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1999 vs 2015: The 6 Greatest Transformations in Nonprofit Web Design

Elliot Rysenbry

We’ve come a long way since 1999. The web has seen multiple updates to HTML and CSS, witnessed the explosion of video, and the meteoric rise in mobile traffic among many other siesmic shifts.

But most of all, it really looks quite a lot nicer now - don’t you think?

Aside from the technical changes and the huge power of HTML5 and CSS3 as compared to their (much) earlier versions, I think we’ve just plain gotten better at design.

Websites are far easier to read these days, incorporating things like nice, sans serif fonts that are easy to digest, narrower columns of text to save your eyes from traversing a 1900-odd pixel screen, and way, way more negative space. Instead of cramming it all on the home page, websites space their content out.

While many of these sites weren’t the best back in the 90s, some were FAR worse than others. 

Here’s a countdown of the biggest and best transformations in web design featuring websites you know and love - including some delightful throwbacks to times long past.



  • 1999 - 2015

6. NPR and the great Y2K scare

  • NPR 1999 - 2015


NPR didn't actually look that bad way back when. However, that tightly bunched text and serif font definitely isn’t all that easy to read compared to the dark grey, sans serif, 1.2 spaced font they use nowAh, progress. Their current website is a gorgeous example of how nonprofit journalistic websites should look.

However, we're far more interested in the Y2K statement. Remember the big scare? Well, here's codified evidence that we all took that stuff seriously. When NPR puts out a policy statement, you know it's the real deal. 



5. American Red Cross with help from Beanie Babies

  • Red Cross 1999 - 2015

On a serious note, you can see their early design shifts firmly away from keeping content above the fold as many 90s/early 2000s websites did. In this case, it's all spread out and scrollable. Also, they actually limited the width of the site in order to make it readable. Of course, it's still crowded though.

But enough of the boring stuff. 

Did you know that the American Red Cross partnered with Ty for limited edition Beanie Babies? We didn't.



In contrast, the new site makes way better use of line spacing, negative space, and general restraint to make their homepage kinder on the eye.

(Full Disclosure: If you're sharp, you might have noticied this is the 2002 website - there isn't an earlier one)

4. The Human Rights Watch, masters of lightweight code

  • HRM 1999 - 2015

Now here's a website that your 56kb/s modem would have handled no problem at all. If you're a little younger, that's a modem capable of delivering speeds up to 56,000 bits a second. So streaming a single episode of House of Cards on Netflix would only have taken about, oh, 20 hours - in ideal conditons. Also you had better hope your mom won't need to use the phone. So no binging back then.

Another classic 90's feature is the grid layout. This super simple code is laid out inside one huge html table tag - once an industry standard way of structuring your content. These days it's all <div> tags and what not. 1999 was a simpler time (and a time with no mobile traffic to concern yourself with). If you're not sure what I mean, open their old website and their new website on your phone.

Interestingly, the use of tables to structure content hasn't disappeared entirely. Modern email templates use the same techniques to create robust, unbreakable layouts. 

Human Rights Watch today uses a grid like layout too, but instead of the rigid table of old, it's responsive and looks great on any screen (although saying a 16 year old website is bad because you can't view it on your iPhone 6 plus seems kind of unfair).

3. Water.org, formerly water partners

  • Water.org 1999 - 2015

WaterPartners had the fortune to grab what must be one of the most valuble nonprofit domain names ever, and has since merged with Matt Damon's H20 Africa to form the Water.org we know so well.

Interesting that both H20 and WaterPartners chose to adopt the name of their domain for their new organization, rather than a variation of either of their former brands' monikers. 

It seems that in the 21st century, a prime piece of real estate like Water.org carries more brand value than a combined brand history of 23 years. More than the visual changes, that's perhaps the biggest shift in the landscape of the web - and business in general.

Of course, 2015's smorgasport of bandwith means big, beautiful images and way more color. Here they are in all their trendy up-to-date website glory. 

2. Amnesty International and awesome rebranding

  • Amnesty International 1999 - 2015

The new Amnesty International site looks every inch the 16 years younger it is. With bright call to actions and vibrant imagery, the era of only text headlines has officially gone the way of the Jurassic.


1. Feeding America

    • Feeding America 1999 - 2015

This is our favourite transformation. Feeding America's website from 1999 is hands down, the BIGGEST contrast to it's 2015 counterpart on this list. Its 90s-ness is pretty awesome. If you're unsure why we feel so strongly, then have a look at these gifs:


The whole website is full of these things. Perhaps a more American website has never existed, what with the flags, map, more flags, statue of liberty, and map-flag combos.

Aside from all that, the color palette, the perhaps excessive gifs, and the marble pattern background effectively demostrate that there is such thing as too much in general. 

All the more kudos to them for their 2015 website, which is a shining example of good design in the 21st century. We even featured it on our list of The 100 Best Nonprofit Website Designs of 2015.


Thanks to all these organizations for being good sports!

You can't really judge anyone on how they looked 16 years ago - especially by the criteria of today. 

Big thanks also to The Wayback Machine, run by The Internet Archive (an awesome nonprofit). 

Looking into the past is fun, so check them out!