Websites, the beautiful webpages that host the content that a lot of us have come accustomed to. Filled with spectacular designs, innovative dynamic responses, and easy to navigate interfaces, the webpages of today are truly leagues beyond what could be possible back in the late 1990s and even the early 2000s. But it would be foolish of me to simply disregard the previous iterations of the websites that some of us use on a daily basis. So in order to take a trip down memory lane, or on a time traveling adventure if you are more on the younger side, we will be taking at look at perhaps not the first website you thought of when I started to talk about websites, mcdonalds.com.
Although it may seem confusing as to why I chose the McDonald’s website as my focus, I found that there was no better way to look at the consumption and usage of websites back in the late 1990s than to appreciate the website of a chain that served food to a vast majority of America, food from an establishment that is relevant to this day. One can appreciate the simplistic yet iconic design choices made for the McDonad’s website back in 1996. The red background and golden letters drive a unique and loud message announcing the place in which you were now currently residing, the McDonald’s website. Once the golden arches are clicked you could see the first indication of who this website was for. The images of a family approaching a McDonald’s location, which was already filled with other happy families, conveyed the image of this truly being a family restaurant. Although the design may appear simple, the cartoon images and bright colors were meant to appeal to families with younger kids.
Once an option is clicked the main site truly starts to unfold its many options and sub pages. Filled with categories ranging from “OUR FOOD” to “FUN STUFF,” “CAREERS,” to even “McSports,” the McDonad’s webpage is meant to fill whoever visits the website will all McDonald’s knowledge. The design is yet again simple and manageable, giving whoever was using the site an easy way to click from place to place in a nice and interactive way. The design is also meant to familiarize users with the design of a standard McDonald’s facility at the time. A general image of what a branch of the restaurant was most likely to look like from the outside to the ordering counter is represented through the first few pages of the site. The site, as you can probably tell from the provided images, was not meant as a site used to order food, but a site meant to explore McDonald’s in a new and innovative way.
Moving over to the fun section of the page, a site filled with even more interesting stuff is accessed. The site is once again easy to maneuver and is filled with links to more sub pages such as “Time Machine,” “McTrivia Quiz,” and “Jingles.” Something that struck me as interesting during this particular site was the inclusion of a colored family that is used as a link back to the main page labeled “Entrance.” This icon is meant to appeal to a much bigger audience than just the average white. Although much of the site is used for exploring and gaining knowledge about McDonald’s as a brand, clear signs of food including the food filling the screen of the computer as well as the meal on the site and the banner with pictures of burgers to the left and to the right is used to sell people on the idea of food. Despite the site’s quirky features and fun pages, the main goal of the site is to sell more food and one can clearly see that through the various imagery of food surrounding every page.
Taking a look at “Time Machine,” “McTrivia Quiz,” and, perhaps the most unexpected of al,l “Jingles,” one can clearly see the appeal to younger audiences. “Time Machine” teaches onlookers about one of McDonald’s famous characters, Raymond Albert Kroc, who joined McDonald’s in 1954. The “McTrivia Quiz” is meant to be a fun and somewhat educational quiz about the history and development of the McDonald’s company and its restaurants. The final and most surprising site of all, the “Jingles” page was packed with two songs which if downloaded, (click on the image above to download the jingles yourself), would result in two of the company’s jingles. Although you might get lost in the weird and exciting pages that the McDonald’s website had, it is worth noting that all fo these last pages were meant sell young audiences on the brand. This was not only a way for young ones to be entertained on the internet but for the company to introduce its store and products to a young and impressionable audience which would for sure result in more sales later down the road.
Screenshot from Wayback Machine
Looking at the 2003 version of the website compared to the 1996 version feels somewhat unreal. Within a relatively short time frame, the McDonald’s website went from a fun place mostly meant at discovering McDonald’s and entertaining children to a site which was for a more mature audience with a global view indicated by the “Country Sites” tab on the first page. McDonald’s as a website was now global and its reach was felt even throughout the USA page. From “McDonald’s Happy Meal” to the now permanent “McGriddles” and even featuring “World Children’s Day” it is clear that the reach of the company and website had changed. Clicking on what could perhaps be considered the most important part of the website, the “Food” tab, the site unfolded a plethora of information. Instead of bright and cartoon images, the site was now catered to a more grown audience exemplified by its relatively simple layout and lack of color for the main sections. Just lots of menus and links to other pages. But that is not to say that its ability to reach children was gone.
Looking at the main page again reveals its catering to children through images featuring the iconic mascot, Ronald McDonald, and a Happy Meal promotion featuring the “Treasure Planet” movie. Despite its reliance on less cartoon images, its iconic bright colors were still a way to attract visitors both young and old. You could now scout the latest McDonald’s toy promotions along with new food items and nutrition information all from one website. The site was now not only used to discover the intricacies of what a McDonald’s was, but after being known by much of the United States, the goal was now to promote and sell products through exposure in its website. From its featuring of “McGriddles” to even “McMerchandise”, McDonald’s was now ready to take full advantage of a means of business that was previously only used to introduce the brand to a growing and maturing market. Their efforts in introducing the site to a young and new audience was probably bearing its fruits right about now. I mean, who does not want McDonald’s merchandise?
Taking a look at the McDonald’s website both in 1996 and 2003 there is a huge difference in perspective and reach. While the 1996 page mainly relied on the spread of the McDonald’s brand rather than serving as a source of sales, the 2003 page can be seen to take on a different approach. By globalizing the reach of the site through different pages depending on the country you resided in and the featuring of more products rather than of the history of the brand, the McDonald’s webpage can be seen as a perfect specimen of a website that changed dynamically to fit a better business model and the user consumption of its products. As a result one can also perceive the type of users that caused these changes. Rather than kids and families with young children being the main demographic for their site, more and more grown ups started to frequent the McDonald’s website in search of new menu options and deals. As an adult you are probably not interested in the latest McDonald’s toys but rather their new menu options. In return, McDonald’s had to adapt into what became their website in 2003 reaching to an audience far bigger than what they could have imagined back in 1996 thanks to the power of the internet.
It is weird to think that websites are not static, they are able to be moved and shaped by the people who use them. To some the McDonald’s website was a place of fun and wonder in 1996, and to others the 2003 version of the site could have been the most reliable source to know which new and exciting products McDonald’s had released. Although both versions of the site catered and offered different option to different public, the purpose remained the same, selling delicious fast food to millions in the US and around the globe. Sites may warp and change throughout the years but the essence and purpose is almost always the same. Thanks to dozens and hundreds of iterations that websites go through, we now have websites that align with the current times full of beautiful modern designs as well as smart and innovative features. The only thing left to do is wonder what the websites of tomorrow will look like. Maybe one day someone will look back and compare their modern sites to those of today and be astonished by our current designs and choices. But hey, that is what makes dynamic objects so fun, you never know what you are going to get.