This article is the first of a two-part dispatch by Cody Robertson, Creative Director for Polyient Labs, mapping out a decentralized vision for Web 3.0.
In Part 1, Robertson looks back at the early days of the web, identifying key events and elements that shaped web UX — elements that are still being used more than 20 years later.
In Part 2, he will examine where web design is going next and how blockchain technology offers the design and dev communities a way forward as they contemplate the optimal Web 3.0.
Part 1, Web UX Today
By Cody Robertson
There are nearly 7,000 Google searches performed each month for the term “Web 3.0”, confirming there is a burning curiosity around what the next incarnation of the internet will be and what it will deliver.
Although not everyone agrees on what Web 3.0 will be, there is consensus that it will put users back in charge of their information and online experiences.
Web 3.0 is slated to be the next generation of the internet, one focused on creating an optimal user-controlled world wide web, meaning users will firmly have their hands on the wheel when it comes to controlling their data, their accounts, their transactions, their identities and more.
How can you not be excited about the prospect of a web that offers users more control? But — to ensure Web 3.0 delivers on this promise — it’s essential we completely overhaul how developers and designers now build websites. The great news is that, with the emergence of blockchain and “decentralized applications” (DApps), the future looks bright.
It is in the spirit of this luminous outlook, I offer the following, which is something of a call to arms, encouraging developers and designers to fully leverage DApps and blockchain technology to foster the full potential of Web 3.0.
Past is Prologue: Web 1 and 2
To fully appreciate how revolutionary the next generation of our digital interface will be, it helps to take a quick look back to understand how we got to the web we now have.
In the 1990s, British physicist and digital pioneer Tim Berners-Lee created the world’s first web browser, called WorldWideWeb as part of his work at CERN, a Swiss research center.
Yet, despite these advancements, the web remained a scattered, text-heavy, “anything goes” landscape throughout the early 2000s. Data was presented and the information architecture, visual communication, readability, usability and accessibility were almost always treated as after-thoughts.
This initial bare-bones structure slowly transformed thanks to the advent of high-speed connections, faster processors and monitors with more pixels. These advancements liberated developers and designers. Finally, creative types were able to utilize innovative tools to make the web a more human, functional, and accessible space. Creativity flourished.
These innovations helped usher in a more sophisticated “Age of Information” Web 2.0. was introduced in 1999, signalling a transition to more dynamic, commerce-heavy digital landscape where users were encouraged to participate and share content. Content that was once purposeless in its juxtaposition to the web page, now meshed with design, forming logical layouts, user-focused materials and interactions creating an open, interactive digital ecosystem.
Even though two decades have passed since its introduction, Web 2.0 continues to support the day-to-day digital online experiences most of us have come to expect when we log on. We have grown accustomed to the accessibility, responsivity, functionality and overall usability of Web 2.0.
Get Ready for Web 3.0
This brings us to the dawn of the Web 3.0.
Opinions differ on what we can expect for this next incarnation of the web. Some predict it will be dominated by AI. Maybe, but what I’m excited about — as a designer and blockchain proponent — is the promise that Web 3.0 will “return the internet to the hands of users.”
For Web 3.0 to live up to its full potential, we in the design and dev communities need to completely overhaul how we approach and layout websites. Users will also have to reorient how they interact with these interfaces, but we can guide them.
The impetus of this transformation will be the decentralized application (DApp). DApps are applications and interfaces built on (or with) the blockchain. And, while the future of Web 3.0, DApps, and the blockchain in general, all look promising, the current products are already presenting new challenges that developers and designers must overcome now to pave the way for a decentralized future.
History Is Cyclical
Web design in its current state is a balanced art of refinement and remix.
Years ago, the foundation for UX patterns, standards, protocols and accepted practices was established. Since then, we have mostly focused on building on and refining those earlier standards and practices. As a result, in the last decade, the amount of framework refinements — both front end and back end — have exploded.
For the purposes of this article, I will focus on front-end frameworks.
Between 2011and 2013, the age of the responsive web was introduced. Credit goes to Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, two Twitter developers who introduced Bootstrap (originally named Twitter Blueprint). Their efforts quietly transformed web design.
Meanwhile, the web was becoming more mature, focused, and intentional. It became a fact of life that the web was no longer limited to an informational nexus. Instead, the web was seen as a springboard for innovation — especially for companies and organizations looking for creative ways to portray their businesses and brands.
Additionally, with the proliferation of handheld devices, it was no longer acceptable for a site to simply function on only one or two browsers and in a single media type. Instead, a website was expected to function across all platforms, delivering a seamless, human-friendly experience everyone could enjoy whether they were planted in front of a desktop or checking their phone on the go.
We completely expect this in 2019, but in 2010, it was still a lofty goal.
The reasons? At the time, the typical web-based experience lacked uniformity, cross-functionality and viability. In fact, there was no “typical” web experience
Now ask yourself: How much has changed since 2010? Consider uniformity, cross-functionality and viability, circa 2019.
Uniformity — Then and Now
Spend ten minutes looking at contemporary landing pages and you will notice that — while they may be different — most web pages still share the same visual motifs. We all know, for instance, that three dots and arrow attached to an image means that the site has pagination or offers a carousel. Similarly, we have been conditioned to expect tabs and accordions. We‘ve also come to know what a button looks like. No matter how many artistic liberties a designer takes when crafting the button, we know it is still a button.
This is because, after time and trial, patterns have emerged complete with refined looks and feels, and, collectively, we have accepted what works. A long bar with a logo and links represents modern navigation only because consensus dictates it to be so.
As a result, nearly every site designer follows that pattern.
This grand sense of visual continuity is what makes the web useable — uniform use of accepted patterns breeds familiarity, especially with frameworks like Bootstrap, which not only helped introduce these standards, but offered a boilerplate solution for anyone with any design expertise to create a perfectly functional site in a matter of minutes.
Today a website works on any browser, device or media type because that is what is expected. That’s because 10 years ago responsive web design (RWD) was introduced meaning it was no longer necessary to create a new site for each media and different browsers. But in the old days, every device had a different screen size and used different browsers and every browser handled web events, tags, and styles differently. In short, it was a mess.
Again Bootstrap deserves credit for introducing fluid grids, media queries and bottom-up responsive design. In 2014 things improved further when Google unleashed Material Design, a testament to accessible, responsive, and functional design. To this day, Material Design is the foundation for beautiful, cross-functional digital experiences.
In today’s world, you can use the web to control the lights in your home; or render 3D animations real-time in a browser; or even purchase items with cryptocurrencies.
But, before 2010, such advancements were unheard of. Online “viability” was still the stuff of science fiction. Hardware acceleration, GPU’s and browsers offered limited potential.
Today, digital opportunities seem limitless thanks to this proliferation of highly capable and powerful machines. The newest generation of mobile phones easily outperform mid-tier computers and laptops from just a few years ago.
Where do we go from here? What will the next web revolution, Web 3.0, look like? For starters, it will be a decentralized web, which means everything is about to change.
End of Part 1. Read Part 2 here.
About the Author
Cody Robertson is the Creative Director for Polyient Labs, where he oversees the creative direction and brand strategy for Polyient and its portfolio clients. Prior to joining Polyient, he served in senior creative roles at various blockchain startups and agencies in LA, Phoenix and NYC . You can follow Cody on social media @Mackody or find his works on Dribbble.