Stuff & Nonsense product and website design

How have Labour’s general election websites looked since 1997? I found out.

Since, I suppose, the late nineties, every time a General Election comes around, the political parties roll out new websites. Having spent time studying Labour’s 2024 campaign website, I wondered what their previous election websites looked like.

2024

Labour’s website for this year’s campaign doesn’t look much different from how it did a year ago when Sir Keir Starmer introduced the party’s five new missions. Or the year before, when the opposition party was focused on fundraising and membership. Or even the year before that, when Keir Starmer took over from Jeremy Corbyn in 2020.

The flat design fad was at its height, and the party’s designers had fully embraced it with their solid colours and sharp corners.

Left to right: Labour’s websites in 2024, 2023, 2022, and 2021 (Large image)

2019

When Jeremy Corbyn went up against Boris Johnson in 2019 with another slogan about “Change,” the website’s design hadn’t yet lost all its skeuomorphic shadows. But, like Corbyn, it was an unconvincing patchwork of ill-considered ideas. The banner space contained nothing which could convince people to vote for Labour. Instead, it included a newsletter sign-up. The second most important space on the page wasn’t devoted to policies but to a second-by-second countdown to an election everyone knew Labour would lose.

Left to right: Labour’s websites in 2019, 2017, and 2015 (Large image)

2017

Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, and in 2017, he fought a campaign against then-Conservative leader Theresa May, who called a snap election three years before one was due. Theresa May’s gamble didn’t pay off, and she lost her majority. But, despite gaining 30 seats, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t do enough to win the election. As seems to be a continuing theme with Labour’s election websites, there was no mention of manifesto commitments or planned policies, just a vague promise to govern “for the many, not the few.”

2015

Ed Milliband beat his brother to the Labour leadership, and in 2015, he fought a campaign against the incumbent Conservative Prime Minister David (now Lord) Cameron. Opinion polls had predicted that the result would be a second consecutive hung parliament. But, David Cameron won a majority, enabling him to ditch his Liberal Democratic coalition partners and paving the way for the Brexit referendum. Yet again, Labour’s message was “change”; this time, their website design did, at least, include at least some information about what Labour would do to bring it about. It was also forward-thinking in many respects, containing several design tropes we still see today. It also represented the sea change in web design between 2010 and 2015.

Compared to previous layouts, Labour’s 2015 website design was massively simplified. It was the first to contain the full-width (jumbotron) banner we see everywhere today. There’s a three-column content card layout, which directly results from a generic 12-column grid. Then, there’s full-width, centre-justified text and buttons. This website design dramatically differed from five years earlier in 2010, when Gordon Brown lost to David Cameron after over a decade of Labour in power. So, what happened in those five years?

Responsive design was popularised in 2010 but hadn’t become mainstream in time for the election that year. Web fonts were implemented in Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox in 2008, and in 2009, Typekit—the first commercial webfont service—was launched. Google launched its own library of free, open-source fonts in 2010, but web fonts weren’t used in Labour’s design until later.

2010

In 2010, Labour’s election campaign was a disaster. In many ways, its second CSS-based election website design still remained remarkedly similar to previous table-based designs. It had a common layout pattern with a main content column and sidebar. It used system fonts and had an almost non-existent visual and typographic hierarchy, which, at the time, was common. The election returned a hung parliament, and David Cameron took the Conservatives into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to gain power and end 13 years of Labour government.

Labour’s website in 2010 (Large image)

2005

The result was far from the jubilation of Tony Blair’s third consecutive election victory five years earlier in 2005 against Conservative leader Michael Howard, who had stood twice as a Labour candidate in Liverpool. The 2005 design was the first of Labour’s websites to use CSS for layout. Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards book had been published two years earlier, and CSS was already established as the layout tool for the future. Despite being one of the oldest, this design stands up remarkably well. It has emphatic call-to-actions in the header, clear routes for potential voters to take, and information about why they should vote Labour for a third time.

Labour’s website in 2005 (Large image)

2001

Not much remains of Labour’s 2001 campaign website, which was table-based and developed using Dreamweaver and Fireworks for image slicing. (For this screenshot, I reconstructed the original home page from fragments found on several pages saved in the Wayback Machine.) Technically, it’s typical of websites made the same year that Internet Explorer 6 was released, with GIF images for buttons and spacers and Javascript swap-image rollover navigation.

Labour’s website in 2001 (recreated) (Large image)

1997

Barely anything is left of Labour’s campaign website from its victory in 1997 under Tony Blair. It used the domain name labourwin97.org.uk, which wasn’t archived by the Wayback Machine. I could only find a message from after the campaign pointing to Labour’s main website.

Labour’s labourwin97 website in 1997 (Large image)

I’d love to see what that website looked like.


Written by Andy Clarke who tagged this with design, politics


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