The last vestige of the last tab on Amazon.com disappeared yesterday. I didn't see anyone note its passing--the Kindle Fire, flashy and anticipated, apparently out-dazzled everything else--but the tab's death is sad, for with it went a distinctly Amazonian sensibility and a piece of the web's past.
Amazon.com was one of the earliest websites to scale, and so it was also one of the first to attack a number of web design problems. When it branched out from its book business, for example, it needed to give users a sense both of where they were within the site and how to move quickly between its sections. The solution was a skeuomorph: a symbolic design cue that helps the user by imitating an element that, in an older product, used to be necessary.
That is to say, Amazon.com started using tabs.
Amazon's tabs were compact, concise, and color-coded. Steve Krug said it best in his web usability book Don't Make Me Think: "Amazon was one of the first sites to use tab dividers for navigation, and the first to really get them right."
Amazon got a lot of other things right early on, too. It used "vivid, saturated" colors (Krug's words)--a navy, a muddy green, and an orange-infused ocher--which looked distinctive on every screen (these were the days of the CRT). For its main font, it chose Verdana, an elegant, chunky face which was one of the first fonts both Mac and PC users could obtain for free. Its design had the brashness, homeliness and charm of the early web.