1998 vs. 2012

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Blog3: Consumption: Web Design Comparison 1998 vs. 2012

Alisa Jia

Marvel is no stranger to a lot of people. This phenomenal entertainment giant has been sweeping around the world. In the past decade, it kept creating amazing commercial success that has been reshuffling and redefining Hollywood industry. Nowadays, in the era of online streaming platform battle, Marvel is one of the strongest IP weapons that guarantees Disney+’s absolute predominance in terms of content richness among all its competitors.

However, most of the public are only familiar with Marvel’s superhero movie series — Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU for short. Before Marvel Studios’ first groundbreaking success in film industry — Iron Man 1 in 2008, which represents the beginning of both MCU and Marvel’s legend across the globe, Marvel was considered simply as a company that sold comic books. By comparing the differences between its web designs in 1998 and 2012, we can not only see a reflection of advance in network technology, but also a distinct transformation of its consumption mode.

Let’s first take a look at its web page in 1998.

To be honest, it is somehow pretty cool, even judging from my current aesthetic taste.

The little gif animation makes it so fancy that it doesn’t even look like an old web page back in 90s.

The pure black background and metallic navigation sidebar add a lot to the futuristic style of the whole page.

Unlike many websites made up of dense blocks of text and hyperlinks at that time, the home page of in 1998 was divided into only several small but clear columns. It largely adopted feature images, and prominent headlines were laid right on them. Therefore I believe it was very easy for users to browse and find the information they needed. It is such a surprise to find out how simple and uncluttered the way this site was designed back in 90s. Marvel was indeed an excellent comics company, that it was clearly aware of the essential role that an intensive use of pictures plays in attracting people’s most attention. Marvel Comics in 90s was able to take the most advantage of visual languages, and eventually created such a stylish website with a design ahead of its time.

One of the main products it tried to advertise in 1998, as we can tell from the page, was its services on AOL. What had it become after 14 years? The answer could be found on its website in 2012.

Before talking about the changes in the positioning and promotion of its services on website, let’s first take a look at the web design. User interaction is very smooth. Three of the popular marvel superheroes made up its background picture. The composition of home page was again pretty simple and clear — Bar icons were moved to the top. Pull-down menu will appear once you move the cursor onto different icons.  Banner headlines with huge feature images presented the latest updates and news flash. Comics information, movies & TV section and news section formed the body together. We can see a significant increase in use of both pictures and texts, resulting in an improvement in not only aesthetics but also functionality of the website. Available content was also largely enriched and amplified.

Transformation of business model

After the success of Iron Man, Disney quickly perceived the unlimited, promising potential of Marvel. It was soon acquired for $4.24 billion in 2009 by Walt Disney Company. Marvel’s product positioning started to transform since then. Its target consumers turned from a group of comics enthusiasts and collectors to the whole mainstream public — anyone interested in new media entertainment services. Many changes intended for this transformation can be found by comparing the web designs.

For example, the focus of promotion had turned from comic books to its MCU movies — more space was used to present updates and news of upcoming movies / movies in production. (two of the three headlines were about movies instead of comics).

What’s more, digital comics had largely taken over the market of physical comic books in 2012.

On the 1998 page, by clicking “The Mile High Comics”, a following page will be presented — its Internet Store, that allowed consumers to search for new comics’ availability and have them shipped home.

Mile High Comics Internet Store in 1999

( is still on today and it still looks like a 90s page lol)

“Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited”

A digital comics subscription service that Marvel had launched on 2012 web page.

Comparison in Fan Community on the two web pages

— from closed membership & fan-led chat room

to open discussion community & official social media accounts

1998: Marvel Online on AOL — Members‘ Choice

2012: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Youtube …

well-made Marvel service system on American Online in 1998
list of fan communities on the website in 2012 in 2012

A good web design always serves for its products marketing. Over 14 years, the focus of Marvel website had switched from simple product advertising (short-term promotion) to content publishing (articles, news…), which is very essential for consumers to develop long-term interest and loyalty. Fan clubs on 2012 site also served the same purpose. I perceive them as an extension of chat room on AOL in 1998 — the social networks that encouraged fans to discuss with each other, share thoughts and provide content. It also offered a space for fans to interact and communicate with staff members. These were all intended to provide consumers with a sense of belonging and identity in this community, that eventually helped Marvel secure a large fan base which led to its success today.

In the end, I would like to share an interesting website that Marvel made to promote its movie Captain Marvel in 2019. 

A delightful, retro website that was designed in “90s” way.

Definitely check it out if you’re interested!

@Lori Lombert, Marvel’s software engineer built this site.


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