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April 2023

Dialup, Floppy Disks and Design Before Computers

Dialup, Floppy Disks and Design Before Computers

Do you remember the sound of dialup internet? Did you ever store files on a floppy disk? Can you imagine developing a website on a monitor the size of the lid of an ice cream container? Encouraging business owners to have a website in 1998 was like talking Martian to humans.

The graphic and website design industry has undergone significant transformation over the last 25 years. The rapid pace of technological advancements has dramatically impacted the way graphics and websites are designed and developed; they are now more intuitive, user-friendly, and interactive. We have had to rethink our service offering more often than most, ‘pivoting’ was a word we understood well before COVID-19.

As a child I was always ‘arty’ but growing up in an era where the arts weren’t considered a viable career option, I was encouraged to purse a safer career path in banking. My passion for the arts didn’t faulter and I studied at night to develop a fine art portfolio for university entry.

During my three-year degree ceramics was my passion but my practical up bringing influenced my decision to purse a major in Graphic Design. With no computers or internet in the early years we learnt the art of design through a variety of manual tools including pencils, pens, ink, brushes, and ruling pens. We used these tools to create sketches, layouts, and final designs by hand. By my third year a bank of computers was installed where my classmates and myself, learnt from each other. There were no formal classes teaching us how to use the design programs let alone the computer. We were literally dropped in a room, and it was sink or swim.

With the completion of a Fine Art Degree from Deakin University I gained employment with an internet service provider as a graphic artist and with additional study and computer skills became their multimedia specialist. In late 1997 I was retrenched, providing the opportunity for me to pursue my idea of developing a website for my hometown of Beechworth.

With acceptance into the NEIS program (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme), I developed a business plan for WWWART Design Services (World Wide Web Art) enabling me to approach the bank for a lease to purchase my very first brand new computer, a PowerMac 5500, worth $7,500. I’m pretty sure my first car was cheaper than this computer. Starting an internet-based business in the 90’s was an interesting choice.

Producing a promotional website for Beechworth in the 1990’s was a challenge. The internet was hardly heard of and few could see its future potential, including staff at the Indigo Shire. But the enthusiasm of Tom O’Toole, the then President of the Beechworth Chamber of Commerce, was enough to inspire me to continue. While developing beechworth.com I gained a passion for educating small business operators about the benefits of online promotion and guiding them through the landscape of the digital world.

‘Do what you can to survive until your business can sustain you’, is what I say these days to my mentoring clients.

For me that meant teaching Website Design at Wodonga Tafe. This meant teaching HTML code. In the early days websites were coded using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), there were no pretty pictures or just placing something over there. You had to develop the graphics and then code the structure/layout of the page.

Even though the emergence of Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress have enabled non-technical users to create and manage website content, we find this is not for everyone and doesn’t always produce a workable result. Using an out of the box generic template that is not unique to our clients brand doesn’t fit with our core value proposition of, ‘building a strong consistent brand to grow your business and stand out from your competition’.

Over time, the capabilities and our skills in HTML and CSS have expanded, allowing us to create more complex and dynamic websites with responsive design, multimedia content, and sophisticated animations without using a Content Management System. By offering a fully managed service to our clients, their websites are less likely to be targeted by malicious attacks, have outdated themes, and require constant CMS installation updates. This is just part of how we serve our clients differently as branding specialists in North East Victoria.

With the introduction of Facebook in 2004, again we had to consider our service offering. Social media platforms help increase engagement, build brand awareness, and drive traffic to websites. The landscape of social media is an ever-changing beast and one we even struggle to keep up with. Now days we find ourselves developing social media branded content for our clients to post and landing pages for the promotion of specific services or products that are linked to social media campaign.

In 2005 with a focus on website development and wanting to support our clients better, we purchased our own server to host websites and email and signed up as a reseller/manager of domain names. Now that was a learning curve; remember I have an arts degree. I am no IT expert, but I have managed to navigate my way through, cyberattacks, system updates, technology changes and client expectations.

Speaking of technology, it was the power of computing applications and the implementation of good systems and processes that allowed us to become the fulltime employer of a talented graphic artist who worked remotely. In our industry we often engage freelancers to work remotely but it was still rare to have a fulltime employee 2012 who was not working in the office. Having developed good communication and a trusted working relationship enabled us to adapt quickly to the work from home mandate during COVID. Empowering employees to manage their own workload, communicate what they need and deliver projects of a high standard has been imperative to our business model and success.

One of the most significant changes that has taken place in my time as a website designer is mobile optimisation. With the widespread adoption of mobile devices, we had to completely change how our websites were built. For continuity of business, we learnt responsive design and since 2014 have been developing websites that adapt to various screen sizes, are touch-friendly, and continue to engage the end user visually.

As we know developing a strong consistent brand is my core passion and walking the talk is what we needed to focus on. Rebranding WWWART in 2017 had a huge impact on our business. There is so much competition in all industries now days. The connectivity of the internet has made accessing service providers worldwide easier. Building trust and a strong brand awareness has never been more important to business growth and reputation. Rebranding enabled us to serve our clients better, sell our services more consistently, reduce costs on advertising and quoting, market to new audiences, build better long-term relationships and enhance our referral rate. More small business operators are embracing the benefits of a strong consistent brand.

Since 1998 I have had to work hard to make sure WWWART stays current for our clients. As we move forward, I can see that surrounding myself with a talented team is going to continue to enhance the value of what we can offer our clients. With my experience, and their enthusiasm we will continue to embrace new technologies as they emerge and support our clients to implement solutions that are technically appropriate to their needs. It gives me great satisfaction knowing our clients will benefit from our efforts.

What are you thoughts on the changes of past 25 years? Send an email, we love to hear them.

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