Creating a modern, professional website can be a complex business, requiring a host of skills: design, HTML, scripting, Flash, graphics optimisation – the list goes on. Which, if you’ve yet to master any of these, may seem just a little intimidating.
Fortunately Xara Web Designer 7 offers a much simpler alternative. It’s a WYSIWYG web editor that includes a host of attractive web templates to get you started, and makes it easy to customise them with all kinds of content, even if you’ve no web development experience at all.
This focus on ease of use is obvious from the moment you launch the program. An “Introduction” website template appears, and just browsing its pages explains how to do everything from changing colour schemes, editing text and rearranging objects, to creating navigation bars, applying rollover effects to photos, or customising your pages with videos, Google Map widgets, and more. It’s a simple way to begin learning the Web Designer basics, and you can view an online version of this demo for yourself at Xara’s site.
Of course the program also comes with plenty of templates in its Design Gallery, each of which have multiple pages and built-in navigation bars. A quick double-click opens your template of choice, and all you then have to do is customise it, replacing the default text and images with your own. There are a few complications here (elements of your templates are on layers, and locked, so they can’t accidentally be changed) but it didn’t take us long to figure out how this worked, and most people should have their first basic site ready in just an hour or so.
After exploring Web Designer’s templates you’ll want to go a little further, and that’s also very easy.
To create a new page, for instance, you can duplicate another with a single click. This is automatically added to the navigation bar, and all you have to do is customise its content.
This could be as simple as adding some text, icons, photos and clipart from Web Designer’s library. And if that seems a little too basic then there are plenty of ways to spice things up. You can customise your text with soft shadows, transparency, or even rotating it, for instance. And as you may have noticed in the demo site, it’s straightforward to create thumbnails that display a pop-up full-sized version of an image when you click them.
The real fun comes when you start adding widgets, though, objects that support dynamic content like YouTube videos, Flickr slideshows, your Twitter feed or latest Facebook updates, custom Google maps, contact forms, RSS feeds, even your own forum. Most of these can be added to your page in just a minute or two, and a host of configuration options then ensures they’re easily adapted to suit your needs.
Despite this, there are limits to how far it’s practical to extend your sites. You can’t manually tweak HTML tags or edit CSS, for instance, which experienced users may find frustrating. And page management features in particular are a little lacking; Web Designer wouldn’t be our first choice for building sites with hundreds of pages. But if you’re a web development novice working on a small project – 5, 10, maybe 20 pages – then the program is more than capable of producing quality results.
Preview, publishing, and Web Designer Premium
When you want to see how your site will appear to visitors, then the Preview option will display it in IE. Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari icons also appear at the top of the preview window, and clicking any of these will open your site in the respective browser (as long as you have it installed).
If all is well, the Publish feature can quickly upload the site to your own web space. Or alternatively, Web Designer will help you create a free MAGIX Online account. This has its limitations (only 500MB of storage and a http://yourname.magix.net/public-type URL) but it’s fine for testing, or publishing simple personal sites.
In use we found Web Designer sites generally looked great, as the program really does live up to its WYSIWYG promise, with pages appearing just as we’d laid them out. This is achieved by individually positioning and sizing every element, though, which makes for bulky, rather ugly HTML source. Most users probably won’t care, but if there’s a need to edit the code manually later than this could make the process more complicated.
Despite these issues, Web Designer 7 remains an excellent WYSIWYG web editor for many applications, easy to use and packed with features. But if it seems a little basic for your purposes, then you might want to consider its big brother, Web Designer 7 Premium, which has improved even more in this release.
Opting for the Premium release will get you tools to create PowerPoint-like presentations for the web, for instance.
There’s also automatic site map generation, a favicon designer, and support for HTML5 video, so you can create iOS-friendly sites that play videos without requiring Flash.
And you get extra widgets, additional site templates, advanced graphics tools and a whole lot more. The list price doubles as a result, but it still looks like good value to us, particularly if you’ll use the new presentations feature – that could justify the extra cost all on its own.
This article originally appeared at softwarecrew.co.uk