxedArt's Homepage in 2003

In addition to the changes to the look of the site, we also further evolved the template packs with contributions by designers that were years ahead of their time. The designs now contained multiple pages (typically 3-5), more detailed graphical work in Photoshop, and a very wide range of styles; many with a glossy sheen. A lot of the templates designed in 2003 are still in use by websites across the web, and still look pretty professional.

A Selection of Templates from 2003

Tomorrow's Host Furry Friends Amazing Host

Hot Star Power Natural Remedy Lavender Scented

We also learned that we could we could improve our flash layouts by simply animating our HTML designs, and we began producing flash and non flash versions of every template released.

2004: Piling on the Products

There were no major site design revisions in 2004, and instead we focused on rapidly increasing the range and volume of products added. By the end of the year the site reached 24 categories of member products and 6 categories of limited edition downloads.

BoxedArt’s Home Page in 2004

BoxedArt's Homepage in 2004

In addition to adding more products and web templates than ever before, BoxedArt also acquired the talents of even more skilled website designers, and the quality of templates continued to flourish. You’ll also notice that the trend of the era was geared towards more graphically intensive designs; 3d graphics were especially popular.

A Selection of Templates from 2004

Field Trip Game Set Match Gel Fish Inc

Staples of Success Aqua Enterprise 4D Studio

2005-2009: A Move Toward Sophistication

2005 introduced the longest running design in BoxedArt’s history, which stood for four years. For this style, we took the bright candy colors from the 2003/2004 design and integrated them into a more sophisticated concept. We also placed the latest updates across the top of the page to give a visual of the best of the updates, rather than just the update section at the bottom of the page. Additionally, with this layout, we started playing with the “box” theme from the BoxedArt domain name, and integrated it into the logo and the welcome section. As with every major relaunch, additional product categories were also added, and the site swelled to 36 member sections.

BoxedArt’s Home Page from 2005-2009

BoxedArt's Homepage From 2005-2009

During this period we had more designers creating templates than ever before. The designers pretty much had free reign over the creative process, and the concepts ranged from odd and conceptual, to fairly simple and practical. There was still a fair bit of the heavier graphic styles, and a few were more unusual than when the Great Gazoo joined the cast of the Flintstones in Season 6 . We also first began using table free CSS code and validating templates during this time as well.

Chronologically Displayed Templates form 2005 – 2009

Better Back Engineering Development Decor Abstract

Stahl Stark Fashion Burst Radiant Skin

Diagon Boot Cut Dream Organization

Networked Globally Government United Trade Organization

T3 Design Trash Collection Capitol Hill

Area 11 Spanish Experience Scratch and Grind

Speed Skates Casino Bonus Vortex

Tropical Traveler Virtual Vault Inspiring Science

2009-2010: Going Postal

Finally, we’ve reached BoxedArt in it’s present state. The current design was implemented in October 2009, however, the design process for this layout actually began in early 2008. After a year and a half of dull concepts, we decided go with a play on words and make the entire look like a big brown box that had been sent through the mail with stamps, a mailing label, tape, and lots of other related effects. The design was incredibly well received, and a tutorial was also published on the design process, which itself was listed as a tutorial of the year on many popular blog design sites. In addition to the new look, a slew of new categories were once again added (including social media templates such as twitter, ebay, myspace, etc.), as well as a developer document section, which featured custom written and creatively formatted contracts, spread sheets, legal documents, checklists, and many other related items that web developers could use while working with their clients. Further to this, the licensing terms of BoxedArt were also simplified with the introduction of developer plans, allowing website developers to design websites for an unlimited number of clients without requiring a lot of vague alterations to the templates.

BoxedArt’s Home Page from 2009-2010

BoxedArt's Homepage From 2009-2010

The most recent template trend has been to provide the most simply usable layouts possible, while still maintaining a creative spark. We introduced jQuery effects, increased resolutions drastically, added multiple level navigation, and much more. This revolution in template style required documentation to be developed for template designers, providing specific style examples, design trends, jQuery script examples, and sought after themes.

Design Star 5 Band Today's Accountant

Buddy Shelter Drafting Table Honeymoon Hotspot

Diverse Shooting Paper Packages Premium Coverage

Moving Forward

We’re already in the early stages of a new plan for BoxedArt’s design and identity. While there are many great elements with the current layout, there were also a number of missed opportunities that we plan on revising and filling in. We’re also working hard to poll our users to find out how we can improve our template designs and other product sections.

In conclusion, the web design industry has been through dramatic changes throughout the years, and nowhere is this more evident then on BoxedArt. It’s template section is a virtual time machine of design styles, trends, and breakthroughs over the course of an entire decade. I leave you with a side by side comparison with one of our first ever added templates and one of our latest. The evolution is simply extraordinary.

Template from 2001 vs Template from 2010

Ganes2 Relishing Meals

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It´s awsome to see how much web design changed in 9 years :) Thank´s for the post :)

Glad you liked it. Hopefully in the next decade we’ll see amazing changes as well!

Thankyou for this look back into the past of website templates. Its very interesting watching the jumps from year to year as design aesthetic and functionallity changes with new design styles and functions being given to webdesigners and developers. The jump from the beginning to the end of 2002 is astonishing and its interesting to see how designs have become more minimalistic yet more powerful over time. With the introduction of HTML5 and new CSS 3 techniques being discovered, I look forward to seeing where web design goes over the next 5 years.

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