These days, our web browsers—whether on mobile or desktop—are highly functional and can do all sorts of things that we could only dream of a decade prior.
But despite that, one could argue that the web has actually gotten less creative over time, not more. This interpretation of events is a key underpinning of Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today (Taschen, $50), a new visual-heavy book from author Rob Ford and editor Julius Wiedemann that does something that hasn’t been done on the broader internet in quite a long time: It praises the use of Flash as a creative tool, rather than a bloated malware vessel, and laments the ways that visual convention, technical shifts, and walled gardens have started to rein in much of this unvarnished creativity.
This is a realm where small agencies supporting big brands, creative experimenters with nothing to lose, and teenage hobbyists could stand out simply by being willing to try something risky. It was a canvas with a built-in distribution model. What wasn’t to like, besides a whole host of malware?
I don’t think you can argue that the the Flash era yielded more creativity than, say, the whole of YouTube, but if you restrict the internet to just actual websites, there may be something to be said for this. I remember so many cool and amazing – at the time – Flash projects that you’d stumble across back when Flash was a normal, accepted thing, and those things have gone away, replaced not by cool HTML5 equivalents – as was promised – but by bland samey-samey websites, with far less creativity.
I surely don’t mourn the loss of Flash, but it also wasn’t all bad.