Acorn Cyber Cafe (1995)

My first commercial website back in 1995, for fledgling ISP ArgoNet

Published , updated by Richard GoodwinFiled under Web design

I was asked to design my first commercial website back in 1995, when ArgoNet was still starting up.  They wanted to sponsor the Cyber Cafe stand at the big Acorn User show at Wembley Conference Centre, and they didn't know anyone who did web design - because no-one did back then.  I'd designed a game with their programmer Jason Tribbeck in the past, so he found my homemade business card (printed on overhead projector transparencies and cut out by hand!) still stuck to his notice board at home and gave me a call.

This was on the Thursday, they would send the blueprints for the stand that night to arrive on Friday, and I had to get a working site to them by Monday.  Could I create them a whole site in that time frame?  No pressure then.

So here's the thing. At this point in the story I usually say that I'd never designed a web site before, and lied to get the job.

But thinking about it, this also turns out to be untrue.  Although I didn't even have an Internet connection at home (we'd only just got a 'phone line!), I'd been sneaking in to a local university to use their JANET link to download files by command line FTP and look at this new thing called the World Wide Web. I'd created a page based on the TV show The X-Files: I'd even drawn a logo, a greyscale bolt-action rifle, with the barrel replaced by the name of a group of conspiracy theory-obsessed characters on the show.

My "Lone Gunmen" page had precious little information on it, but did teach me one thing that I still trip over to this day: when I tested the page at home, on an offline browser, all the text was in the middle of the page as designed, but on the "proper" computers at uni it was all stuck the the left of the page. Turns out my British-made browser at home was happy with a centre tag, but the rest of the world used the American spelling of center. I still occasionally get caught out with colour/color even now.

Anyway, at the time I said yes, I was terrified that I didn't have enough experience and would get found out, even if the reality was I was probably better qualified than most (I at least had a basic grasp of HTML).  It's not the last time I'd feel that way either.

But after spending Friday running around trying to buy up as many Internet magazines as possible, I had the site complete by Saturday morning, the show was a success, and the Cyber Cafe was due to be shown on BBC television...

Of course they never showed the website on screen once.

Probably due to the weird phasing you'd get from old CRT monitors on an outside broadcast camera, but still, a little disappointing.


Cyber Zone

Although the design was tied to the show, the content got re-used as the Cyber Zone for subsequent shows around the country, and then as the links section of the ArgoNet website.

I remember that I was obsessed with the effect I worked out to create the frost-style text at the top - it was a bug/feature of ArtWorks that text with a large outer stroke, bevelled joins, and an acute angle would lead to big triangles shooting out.

Coupled with a hand-made neon efffect - the same text but with a different colour and smaller stroke, and then a smaller, white version in the centre - I had my new favourite trick, a kind of icicle typeface.