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Whenever I speak with a potential client, I make sure to mention my web bona fides by letting them know that I have been designing websites since the mid-1990s. For those of you keeping score, this is when the commercial internet took off, and companies had the technology, and incentive, to create their own websites. For print designers, this was a pivotal moment. We either learned HTML and all that came with web design or we watched our business slowly erode. A decade later, the graphic design landscape would be a different place.

To design an early website, you needed to be able to hand-code the whole thing in HTML, which at the time was mind-blowing for my fellow analog artists and me. It was 1995 when Adobe Pagemill and Microsoft FrontPage were released, giving designers a fighting chance in the web design space. 1995 was a big year; Amazon.com and eBay both started in 1995. It’s also the time I got my start designing websites.

I was lucky to be a freelance designer at Alabama Power during those days. I had access to the tools and projects throughout the company to learn the new technology as the company built out internal websites for different divisions. I had one internal client who was not happy with the website I built for him during this time. “It’s too dark, I can’t read it,” he emailed me. I dropped everything and went to his cubicle, and sure enough, it was dark and hard to read. I leaned over, rotated the brightness knob on his monitor, and the website came alive. It was a teachable moment for both of us. I always had control of my print projects. I watched them come off the press and could make changes if needed. With websites, I was at the mercy of the client’s monitor.

Being at Alabama Power also allowed me to work with The Birmingham Soccer Organizing Committee for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I had plenty of paying Olympic projects to work on, but I also donated my time and design work for other Olympic projects because of my love for the game of soccer, and I wanted to be part of something so big in my hometown. I was also able to spend a week at Legion Field as a volunteer during the games, which capped off a great experience.

I was looking through my big box of portfolio pieces when I came across a Birmingham News article from July 1, 1996, 25 years ago next month. The My.Tech section proclaimed this “The Internet Olympics.” IBM had built the Atlanta games a website with an expected 1.2 million hits a day by the time the games started less than three weeks away. The only other venue to have a site was Birmingham.

A photo of the Birmingham Olympic website was splashed across the page of the Birmingham News. A News photographer had taken a picture of the site displayed in a Netscape browser. The main image was created by yours truly. “Birmingham: Site of 1996 Olympic Soccer” was across the top with a picture of the former United States Men’s Soccer Team captain Thomas Dooley battling an unknown Mexican team player for the ball. I illustrated a commemorative poster similar to this layout, but I can’t recall which came first.

I don’t believe I created the website. I think I just provided the image, and local company Tech-Comm hosted the site. Either way, it was fun to see the site in print and take a trip down memory lane. Now it’s time to get back to the websites I am designing today.

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Shawn Wright
Shawn Wright is a graphic designer and podcaster living in Birmingham, Alabama. You can find his design work at shawnwright.net. His podcasts, the Shades Cahaba Oral History Project podcast at shadescahabahistory.com and Alabama Short Stories at alabamashortstories.com. His designs are for sale at TeePublic.com and Redbubble.com.
Shawn Wright
Shawn Wright

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