Kill the splash screen — The Rise and Downfall of welcome screens

Nearly a decade ago, I started my designing career. This was back in 2006–07 and India was just getting introduced to terms like SEO, SMO, and Google Analytics. This was also the time when “Page hits” were considered as a success parameter for websites — no one thought of using social media (Orkut then) as part of their overall marketing plan.

Back in those days, designing for Web or Web design was a “happening” thing. Every fresher around me wanted to be a web designer because being a web designer meant you got to do more than just ‘power clip’ stuff on Coral13 or clean up images on Photoshop. Bottom-line, it was fascinating. By then, Web design had seen the first generation of designs. The era of bright blue hyperlinks, flower patterned backgrounds, and ‘horizontal marquee text’ was over and the next era had begun. Style sheets were more flexible, W3S standards had evolved, and the design world was ready to see the next level of web designing.

The real game however changed in December 2005 when Adobe Bought Macromedia and with that the marquee products of Macromedia ‘Flash’ and ‘Dreamweaver’ respectively became Adobe Flash and Adobe Dreamweaver. The Adobe CS3 bundle was introduced with both the applications, which had a smoother and better integration with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Oh, that was a Godsend for us designers. The following year Action Script 3 (AS3) was introduced. An advanced scripting language for designers, predecessor to its earlier version Action Script 2 (AS2). Now we designers were wearing developers’ hats too. We were conceptualizing, designing, and developing. For a moment, then, we were like Templar knights.

With all of these factors coming together, the country saw a surge of amazingly designed websites or web based designs — the biggest players being E-learning or Learning management solutions (LMS). The clients were situated abroad and, like all other processes, India became the backdoor for generating all the creative ideas. They were sending us layouts in Illustrator and we were developing those in Flash.

The Rise:

It was early 2008, when I first heard the term ‘Splash Screen’. It was some random interview when the guy took a long look at my portfolio (mostly printed stuff) and asked me, “you have a great portfolio, but can you make a splash screen?”

Well, I never got that job but, for the next few weeks, the only thing I read up on was Flash screens. For any young reader who might bump into this article, let me try and tell you how a flash screen use to be like then. You open a website and are welcomed by a super fancy animation followed by a login page or series of images in simple of complex transitions before you actually see the real content. Well, that’s splash screen for you.

Splash screen or Welcome screen (later called ‘Landing pages’) were used to lure your customer into the website. It was like a fancy garden before your doorway which makes a visitor awestruck while he waits for the host (the actual content). A lot of designers including myself mastered the art of making fancy splash screens. I mean, we couldn’t imagine a website then without a login page. This was then extended to landing pages as well — every website use to have a landing page connected to Google AdWords. Landing pages, I believe, are still largely in fashion.

Even though India was going through an era of recession, being a designer then turned out to be fruitful. The designers were asked to do everything. We created amazing button styles, drop downs menus, and, thanks to the acquired knowledge of scripting now, we were coding too. Web developers (.net in particular) were creating just dull and boring stuff, like an online HR portal or something similar.

It was like the time when Infosys and other IT giants rose to power and, for a while, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) was the most important position for a firm while the CEO took a back seat. We designers enjoyed that status. Take 2010 for instance — the highest paying jobs in the designing world was of an AS3 developer because a company’s websites’ look and feel needed to be the best among the rest.

A perfect example is of ‘Bio Agency website’, awarded one of the best websites by Favorite Website Awards (FWA).com (https://thefwa.com/cases/the-bio-agency). It was one of the fanciest websites I encountered during that time, but it had a loading time of 5–10 minutes average with 1 mbps internet speed. Created completely in flash using AS3, the site created ripples in the entire web world then.

However, if you put the same design in today’s context the scenario might be completely different. What brought in this change? In the last five years, the average internet speed has improved by 20–30% per year and yet there’s a decline in the number of creative and fancy looking websites.

One of the possible reasons could be that somewhere that time, marketing experts put in a set of questions across website strategists or product managers to enable these changes. These questions were simple but important — “do you really need a splash screen?”, “Do you want your user to wait for 4–5 minutes to make him see a fancy video your agency created or do you want your customer to go into the content straight away?”, “Do you want a page which just makes your website look good?”

The Downfall

When developers and strategists started answering these questions posted by marketers, they were stuck between the never ending discussions of Design V/S Functionality. The balance of power was shifting towards the latter.

Truth be told, by the end of 2011, customers needed something new — they wanted more control on the interaction, they did not wanted to read about your firm (about us), and, yes, they were fed up of looking at the loading screen.

A lot of external factors too helped the policy makers reinvent web designing in India.

Firstly, Google announced that any website which had Flash banners or anything related to flash will not get indexed henceforth. So, in order to get ranked on Google, fancy animations were eliminated in favor of simpler designs.

The second factor was technology. Google launched Android in 2008 and, in 2009, Apple launched Iphone 3Gs. India was getting a hang of mobile phones which were not Nokia and, boy, we liked it. These products clearly indicated that mobile is the future of the web. By 2010, people owned smart phones across India and Angry Birds had already sold more than 12 million copies.

Suddenly there was a surge of making everything mobile friendly. Say goodbye large screens. Now the developers and designers were working on light websites to be displayed in limited screen size.

Poorly developed Indian IT infrastructure was a third factor. Though 3G came to India around 2008 and was first adopted by MTNL, it took 3 years to actually implement the spectrum with Airtel launching its services followed by other telecom operators. This slowdown was a setback for designers because users wanted something fast and on the go and hence design took a back seat.

Lastly, and I believe the thing that impacted the reinvention of web-designing the most, was E-Commerce. The Indian audiences started taking online shopping a little more seriously. Although EBay was in India since 2004 and Flipkart launched in 2007, the Indian E Commerce actually begin its pace around 2011 end. Because of this sudden rise in e-commerce, a lot of small and medium business started selling things online. The focus was now completely on content or, in this case, the products to sell. The final nail on the coffin proved to be the launch of Amazon in 2013, which actually opened the industry once and for all and pushed the Indian web design industry to a completely new era,

The conclusion

Kill the splash screen if you haven’t done it yet. Start today and go for a website audit. Look at all the pages, which are just design and no content. Even if that means you get rid of pages which highlight “who were the founders” and “what’s your historic timeline”. Shift those to a blog or something. Reduce the number of forms you want the user to fill. Please delete the thank you page.

Be it web or mobile apps, it is the era of customer engagement. Established businesses are getting rid of what we called welcome screens, splash screens, landing pages, login pages, and they are connecting audiences straight to the content. If you are a business owner, digital media specialist, or a graphic designer, open the website you are working on. Put on the customer’s hat and ask these questions.

“Do I actually need this banner?” “Will this banner give me some interactivity or should I do something more?” “Do I actually need a login page as the first page of my website?” “I can ask a customer to register only when he interacts with me. Do I need a separate landing page to link to my tweets?” “How can I reduce the number of clicks on my website?”

When you start answering these questions, you’d realize that web design today is more of a utility than an art. This thought process will enable business owners to ask designers to think beyond imagery and fonts and make things easier for the end user.

Today, the definition of web design is not limited to just making something fancy, the definition today involves web designs is to be interactive, appealing, and engaging. Designers today are constantly challenged to redefine there were work with live analytics telling what went wrong. Long gone are the days when website was mere a corporate identity. Today it’s the way of living and sooner the web designers understand how to kill the smaug (splash screen) the quicker they conquer the lonely mountain.

Disclaimer:

The views expressed in the article above are completely personal and have nothing to do with a firm or product in particular. This article have been written on the basis of individual experiences along with dates taken from various websites.