Website Builders unbiased reviews and comparisons of website builders Wed, 14 Feb 2018 10:00:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Website Builders 32 32 The Top 10 Website Builders Reviewed and Compared Wed, 14 Feb 2018 10:00:16 +0000 The landscape of web design has changed drastically over the years. In fact, it’s changed so much that many people don’t even need the help of web developers anymore. That’s all due to website builders, or platforms that give you the…

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The landscape of web design has changed drastically over the years. In fact, it’s changed so much that many people don’t even need the help of web developers anymore.

That’s all due to website builders, or platforms that give you the visual tools needed to construct a professional website, all without the complicated coding bit. These give you almost complete control over your design, while also eliminating the aspects that require tedious coding work.

I personally like to see clean, basic interfaces for some of the top website builders, but it’s also nice to have options where you control every aspect of your site (self-hosted solutions like WordPress).

In this article, I’ll describe the top 10 website builders on the market right now. Some of them are self-hosted, while others pack in everything from hosting to drag and drop page designers.

The list also includes few ecommerce website builders for those who would like to start selling products online.

So, keep reading to get your fix for the best paid and free website builders.

1. Wix

wix website builder

With over 100 million users as of 2017, you can definitely label Wix as one of the most popular website builders in the world. It’s perfect for beginners because of the feature-rich drag and drop builder, and you also gain access to a wide range of Wix apps for extending the functionality of your site.

The Wix pricing is less simple than some of the other options on this list, but you at least know that you’re getting a quality product at a solid price. For instance, the lowest amount of money you would pay is $5 per month to connect a domain.

I’d argue that the most realistic plan is the $14 per month one, but you could also go for ecommerce functionality at $17 per month.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • All you need to do is connect a domain and gain access to free hosting for a few dollars per month.
  • You’d like a full website module for about $14 per month.
  • You need a simple ecommerce website builder without the high price tag.
  • You want the most impressive drag and drop designer on the market. It’s so easy to use and great for beginners and intermediates.
  • You prefer your customer support in the form of FAQs, tutorials, and online resources.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You’re looking for a self-hosted solution with more control.
  • You’re a more advanced developer who wants access to files and more robust website modules.
  • You’re interested in more feature-rich templates. The Wix templates look nice, but they aren’t that advanced.
  • You need more power in terms of ecommerce or marketing.
  • You want to speak with a customer support rep on the phone or through live chat.

Check out our full Wix review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

2. Shopify

shopify website builder

Shopify is your number one choice if you need a more advanced ecommerce store. The only rub with Shopify is it defeats the purpose if you’re planning to create a regular website before the online store. It’s a platform made for online commerce before things like blogs and informational pages.

That said, those selling online will love the beautiful templates, easy builder, and the reasonable pricing.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • Your company plans on selling products online right out of the gate.
  • You’d like to complement your online store with a blog, website pages, forums, customer support modules, and more.
  • You’d like access to one of the most robust app stores we’ve seen.
  • You want access to hundreds of beautiful website templates.
  • You don’t mind spending from $9 to $29 for the more basic website building plans.
  • The idea of the best customer support in the business makes you smile.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • Your plan is to make an informational website, then think about building an online store around that.
  • You would like to self-host your website.

Check out our full Shopify review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.


wordpress website builder is the most popular self-hosted website builder, and for a good reason. Not only do you gain full control over your website files and the hosting aspect of things, but WordPress has a vibrant, active community so you can find support from every corner of the internet.

Finally, WordPress developers make thousands of excellent plugins to extend your website capabilities. For instance, a simple plugin could add features for social media, forums, SEO, email marketing, and much more.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’d like access to thousands of plugins and themes.
  • Your organization wants to self-host the website and maintain full control over site files.
  • You’d like to keep expenses down by going with a free, opensource solution.
  • You prefer researching articles and going into forums for your customer support.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • The idea of no phone, email, or live chat support scares you.
  • You’d rather pay a monthly fee instead of hosting the site yourself.
  • You’re a complete beginner when it comes to website design. It’s not that hard to learn WordPress, but some find it intimidating.

Check out our full review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

4. Bigcommerce

bigcommerce website builder

Bigcommerce is like Shopify, where it allows you to construct a beautiful online store. It’s typically more expensive, but we feel the templates are more modern and focused on specific industries.

Furthermore, you get more built-in features with Bigcommerce, whereas Shopify sites are filled with all sorts of apps.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’re making a website with an online store.
  • You want the best templates on the market.
  • You prefer not to self-host.
  • You like having most features built in.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You want to self-host your website.
  • An online store is not in your plans.
  • You’re worried about revenue-based price hikes (users have complained about this).

Check out our full Bigcommerce review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

5. Weebly

weebly website builder

Weebly is considered a direct competitor to Wix, seeing as how it has an interface designed for beginners and intermediates, and you can get some extremely cheap website building packages. In fact, this is one of the few free website builders, with a $0 basic plan for those who don’t mind displaying Weebly ads.

To get rid of those Weebly ads you have to at least pay $8 per month. The other plans go for $12 and $25 per month, making Weebly the least expensive website builder on this list.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’re interested in a free website builder.
  • You’d like SSL security included with each of the plans.
  • You’re interested in building a small online store to go along with your website.
  • You’d like to have a lead capture module on your website.
  • You value customer support. Weebly has chat, email, and phone support.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You want more than basics like media, maps, forms, and social buttons. This is primarily a website builder for simple websites.
  • You’d like an actual ecommerce system with lower transaction rates and support for more products.
  • You want a self-hosted website.
  • Your idea of marketing is more than email marketing and social media.

Check out our full Weebly review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

6. IMCreator

top 10 website builders

IMCreator is one of the strangest of the top website builders. The main reason you would go with IMCreator is that you receive unlimited hosting, bandwidth, and domain names for free. There don’t seem to be many apps or cool built-in features for marketing or SEO, but it allows for a wonderful design experience.

Overall, this is a website builder made for students, artists, and non-profits. Why? Because those are the only organizations and individuals who can get the free plan, and the sites are made to look insanely beautiful. If a quality design is your priority, check out IMCreator.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’re interested in a new kind of dynamic website building process.
  • You’re a student, artist, or non-profit looking for a free website.
  • You’d like a cheap way to build sites for clients. There’s a small fee of $250 per year to do this.
  • Modern themes are on the top of your list.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You’d like more control over how your site gets designed.
  • You crave more built-in features. IMCreator has options for social media buttons, sliders, headers, and a few widgets, but that’s about it.
  • You want an ecommerce store with actual marketing tools in it. It’s a great solution that supports unlimited products, but it’s tough to market to your customers.

Check out our full IMCreator review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

7. Webs

webs com website builder

Webs has a strong following, and it makes sense because of the strong focus on SEO. I like it best for local businesses, since the templates are designed just for that, and you can target local business with the visual search engine optimizer.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You run a local business.
  • You would like to take advantage of the SEO Booster tool.
  • You want to be able to pick from elegant free and paid templates.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You’re planning on making an online store with more than 20 products.
  • You would like a self-hosted website builder.
  • Some of the plans lack the customer support needed to run a website.

Check out our full Webs review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

8. Jimdo

jimdo website builder

Jimdo knows exactly who its customer base is: smaller companies with limited development experience. The ecommerce tools are limited. So are the themes.

However, a free pricing plan is available, so it’s perfect for smaller businesses.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You have limited knowledge when it comes to development.
  • You run a small business or blog.
  • You’d like to pay $0, or close to nothing for a website.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • Your ecommerce ambitions are higher than just a few products.
  • You’re looking for a website builder with lots of apps or plugins.
  • You have more advanced development experience and would like more control of your website.

Check out our full Jimdo review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

9. Squarespace

squarespace website builder

Squarespace has made a name for itself with the beauty of its templates. The pricing isn’t going to blow you away, but the design process and template selection is one of the best you can find.

The designer is extremely easy to use, but you’re pretty much stuck with the features given. No app store is available. That said, you do have some decent ecommerce tools to consider.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’re trying to find the most elegant, modern templates in the world.
  • You want to make a small ecommerce store to complement your site.
  • You want quality customer support.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You’re running a larger ecommerce site. $26 is fine, but you get much more from Shopify.
  • You’d rather have access to a plugin or app store.
  • You’d like to self-host your site.

Check out our full Squarespace review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

10. GoDaddy

godaddy website builder

GoDaddy is known as a domain name seller, but it also has some decent website building tools.

The GoDaddy website builder is definitely rudimentary, but we like it for those familiar with the GoDaddy interface.

Why You Might Consider This Website Builder

  • You’d like to build a simple website for just a few bucks per month.
  • All you need is a basic, informational website.
  • You already have hosting or a domain name on GoDaddy.

Why You Might Skip This Website Builder

  • You want to make a real ecommerce site.
  • You’d like to make something more advanced than just a few pages to share information on your company.
  • You want the best customer support possible.

Check out our full GoDaddy review to learn more about the website builder and decide whether or not it’s right for you.

Which is the Best Website Builder?

If you’re a beginner without any development experience, it’s hard to not recommend Wix for you. All of these top website builders have visual page builders, but Wix is the most intuitive. If you’re interested in something similar to Wix but with better customer service, go with Weebly.

As for a self-hosted solution, nothing stands close to The plugin and theme selection is enough to make you excited, and most hosting companies have one-click WordPress installation buttons to speed up the process.

Out of the top 10 website builders, Shopify beats out the competition if you’re making an online store. The low pricing, stunning templates, and plentiful ecommerce apps make for a wonderful experience.

And there you have it! If you have any additional questions about the top website builders, let us know in the comments below. Also, feel free to peruse our more detailed reviews once you whittle down your own list.

Featured image by James Loram

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The Cheapest Website Builders Available Online Wed, 07 Feb 2018 10:00:19 +0000 From free to thousands of dollars, website builders are some of the best ways to get online today. Whether you’re making an online store to sell your new sock puppet design or you’d like to run a blog on the…

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From free to thousands of dollars, website builders are some of the best ways to get online today.

Whether you’re making an online store to sell your new sock puppet design or you’d like to run a blog on the topic of neutering pets, launching a platform with a website builder is almost always cheaper than hiring an actual developer to do so.

These simple website builders remove the need to know anything about HTML, CSS, or other types of coding languages. In addition, you can manage the websites through a typically user-friendly interface, instead of paying someone to do the job for you.

As mentioned, you can find some free website builders as well as some inexpensive ones. And many of them are completely capable of making/running smaller or mid-sized stores, blogs, and business website.

In fact, a few of the suggestions we talk about below are high on our list of recommendations, even when you compare them to the more expensive website builders or a human web designer.

Therefore, keep reading to learn about your options.

Why You Should Consider Simple Website Builders

Some website owners are adamant about not using free website builders, and that’s perfectly understandable. However, the simplest builders, like Wix and Weebly offer beautiful design elements, simple development tools, and most importantly, low pricing. You can even make a simple blog or small ecommerce store for free.

So, in order to help you decide whether or not an inexpensive website builder is right for you, here are some possible things to consider. See if you can relate.

  • You have minimal starting capital for your blog or business.
  • You run a small business and the most you’re going to do is make an informational site with maybe a few widgets and ecommerce modules.
  • You’re just starting a blog. Most of the time you have no need to pay much money for a new blog.
  • You’re making a personal site like a portfolio or resume. These sites usually only require a few pages, and you’re not getting thousands of visitors.
  • You don’t want to worry about paying for hosting or setting it up.
  • The idea of messing with code makes you want to cry.
  • You have big plans for the future, but for now, you need to save money.
  • A robust, complex website builder isn’t your idea of a good use of your money or time.

A Word of Warning Before Choosing the Cheapest Website Builders

Although the majority of the list I outline below are pretty solid, you have to keep an eye out for the ones that may be too much of a hassle.

Yes, the words ‘cheap’ and ‘free’, sure sounds like a bargain but you wouldn’t want to get in a situation where the website is running slowly and can’t upgrade to a more powerful interface.

Therefore, here are some warnings when seeking out that free website builder:

  • Some of the cheap options completely block off access to site files and code. This sometimes means that you can’t migrate to another platform once you need to upgrade.
  • Make sure you don’t get stuck in a situation where there aren’t higher performing pricing plans with better features. One day you might have a small blog, but it could turn into a thriving hub that needs more features and better hosting.
  • For most free and super cheap website builders you might have to settle for a website that serves up ads. The worst part is that you don’t get any money for these ads and they typically aren’t relevant to your users.
  • Another downside of some free platforms is that you don’t receive a custom domain. Therefore, you might have something like
  • Sometimes offerings for marketing, SEO, social media, and other items are extremely limited.
  • This might go without saying, but you get what you pay for. Don’t expect a lightning fast website with the most advanced editing tools. Although some of these cheap builders have great options, you shouldn’t expect a website like that of your favorite Fortune 500 company.

And now, here’s the long-awaited list of…

The Cheapest Website Builders Available Online

1. Wix


Pricing Details

Wix offers a free plan that’s mainly for making a personal website with the default domain attached. You can also upgrade to a premium site for $5 per month, which allows for your own domain and a little bit of site space.

All Wix plans are pretty cheap. For example, you can get the Combo plan for $10 per month, the Unlimited plan for $14, the ecommerce plan for $17, and the VIP for $25. The majority of serious businesses would go with Unlimited since it provides unlimited bandwidth and 10GB of storage. Not only that, but it gets rid of the pesky Wix ads that no one wants to see.

The Good Part

All of the WIX plans come with amazing drag and drop editing tools. This includes one of the most impressive frontend designers for beginners. You also don’t have to pay much money just to connect a real domain name, and the Unlimited plan is just about the cheapest you can get for a real website without any ads.

The Not-so-good Part

Wix doesn’t do a good job of giving you access to site files. Although you can upgrade to a better Wix plan it’s tough to migrate to another provider. In addition, some of the plans serve up Wix ads, and the customer support stinks.

Check out our full Wix review here.

2. Weebly

weebly website builder

Pricing Details

Weebly isn’t much different than Wix on the pricing front, except that some of the mid-range plans are a little bit cheaper. Also, the user interface and drag and drop editing is not as smooth as Wix.

However, Weebly is worth looking into since everyone has their own preferences. The first Weebly plan is free, and it comes with a drag and drop builder, Weebly ads, 500MB of storage, and a Weebly subdomain. My favorite part of the Weebly pricing is that the next $8 per month plan removes Weebly ads. You can also connect your own domain. After that, the plans are priced at $12 per month and $25 per month.

There is limited ecommerce support in Weebly, but the $25 per month option has a membership registration tool.

The Good Part

To start, Weebly is a fine drag and drop builder with a sleek interface and a plentiful collection of website modules. You also get an SSL certificate with all plans to secure your website.

I like that you only have to pay $8 per month to connect a domain and remove ads. It’s also nice that you get 0% transaction fees for ecommerce, but that’s only with the $25 per month plan.

There’s also a unique membership tool.

The Not-so-good Part

You’re stuck with Weebly ads and a subdomain in the free pricing plan. Most of the pricing plans have a 3% transaction fee if you want to run any type of online store. Finally, the marketing options aren’t that great.

Check out our full Weebly review here.


wordpress website builder

Pricing Details does have a counterpart called This platform is completely free, but it’s not self-hosted like

When it comes to, you’re getting the best website builder in terms of design and flexibility, all for free. That’s right, the WordPress software is open source and free to download.

That said, you need to pay for your own hosting, which can start at around $3 per month and go all the way into the $100s per month. After that, you’ll need to pay for a domain, which runs around $10 per year. Finally, most people opt for a WordPress theme for around $50. Overall, if you go for a cheaper shared hosting plan, this route is only going to cost you maybe $5 to $10 per month.

The Good Part is free to download and the extras are usually pretty cheap. Not to mention, you can make any type of site, such as an ecommerce, membership, or real estate website. The whole reason you would go with is for more control and customization options. There’s a world of plugins and extensions so your best bet of making a unique and powerful site (without the high cost) is with WordPress.

The Not-so-good Part

Some beginners will find to be a little too complex. It’s not that hard to learn, but you still have to find hosting, manage backups, secure your site, and design the layout of the whole website.

Check out our full review here.

4. IMCreator

imcreator website builder

Pricing Details

If you’re a student, non-profit, or artist the platform is completely free. The premium account for everyone else starts at $8 per month. There’s also a plan for unlimited licensing and white-label support for $350 annually.

The Good Part

Students, non-profits, and artists get to make websites free of charge. This includes unlimited hosting, ecommerce, and no ads on the site. In fact, none of the pricing plans have ads.

Although it takes a while to get used to, this free website builder provides a wonderful design experience for beginners. It seems to be smarter than others on the market, and you can use the themes to make things even easier.

The Not-so-good Part

If you’re not a student, artist, or non-profit you can’t get a site for free. There’s also a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the website designer.

Finally, although the templates look modern and sleek, they mainly look like landing pages or one-page websites.

Check out our full IMCreator review here.

5. WooCommerce

cheapest website builders woocommerce

Pricing Details

WooCommerce doesn’t cost a dime to download, but you might end up paying for one of the many extensions, or a theme that works with WooCommerce. The themes would run you around $50, while the extensions can range from $15 to $300. Most of the time you don’t need an extension, but it depends on your store.

Also, WooCommerce relies on WordPress as a content management system, so you’re also going to need hosting.

The Good Part

WooCommerce turns your WordPress website into a full ecommerce store. Create products, offer coupons, accept payments, and design your shopping cart for the ultimate user experience. Oh yeah, and the plugin is free.

The Not-so-good Part

WooCommerce adds an extra layer of complexity to WordPress. There are plenty of tutorials out there to learn about it, but sometimes you just want a neat little package to start selling online. Also, the pricing gets high if you need a theme or couple of extensions.

6. BigCartel


Pricing Details

BigCartel has a plan that allows for five products and limited features. However, you don’t have to pay for anything. After that, the pricing jumps to $9.99 per month for 25 products, then $19.99 per month for 100 products, and $29.99 per month for 300 products.

The Good Part

There’s a pretty sweet free plan with order management, a quick setup, and awesome themes. You don’t have to get your own hosting, and the designer is solid enough to launch an ecommerce site within minutes.

The Not-so-good Part

There’s no reason to go with BigCartel if you have dreams of making a gigantic online store. Also, custom domains, inventory tracking, multiple product images, Google Analytics, and discount codes aren’t included in the free plan.

Our Recommendations for the Best Website Builder

I’m going to break the rules and choose three options for you: one that’s self-hosted, another that’s not self-hosted, and another that’s specifically for ecommerce.

The self-hosted option is clearly There are some other open source solutions online, but I didn’t care to mention them in this article.

WordPress has a completely free version in the form of, and the version gives you full control over the website you build. Yes, it’s a little more complicated than sites like Wix or Weebly, but all you have to do is pay for shared hosting, a theme, and a domain name.

I also like Wix if you plan on paying for a package where the hosting is included. It’s more feature-rich than Weebly, and the free pricing plan is hard to pass up, especially if you’re only making a personal or small business website.

Finally, BigCartel makes the most sense for a simple and free ecommerce builder. You’re limited to a rather small store, but you can’t beat the ease of use. Yes, WooCommerce is far more powerful, but it’s more complicated to manage.

So, that concludes my recommendations for the cheapest website builders available on the Internet. If you have any queries, shoot in the comment section below.

Feature image by Matt Anderson

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AI Website Builders: Are They Any Good? A Detailed Review (2018) Wed, 31 Jan 2018 10:00:28 +0000 Artificial intelligence in website design? Is that ever going to happen? Well, some AI website designers have actually been around for a few years now. Does this mean that human website developers and designers have to start looking for new jobs?…

Continue reading AI Website Builders: Are They Any Good? A Detailed Review (2018)

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Artificial intelligence in website design? Is that ever going to happen?

Well, some AI website designers have actually been around for a few years now. Does this mean that human website developers and designers have to start looking for new jobs?

What about the companies potentially paying for AI web design? Will they be satisfied with the results? Is there going to be a clear difference in websites created by humans and software alike?

There are certainly many questions about this topic which are left unanswered.

There may be some cost advantages when choosing an AI website builder, but at least for now, human designers and developers can keep their jobs.

Why? Because many beta testers and reviewers have checked out the AI website designers and remarked how terrible the results are.

AI Website Builders: Prologue

The Grid was one of the first AI website builders on the scene, so everyone began freaking out about what this meant for the industry. The Grid promised an interface where most of the physical work was taken out of the equation.

ai website builders

All the business owner would have to do is type in the content they want showing up on the site. After that, Grid would compile this information, choose colors, content blocks, pages, and locations. It has an AI “designer” called Molly to which you can speak.

As the beta testers have explained, Molly isn’t much different than Apple’s Siri, except that Siri answers basic search engine questions or pulls up a music track based on the song title. The same goes for Amazon’s Alexa.

Sure, that’s artificial intelligence alright, but the most it can do is possibly turn off the lights or order more toilet paper for you.

Molly, on the other hand, is supposed to complete processes that take most website developers days, weeks, or even months to complete. In short, AI website builders are programmed to think creatively, not just to complete one simple task.

How Has the Response Been?

The response has been mixed, but it seems like most bloggers, beta testers, and internet users, in general, are split into two camps: Those who fear the robot apocalypse and those who think the AI website builders stink.

The only people who seem to have an optimistic view on AI right now include those who are somehow attached to the AI companies themselves. For instance, if I search for Grid reviews on Google the vast majority of them are basically saying that this technology is not quite there yet.

Some reviewers claim that they’d rather watch this technology fail since it completely removes human creativity and puts it in the hands of an algorithm and computer.

I also checked the results on YouTube too. Since Grid was the most popular rendition of AI website building, I punched in some keywords pertaining to the crowdfunded venture.

Many of the videos are from The Grid company, but most of the other videos seemed to bash Grid right out of the gate. For instance, the second result on YouTube is called “The Grid Sucks.”

One of the reviews is a little less harsh, but it goes through building a website in five minutes using The Grid. Although the reviewer isn’t too critical, it’s clear that the resulting website looks extremely basic, outdated, and inaccurate.

What About the Final Design and Build Quality?

Reviews are one thing, but what about the actual sites being produced by AI website builders?

Well, the sites have a few problems:

  1. Some of the content is so randomly placed that you can’t make sense of it at all.
  2. Most of the websites have far too many media queries.
  3. Much of the code ends up being illogical and clunky. For instance, one developer located a questionable number of classes per element in one of the websites.

I’m not going to post any screenshots or links to websites using Grid or other AI builders, mainly because many of them are from smaller, family-owned businesses. There’s no need to give them bad publicity just for choosing a certain website builder.

However, you can check out this Reddit thread which compiles a decent list of websites made from There are also some comments in the Designernews thread that aren’t mentioned in the Reddit thread.

The Best AI Website Builders Available

We mainly talked about The Grid, and that was because it came out with a bang, had a successful crowdfunding campaign, and seemed to be all over the internet for at least a week or so.

So, here are three main AI website builders that people have been talking about:


Firedrop has focused on building landing pages, which makes much more sense than full websites. It uses Sacha, an AI designer, for accepting your commands and listening to you as you design your page. Once again, the landing pages are very simple, but landing pages are often supposed to be simple, so some of the examples look okay.

The Grid

The Grid has an AI web designer named Molly, which is supposed to learn as it listens to your voice. As mentioned above, The Grid asks for your content, then it creates the website based on what you have said.


Wix ADI is interesting because all Wix users can take it for a test drive. Therefore, you can keep your current site and maybe see if the AI designer is worth looking into. Wix ADI pulls information about your company from the internet, while also adding information into sections, pages, text, and more.

What You Should Stick With For Now

The technology from Firedrop, The Grid, and Wix ADI might be used for other purposes in the future. Heck, they might eventually evolve into something worth looking into for web design. But for now, your best bet is to stick with a human web designer.

If you’re on a budget there are plenty of drag and drop web designers out there such as WIX, Squarespace, WordPress, Shopify, and Weebly.

All of these are wonderful for removing the need to code, and most of the time you only have to pay a small monthly fee for full access to features and hosting for your website. There are even some opensource options like WordPress that allow you more control, advanced website building tools, and self-hosting choices.

Therefore, we recommend checking out these reviews of website builders before you make a choice:

Featured image by Oleg Erin

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Simple Tips for Improving Your Workflow Mon, 20 Nov 2017 11:01:04 +0000 Time is a precious commodity, so anything we can do to make our workflow more efficient has got to be a good thing. In this article, we’ll take a look at some simple ideas and tools that can help speed…

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Time is a precious commodity, so anything we can do to make our workflow more efficient has got to be a good thing. In this article, we’ll take a look at some simple ideas and tools that can help speed up your production time.

Use server side scripting properly

The benefits of server side scripting languages such as PHP and ASP are well known. By using them, your website becomes easier to maintain, although you do need to have a good understanding of how all the different parts of your site fit together.

Even though many people are already using languages like PHP, not everyone is using them properly. As a result, there is still a lot of unnecessary duplication of code, and unnecessary markup included in the files.

You need to look at the files you use on your site, detect instances of duplication, and attempt to resolve them. This is a process called “normalization”, which is a term normally applied to databases but is equally relevant to web documents.

Your goal is to find the most efficient way to serve and maintain the content. For example, some sites use multiple header files for their web pages because there are tiny differences between what needs to be in the header section for different pages.

A more efficient way to do this is to use a conditional block to change the relevant part when the page is assembled.

If you have multiple versions of a file where only portions of each one are modified, as in the example above where only the language, description, and title are changed, this is inefficient .

Using programming techniques to selectively substitute the modified portions from a single file is the right way to do it. The next image demonstrates one way to do this.

Using conditional blocks allows multiple versions of a file to be stored in one file, and this way it is both easier to maintain and makes more efficient use of file storage.

Edit multiple documents at the same time

Using server side scripting is a good start for reducing duplication and improving efficiency, but there can still be times when you need to make a certain change within multiple documents.

The way most people handle this need is to open each file one by one and make the required changes. What they don’t know is that many applications for code editing have a feature that lets you apply the same change to many documents at once.

For example in the popular Geany code editor, when you use the “Replace” feature (pictured above), you have the choice to:

  • selectively verify each replacement as it is made
  • automatically replace every instance within a selected block
  • automatically replace every instance within a single documented
  • automatically replace every instance within multiple documents

That last option can be quite powerful. To use it safely, you need to make sure that all the documents you need to modify are open, and that they are the only documents open in the session.

To verify each change in a document as it is made, you would click on the “Replace & Find” button.

To change all instances in a selected block, you would click on the “In Selection” button.

To change all instances in a single document without manually verifying each replacement, you would click the “In Document” button.

To change all the instances in every document open in the current session, you would click the “In Session” button.

 You can replace entire code blocks

Sticking with the matter of Find & Replace, the most common use for this feature is to replace single words, but in fact it is possible to replace entire blocks of code.

What you need to do in this case is copy and paste the entire block you want to modify into the “Find” box (all line breaks will show as either the “linefeed” character or the “linefeed and return” character), and then copy and paste the substitute text into the “Replace” box.

If you are manually typing the substitute text, make sure to copy the relevant linefeed character used in your document so you can paste it where it’s needed.

Edit multiple images at one time

The cross-platform ImageMagick application has a powerful ability to make changes to multiple images in a directory.

Primarily a command line tool with a limited GUI, it can take a while to learn how to master the features of it, but it is the fastest and easiest way to achieve the goal.

Almost anything you might want to do with an image in a graphical image editor can be done in Image Magick.

Bulk rename files

There are many different bulk renaming utilities out there. The one with the best features is called simply “Bulk Renamer”.

It is included with the XFCE desktop environment package, and is part of the Thunar file manager, although it can be run independently of either of these systems.

The trade-off is that you’ll have to install at least Thunar, and on some systems you may have to install XFCE.

You can either manually start Bulk Renamer from the start menu, a launcher, or the command line, or you can start a Thunar file manager session, select a group of files and then right-click and select “rename”.

If you are still in your Windows User phase, or you’re required to use Windows in your workplace, there is a limited equivalent to Bulk Renamer built into Windows Explorer.

You follow the same steps that you would in Thunar, but it will only provide enumerated file renaming.

There are third party software applications that can be used for more sophisticated renaming options, but in Windows malware is always a risk. The following list includes renamer utilities that work on Windows and are also open source:

A closed source alternative for Windows is Bulk Rename Utility, which is a very powerful application with a slightly overwhelming interface. Even though the name is almost the same as the Thunar equivalent, the two applications are poles apart in terms of simplicity.

Mac OS X has a built-in utility called Finder that includes bulk renaming ability as one of its core features. It is more powerful and flexible than the Windows Explorer renaming feature.

Create your own custom HTML tags

If you find you are constantly entering blocks like this:

<p style=”font-size: 1.2em;”>

This is some <span class=”fancy”>fancy</span> text.


You can cut down a lot of key strokes by converting your classes tags. So if you have some CSS like this:


@import url(‘’);


text-transform: uppercase;

font-weight: bold;



You can modify it to this:


@import url(‘’);


text-transform: uppercase;

font-weight: bold;

font-family: ‘Lobster’, cursive;



And then you can type your block like this:

<p style=”font-size: 1.2em;”>

This is some <fancy>fancy</fancy> text.


Just this small change (removing the dot so the class if converted to a tag) can save you a lot of time if you constantly use the same classes in a document.

header image courtesy of 

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Tips for Simplifying Your Site Navigation Mon, 09 Oct 2017 07:14:49 +0000 What happens on projects once the wrong path is started on is that we’re usually reluctant to turn back even if we don’t feel quite right about the direction we’re heading in. The problem gathers momentum the more time or…

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What happens on projects once the wrong path is started on is that we’re usually reluctant to turn back even if we don’t feel quite right about the direction we’re heading in. The problem gathers momentum the more time or money that has been invested into following the wrong path.

It is essential to overcome that hesitation. If a poor navigation structure is going to introduce usability issues (such as the case in the example site for this article), we need to fix that wrong structure instead of continuing to develop the site.

If we don’t, it will be more difficult to repair the damage later. When designing or redesigning navigation, we need to remember the needs of the user come first.

Complex navigation structures are rarely necessary. We just think they are when we first create them. What you need to always be doing is asking yourself if there isn’t a simpler way to achieve the same goal.

If there is a simpler way, you need to use it, because anything else, no matter how impressive it looks, will cost you more than it benefits you in the long run. In this article, we’ll use a live website example for simplifying a complex navigation structure to improve usability.

Step 1: Examine the existing design

The problem we are starting with is that the existing navigation design has excess complexity. In the case of the example site that we’re redeveloping for this project, that complexity seemed necessary, but only because a better way wasn’t immediately obvious.

First it will help to understand why the original navigation was complex in the first place. The subject site is a tutorial site, and the subject matter of the tutorials is for a rather complicated system.

Because the site uses a live emulator of the subject system for the student to learn on, it means we can’t (or shouldn’t) navigate from page to page. We need to display content by inserting it inline to avoid reloading the system constantly and having to save the system state.

Navigation links therefore don’t always redirect to physical pages, and most will redirect to virtual pages. Navigation in this case can be thought of as being divided into lessons, chapters, and topics.

The top navigation bar is already simple enough, although it could do with an updated look. When the user first arrives on the site, they will see the menu in the left column.

The user needs to choose a lesson from this menu before they will be able to see the individual lesson chapters and topics, as shown at Fig 2.

What makes this structure too complex is that there should not be a need for splitting the navigation this way (user can’t select top level navigation items without an extra navigation step), and numeric pagination is not ideal for topic selection.

It is easy, however, to understand the logic behind why the navigation was originally designed this way. The emulated device was created first and had a certain size determined by SVG code.

Changing its size with code before universal full browser support for the CSS3 Zoom function would have meant changing all the JavaScript code (over 10,000 lines), which would have been a waste.

So the original navigation design is an attempt to save horizontal space so that both the lesson and the emulated device can fit on the screen simultaneously.

Now that we know the flaw in the existing navigation structure, it makes planning a new navigation design in the next step easier.

Step 2: Plan a new design

Because there is now more consistent (but still not excellent) support for CSS3 Zoom in the most popular desktop browsers, the emulated device can be zoomed to a smaller size without requiring massive amounts of re-coding.

If this is done properly, more space will be available on the left, allowing us to have an additional column in the middle.

The really obvious change is that the lesson body has been moved entirely away from the navigation area, which is exactly the way it should be.

This change will allow more flexibility in the navigation system, and will provide more room for the lesson body to be displayed.

Step 3: Implement the plan

Remember that each lesson can have multiple chapters and each chapter can have multiple topics. How do we deal with that? The easiest way is to make a collapsible stack of menu items. Expanding a lesson reveals its chapters, and expanding a chapter reveals its topics.

At fig 4 you can see the unexpanded list of lessons shown in the left menu.

Notice also the necessary addition of a navigation button in the lesson body. This is to remove the need for the user to always use the navigation menu to jump to the next or previous topic in the chapter.

This is what the user will see if they select a lesson from the left menu:

These somewhat cryptic looking links may not mean much to you, but for somebody training to be an aviator they are self-explanatory. Expanding the list to the third level will show the individual topic pages, as shown at fig 6.

As the list of links grows, a vertical scrollbar is added to the page. We could make the scrollbar attach to the menu itself by setting a fixed height for the menu.

 Technical stuff

External scripts, CSS frameworks, and fonts used in the above example include:

  • Bootstrap v3.3.7
  • Font Awesome v4.7.0
  • Google Fonts: pompiere, concert one, varela round

These are by no means the only way to get something like this working, but they’ve been used in this project as a way to quickly achieve a web-safe solution without the need for too much coding or additional markup.

The constructor for the menu prototype is remarkably simple if you are using Bootstrap as your CSS framework.

At the first indent level, you create a div for the navigation area (here with the ID of “leftSide”) and a class div inside it to set up what properties the containing space should have. In this case we’re just using the standard “well” class that’s already predefined in Bootstrap (fig 7).

Inside this set, at the third indent level, we add a pair of paragraphs for hiding and displaying the menu (fig 8). The display property of each is important, as it will allow the links to work as a toggle switch.

As you can see, clicking on the links will trigger JavaScript functions for hiding or showing the column. In this case “hiding” just means removing the contents and shrinking the column to a smaller size, as shown in fig 9.

What the hide function does is it shrinks the left column to width 40px (just enough to show the icon required for expanding it back to normal), and expands the middle column width to 50% of the viewport. Showing snaps everything back to the way it originally was.

Now we need to create a container to hold the menu items.

Then add the navigation item, in this case the “instructions” panel.

The collapsing for the item is handled by Bootstrap’s own CSS and JavaScript, so all we need to do is add functions to change the content of the middle column when an item is clicked (l1s1 and l1s2).

These are handled by an external script, but shown at fig 12 for the sake of completeness.

Back to the menu in our HTML file. A line break is added as a simple separator, then the remaining items will be added as a series of nested lists. The initial constructor is shown at fig 13.

From this point on, adding the remaining menu items is very simple. For the sake of brevity, only the addition of the first item set is shown, but the remaining item sets are added in exactly the same way.

All the items need to be added between the list tag pair, as shown.

The next menu item would be added by inserting a new line at line 75, and then following exactly the same procedure for item T1-L2, and so on.

Once all of the items (chapters) from T1-L1 through T1-L6 have been added, we would add a new line break, and then start a new list (as category T2), following the same procedures until the menu is completed.

The final step in our navigation menu overhaul is to add a script to make sure our menu items are initially shown unexpanded.

If your site isn’t getting the results you want, one possible reason could be that your navigation system is more complex than it should be.

Reducing menu complexity is an important step toward improving site usability. By making it easier for users to find their way around complex systems, you will be rewarded by more return visitors and possibly more referrals.

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The Quest For Smarter Web Forms Mon, 04 Sep 2017 12:24:52 +0000 Online forms are one of the most tricky areas of website development to get right, especially with so many things that can go wrong. The changing nature of how people access online content also has had an impact on a…

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Online forms are one of the most tricky areas of website development to get right, especially with so many things that can go wrong. The changing nature of how people access online content also has had an impact on a technology that was developed years before people expected to be able to with a phone what they normally would only do with a computer. It’s a technology which has undergone very little evolution.

The design of web forms should be a stand-alone profession. Site designers should be engaging the services of full time professional web form designers to help them in their task. But this is not seen as economical enough, and so most of the time the site designer is also responsible for the design of any forms used on the site.

But designing forms is a highly specialized skill. It requires understanding how people interact with information and understanding the best ways to collect and present information. Where general web design is mainly centered around presenting information and images in attractive but practical ways, form design demands that we focus our attention on the nature of the information and then decide the best way to structure it on the page so that it will work as intended. Aesthetics are a less important consideration in this case, but still should not be forgotten.

In this article we’ll take a look at the art of web form design, and see if we can find a way to make our web forms smarter both in terms of how they look and how they function.

The tools of web form building

The standard tools we’ve been given by browser developers and W3C to put our web forms together are not exactly ideal, and before applying CSS to them, they’re actually rather hideous. This is what they look like:

There is also another standard input control called select, but you should avoid using this unless saving space is a serious concern. There are better ways to handle the task performed by the select control, as we’ll discuss later. Textarea controls should also be avoided when possible because they are so problematic and antiquarian.

In addition to these standard input items, there are also special new ones created for HTML5. Except when a document is being prepared strictly for internal use and where the browser environment is known, only components that work in both Firefox and Chrome should be used. It’s good if a component also works in other browsers, but it shouldn’t only work in other browsers. Here are the HTML5 components as they appear in Firefox:

And their slightly different appearance in Chrome:

Now, obviously it is really important to be aware that your HTML5 inputs will look and function differently between Chrome and Firefox, but they’ll still work.  The standard input controls also look a little nicer in Chrome than in Firefox. Notice that Chrome imposes the North American date standard, which users may not appreciate. Also the Chrome version of the date control makes it unsuitable for display, and should only be used for input. The addition of a date-picker is the main improvement in Chrome, but we can probably expect to see this in future versions of Firefox.

Because Firefox is open source, you can actually make your own personal version of Firefox render the inputs the same way Chrome does by downloading the open source Chromium browser source code on which Chrome is based, and porting the relevant section of code to the Firefox source code (but then you’ll have to do that every time you upgrade Firefox to a new version).

The main point is, however, that even with Chrome’s enhancements, the default appearance of input controls is small and unattractive.  There are a few other controls available, but because they don’t work in both Chrome and Firefox, they should not be used on sites intended for the public.

Bootstrap’s (almost adequate) answer

Bootstrap applies styling to the standard controls that enhances their appearance to some extent. But due to Bootstrap’s mobile-centric design philosophy, it does cause some undesirable effects on forms that are not intended to be displayed as a single column, and makes short input fields look funny when they span an entire column by default. The world may have gone mobile, but forms were not invented with mobile users in mind.

Bootstrap expands controls to fill the horizontal width of their container, meaning all controls will have the same width whether you like it or not (unless you manually over-ride this behavior), and allows you to dress up some control types with additional bling. Bootstrap’s solution is elegant and overcomes some of the problems of controls having different appearances in different browsers, but it only works with the standard controls. The HTML5 controls aren’t implemented in current versions of Bootstrap, so you’ll have to style those on your own.

Bootstrap also lets you combine controls together. Sometimes this is good and sometimes not so good. Combining a text input with a button and a checkbox may look good, but it could confuse the user as to how they should interact with such an unfamiliar control.

What Bootstrap does provide is two of my favorite form building devices, the panel and the well. These are very useful for grouping form data to give a visual indication of which data is related to which other data, and also for segregating data.

Smart Form Building 101

Now we are ready to think about how forms can be constructed in smarter ways. To do this, we need to be thinking well past the defaults. We need to be aware of the desktop-bound roots of form controls, and also the need for mobile compatibility. And we need to care about things like usability and validation (if the form will be used for data collection).

That last point is a good one, because while form controls are used for collecting input, they are also used for displaying stored data. The average web user is (and should be) more interested in getting information from you than giving information to you.

Data collection is easy. People will fill in anything you stick in front of them, even if it’s a mess. But when it comes to data display, they’re more fussy. Consequently here we will focus more on the use of forms to display data than to collect it, since display requires more care and more “smartness.”

1. Do we need a form?

Before we build a form, we should check that we actually need one. If the data can be adequately and unconfusingly represented as a table, a table will usually be more efficient and practical.

A form is necessary if:

  • We are collecting input from the user
  • We have a lot of data to display
  • The data needs to be clearly segmented
  • The user is likely to be accessing the data from a mobile device

If any of the above items is not true, then it’s not necessary to use a form, and a table will suffice. The challenge we face with mobile compatibility is that neither tables nor forms are really suited to a mobile display.  The fact that smartphone designers gave their users the option of using a browser in portrait orientation and that most users prefer to hold their phones that way causes most of the mobile compatibility problems site designers have to cope with.

Regardless, forms are more adaptable to a mobile display than tables are. So if you really must ensure that all the data can be easily viewed on a mobile display, then forms are a better choice than tables… sometimes!

2. Design the desktop layout

It’s true that in general you’re supposed to design a mobile layout first, but when it comes to forms, that’s not the best way, because we need to know how data is going to be grouped, and we can only do that if we can see all the fields at once, which is something that can’t be done on a mobile unless you’re displaying so little data that we needn’t bother with designing the form.

The fastest way to mock up a form design is with InkScape. In this example, we’ll build a system for managing HR records.  Here is the mock up for the desktop prototype:

The outside rectangle represents the entire space of a 1024 x 768 px display. On any desktop browser, we don’t have access to that many pixels unless the user is in full screen mode (which is rarely the case). So our

design is 900 x 600px, which should fit in the available area of most desktop screens.

When the available area is less than 900px wide, our 2 x 450px columns will break and appear as one continuous 450px column. This solves the problem of mobile compatibility, at least until Google demands we make all our sites able to fit on a wrist-watch screen.

You will notice that most of the display is just composed of ordinary input boxes, which may seem boring, but in reality is nearly always the best way to do it. Also notice the use of a fixed width font. This helps to keep uniformity in form design.

Our columns will actually be slightly more than 450px, more like 600px each, but if we did want to force the column width to be about 450px we just reduce our column size from 6 to 5. But a 600px column should fit on a mobile screen in portrait mode without wrapping, anyway.

We’ll test our layout with this code:

And we can see that everything is looking good (because temporarily we added borders to show us).

The Linux screen ruler widget is obviously not part of the web page, but it’s there to show us that our columns won’t break badly on a smaller display. Let’s what happens at different common screen widths:

3. Creating custom input sizes and label position

If we just leave everything in default, without adding any custom CSS, this is what will happen when we add our first row of input controls:

This happens because the label for each input defaults to the left of the input, and because we haven’t set a custom width for the input controls. We can fix both problems with CSS.

Now we just set the display property of label elements to “block”, set the fields of First and Last to class “in40w”, and field MI to class “in10w”, and everything should look much nicer.

As you can see, it does look better, but the layout is no longer correct. Now the boxes are stacked. So how we fix that is by doing away with the idea of using the label element at all, because we don’t really need that. We’ll just apply our in40w and in10w classes, plus make a new class called inLeftOf.

Which, once applied, fixes the problem we saw earlier, like this:

But this is not leaving enough room for the SSN field. That’s because our left column is larger than expected, so 40% is actually more space than we need for these fields, so we can actually cut them down to in30w, and the middle field is bigger than it needs to be, so we can make that in5w. Here’s what happens:

So now there’s more than enough room to add the SSN field, which completes the first line of our input form. After smoothing out all these details, building the rest of the left column should be very easy. We can get rid of the temporary border now, and also apply the correct background to the column. Here’s the top half of the panel, before we get to special areas of the form:

A few things have happened by this stage. The first was the easy part of setting the background color for the column (rgb(235,235,246)), and although you can’t see it here, the text color for all the inputs has been set to #427DB4, and the font-weight was set to bold so as to reduce eye-strain. The text was set to automatically transform to uppercase using the CSS text-transform property, so as to speed up data entry and reduce errors.

The more complex matter of aligning the controls and making sure they’d keep a decent alignment on any display type required more thought. You already saw the technique used for the first line of inputs and their labels. This technique will work when there doesn’t need to be any additional spacing between inputs, but if we do need to add space, then it’s better to use another technique.

This other technique involves creating a nested row of columns inside our main column, which will help to keep the controls properly spaced.  The number of columns and their sizes changes depending on the requirements of each set of controls. Remember everything is responsive, so when a column is resized, everything inside the column will try to resize to match the change. This is good news for visually impaired users, as they can zoom up the magnification on their display and everything will be lined up correctly as for any other user.

Moving on to the more complex part of the left column, the original concept outlined in the mock-up called for a structure that would have been difficult to implement. Fortunately I realized the data on the entitlements panel could be doubled up if standard checkboxes were used, and this solved the layout complexity problem nicely:

The lighter panels around the special sections are just ordinary Bootstrap wells. For entering religion data, it is necessary to choose from a set list of predefined official religions (including “other”).  Developing the right side columns was even easier, and just used the same techniques from the first set of controls on the left column, organizing the controls in a table format, but without using a table.

For this project to be a success, it had to provide perfect responsiveness on all official display sizes. Let’s see how the result turned out. First with the full resolution version:

That is close enough to the prototype that we can be satisfied with it. In fact, it’s even an improvement. Now let’s see the responsive layout at each of the different sections of the page:

Bootstrap and HTML5 have made form development faster and easier than every before, but many developers undermine this progress by making forms too complicated (using the special HTML5 form elements just because they are there to to be used instead of because they are needed for the project), and by creating entirely one-dimensional forms that don’t even attempt to take advantage of responsive design. With just a little care and extra work, any data can be made to look more presentable on any size of screen.

You may get a few minor glitches on the smallest screen size in portrait layout on the smallest screen size (in the case of this project, the Middle Initial field on the first row is a bit smaller than would be ideal), but mobile users generally accept that this is the trade-off they have to make for not holding their phones properly.

Do it right, and your data forms can look like this:

Instead of, uh, this:

header image courtesy of 

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Sidestep These Common Design Mistakes Tue, 01 Aug 2017 05:31:39 +0000 Some design mistakes are really obvious, but others can be more subtle. In fact, depending on how much pre-release testing the client is willing to pay for, the mistakes may not be discovered for months. And when you become aware,…

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Some design mistakes are really obvious, but others can be more subtle. In fact, depending on how much pre-release testing the client is willing to pay for, the mistakes may not be discovered for months. And when you become aware, months later, that you had a live website out there with design mistakes on it, that can be embarrassing and frustrating. Most of us like to avoid embarrassment and frustration, so here’s a list of things to check before you hit that upload button.

1. Under-Contrast

It’s become fashionable, since Twitter burst onto the scene, to use pale and washed out colors. Up to a point this is fine. But a lot of people have misunderstood the point of it and use under-contrasted colors as a design features, which is a huge mistake, especially if you use it on content that is intended for reading.

Using slightly under-contrasted colors on regular text helps make headings stand out better, which makes it easier for users to quickly locate on a long page the information that will be most relevant to them. But some people take this too far. They dramatically under-contrast the regular text, and then sometimes even also under-contrast the headings, which defeats the whole purpose.

It can be even worse when links are affected.  For example, the default link color in Bootstrap is so under-contrasted it’s almost not legible in certain light conditions. That’s another part of the problem, because if you’re designing a page on an iMac screen in your office, then everything is going to look fine to you. But trying to read the same content on a tiny phone screen in bright sunlight is a completely different experience.

So it can be acceptable, maybe even desirable, to employ a slight degree of under-contrasting, but to the point where somebody has to work harder to read the text.

2. Tiny font sizes

This is another one related to legibility. Harding coding very small font sizes should only be done when the text is not very important (and you’re using the diminished size to indicate the relative unimportance of that text). An example might be a copyright notice or something like that. That’s an example of text that needs to be on the page but is totally unimportant in terms of its relevance to the rest of the content.

As a general rule, you should be able to comfortably read a line of text on a standard desktop monitor from six feet away. If you can’t do that, your font size is probably not correct. Most people can read most non-decorative fonts from a distance of six feet is a size between:

  • 16px to 18px, or
  • 1.000em to 1.125em, or
  • 12pt to 14pt

The above describes the “regular text” size, which is any normal content. Size text in relation to its importance. Each degree more important than regular text a particular other piece of text is, its font size should increase in a progressive manner. Google considers whatever appears at the H1 tag to be the most important bit of text on the page. Thus if your regular text is 18px, the H1 size should be 200% of base because H1 is 3 degrees of importance higher than regular text (which is equivalent in size to H4 under default conditions).

So if your base font size is 18px, your font size settings should be as follows:

Of course the above are just recommendations, and each project can have custom settings. But by creating a step-like hierarchy, you are providing a visual clue to the user about how important each individual piece of text is.

3. Bad line lengths and line heights

When lines of text span too much of the page, it’s more difficult to read them. You need to set constraints on line-length that make it comfortable to read the text. Generally, depending on your default font size, this will be somewhere in the range of 60 to 80 characters per line.

One of the problems you can get with short lines is  when you use long words, the word wrap can kick in at unexpected places, causing artificially shortened lines which look wrong. The first way to deal with this problem is to use justified text alignment. The second way is to try and use the shortest words you can get your hands on. Used correctly, “text-align: justify” is almost always the best option.

Line height is also important, with most people not giving it any thought. The default line height puts lines of text too close together, making it more difficult to read. Make your line heights at least 1.4 and always check the result looks good at different resolutions.

4. Insufficient gutter between text and inline images

If you wrap text around images or float images to the left or right of text, then you need to make sure the text is not squeezed right up against the image. The same applies to text that flows above or below an image (except in the case of captions or titles for the image). Be sure to add margins or padding around an image.

5. Unclickable links

Every item you add to your page occupies a rectangular area, but unless the entire portion of it is filled with something, some parts of the rectangle will be empty and transparent. The pixels reserved for this space still exist, even though you can’t see them. Sometimes you might create CSS instructions that cause transparent pixels of an item to overlap the space occupied by another item on the page.

If the item that is under those transparent pixels is something the user would expect to interact with (a button, a link, a scroll bar, etc), the presence of the transparent pixels will block the user from performing the expected interaction.

You can check for this problem by adding a border to different items on the page and seeing if their bounding box overlaps anything it should not overlap.

After adding the border to the top paragraph, we can see the bounding box of it overlaps both the fruit image and the link. The key to fixing this will be found in the CSS settings of the element that is causing the problem.

6. Unmanaged scripts

This is one of the most annoying things that can be encountered on a web page, because it can interfere with the normal operation of the user’s computer, even to the point of crashing it and causing data loss. It’s perfectly possible to detect and manage errors in your scripts, and build in error handling, but for some reason on websites most people don’t bother going to the trouble.

7. Recursion

This is another problem that can arise with scripting, where the script will repeat something infinitely because the condition that would cause the loop to terminate is impossible to reach. Here is an example:

Don’t actually run that, or you’ll be truly sorry. But the concept of this script is that it sets the value of i to 0 and then while i is less than 1, display an alert box giving the value of i, then subtract 1 from i. There are many more complicated ways to create recursion, and they don’t necessarily involve loops (eg: a function calling itself without any condition to prevent it from doing so. For example:

Again, you shouldn’t test that. It’s not a nice script.

8. Using the wrong character sets

There’s not much reason to use anything other than UTF-8 or UTF-16 (and the need for the latter is exceptionally rare).


In the first example, the use of an incorrect charset makes the text have errors that interrupt the flow for the reader, so even if they can figure out from the context what the correct words are, it’s still a chore to read it.

In the second example, the correct charset is used and everything displays correctly.

9. Smart quotes

The look horrible, and unfortunately they’re enabled by default in WordPress and many other systems. Avoid copying and pasting smart quotes from MS-Word documents into your web pages. It’s easy to turn off smart quotes in Word, and there’s no good reason to have them enabled.  When smart quotes are shown on a website that hasn’t specifically enabled UTF-8, the result is horrific.

10. Using the font of a logo instead of the logo

This is a stupid thing to do, but it’s encountered more often than you’d expect. Fonts are meant to be dynamic, logos are meant to be static. You can’t expect a dynamic font to behave like a static logo, because it’s not in the nature of a font to do that.

If you use a font where a logo is supposed to go, it may not display correctly, which can be embarrassing for your client, because the logo is an important part of their business image. In the example above, a company called Mexacom has a logo that is created from a font, but that doesn’t mean you can just type it in that font and avoid using an image.

If you use an image and have taken care of responsiveness properly, when the user reorients their phone from landscape to portrait, the image will scale smartly. But if you typed it, this is what could happen:

The logo is treated as ordinary text, so it simply wraps over onto the next line instead of scaling, unless you take the time to add specific instructions to prevent that kind of thing.

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Google vs Your Clients Mon, 10 Jul 2017 05:25:21 +0000 When you made the momentous decision to become a website designer, you probably never expected it was going to be a diplomatic assignment. Yet that’s exactly how things have turned out for most of us who develop websites for public…

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When you made the momentous decision to become a website designer, you probably never expected it was going to be a diplomatic assignment. Yet that’s exactly how things have turned out for most of us who develop websites for public clients.  Your clients want things one way, Google wants them another, and you get stuck in the middle trying to find a compromise that will work.

When push comes to shove, most tender-hearted designers will let their clients have their way, but is that the best decision?  It depends whether you have an on-going relationship with the client and whether you actually care about their success or not.

If you don’t care about their fate, then you can give them all the flying toaster cats they want on their site and not give it a second thought. But if your success is in any way linked to theirs, you may have to bite the bullet and just be honest: nobody but themselves likes flying toaster cats.

Some clients won’t take kindly to that, so you can’t just blurt it out.  You need to be able to explain things in a way that helps the client understand the difficulties presented by what they’re trying to achieve and help them identify the correct priorities.

The nature of the problem: Customers don’t really know what they want!

When your customer first arrives in your office, they won’t always have a really clear picture of how their website should look or function. In fact it’s a sure sign of trouble ahead when customers arrive in this state of unpreparedness, but it also represents about 90% of typical website customers, especially those from small business.

Things change the moment you present them with a prototype. From that moment on, a sense of ownership takes over the customer, and the website becomes an extension of themselves. These are not the kind of people who are happy to just rattle around in BDUs. They want full dress blues, with all the shiny medals, buttons and badges. What they’re forgetting is that nobody actually goes to war in a dress uniform. In battle, function definitely takes precedence over image. When your site is on the front lines, you want it dressed in BDUs, and that’s Google’s position too, but remember, the customers want gold lace and bling.

In a way, many designers in the past have contributed to this problem by showing off too much. Trying to impress the client with an over-dressed website has resulted in a widespread wrong impression of what a website is supposed to be.

So you are in the position of either having to convince the client that being less dressed up is a better way to ensure survival, or convince Google that your client will be just fine running around with a chest full of medals.

Why does Google actually care? Well, in truth, like all large corporations, they’re not personally concerned with the well-being of your client. If your client wants to make an embarrassingly inefficient website, Google really won’t get in their way.

But when it comes to indexing and ranking websites, that is Google’s business. And because Google is the owner of Android OS, which has Google installed as the default search engine, they really want ensure that the sites recommended first by Google are truly delivering a great experience for Android OS users.

 What Google wants

Google’s aim is that websites that rank highly are:

1. Mobile-friendly

2. Efficient

3. Original

4. Genuine

If you want to remember that, it spells “MEOG”. The marketing industry did a lot of unconscionable (and frankly stupid) things with websites in the early 1990s to try and exploit search engine rankings in their favor, to the point that this behavior became out of control, with millions of “no content” and duplicate sites created.

Today we’re seeing something similar, which is a slew of websites that faithfully replicate Wikipedia, adding their own brand and a bunch of ads for monetization. This is possible because Wikipedia doesn’t claim any copyright over the content. It’s an easy way for lazy people to make money, but Google doesn’t like it because it creates frustration for users by crowding out search results with duplicate content.

What makes most clients happy

Once in a blue moon, you may joyously encounter the rare individual who understands the importance of MEOG principles, and who will allow you to create a truly well designed website (well designed, as you hopefully already know, means a site that is highly functional and also looks attractive; definitely in that order as well).  But most of the time the people you’re going to be dealing with will be painfully stupid.

When the client is aware of this, it’s no big deal, because they’ll listen to you and respect what you say, even if they don’t completely understand. Unfortunately the other kind, who are so stupid they don’t even know they’re stupid, are far more common. Those who belong to this group not only won’t listen to you, they’re utterly convinced that everything you say is wrong.

These people are, by their own estimation, the ultimate authority on every topic. They’re the sort of person who owns a fish shop but prefers the title “CEO of Ichthyoid Vending.” Changing this person’s mind about anything will require all your skills in negotiating, diplomacy, and strategic humility (“When you are strong, feign weakness” – Sun Tzu). This is a battle of wills you can potentially win, if you remain clever, patient, and humble.

Rather than attacking the problem head-on, the secret to victory lies in using an oblique maneuver.  While never directly disagreeing with an arrogant customer about anything they propose, conversationally mention the positive attributes of websites that rank well, attract visitors, and earn money.

Plant the seeds of correct thought, and then when the penny drops, let them believe it was all their own idea. In the end, they will make their own decision. It may not go the way you hoped, but just roll with it, because really it is the customer’s problem. Of course you can be sure they will blame you when their website fails, but that is just par for the course.

The main things non-savvy customers will demand to include in the site design even when they’re not necessary are:

  • Animated backgrounds
  • Autoplay video
  • Nag dialogs
  • Big images
  • Carousels
  • Rows of 3 items
  • “More…”
  • Black Hat SEO, and
  • Unethical scripting

How the customer’s mistakes affect you

Being a website developer is one of the more difficult trades to be in. Customers rarely are content to let you do things your own way, and will make all kinds of demand and requests that will strongly influence the end result of what you produce.

These customers will blame you for anything that goes wrong, including things that aren’t actually wrong but which the customer perceives as wrong. A particular favorite is: “Why isn’t my site [which was built less than a week ago] on the first page of Google?”

The main problem here is your customer’s bad decisions affect you. A key part of attracting new customers is to have a solid portfolio of past achievements. But if your portfolio is full of big laggy sites that don’t rank well, you will only attract more of the same type of customer. This is exactly the opposite of what you should want, because they’re the worst kind of customer to work for.

So ignoring your customer’s follies just because “it’s their problem,” can be a mistake because it will affect you one way or another. You’ll have to evaluate whether it is more costly to correct the problem (possibly irritating the client) or to ignore it (site can’t be added to portfolio, reputation could be negatively impacted if customer blames you for their failure), and act accordingly.

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Essential Items for Business Sites Mon, 19 Jun 2017 04:01:58 +0000 There is some confusion over the use of the term “business site”, so let’s start by defining exactly what that means.  A business site is not just an e-commerce site.  In fact, it does not need to contain any e-commerce…

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There is some confusion over the use of the term “business site”, so let’s start by defining exactly what that means.  A business site is not just an e-commerce site.  In fact, it does not need to contain any e-commerce features at all.  A business site is simply a site that represents a business as a virtual online representative. Such a site may sell things, but it doesn’t have to in order to qualify as a business site.

Also the mere fact that a site does sell something doesn’t mean it automatically qualifies as a business site. Many hobby sites sell things, but they’re not business sites because the owner of the site is not running a viable business and doesn’t intend to invest in the level of quality and professionalism required for a business website.

Quality and professionalism are valuable attributes for any site, but they’re absolutely vital for a business site. There are some businesses out there that don’t seem to realize exactly what a website is for. The simple explanation is that a website is an extension of your brand, and is there to reinforce or represent what your business is all about.

Show your website in an unprofessional manner, then by extension, your brand is tarnished with that image of unprofessionalism. That ultimately will have an effect on how successful your business will be when it faces competition.

Every business needs a website

This is true.  Many small businesses don’t see the value in having a website, or think that having a Facebook page is sufficient to meet their needs, but no matter how big or small your business is, having a website is definitely essential. Social media isn’t designed to be a replacement for a website, it’s there to enhance your website’s interactive potential.

Almost half of small businesses don’t have a website, but close to 100% of consumers do their shopping research online before they head out into the real world to make a purchase, plus of course many of them also prefer to buy online. If your business is one of those without a website, it means consumers aren’t even seeing you when they’re making their choices, and that’s not good for business.

A business website needs good hosting

Once you decide to go ahead and get a website, you’ll have to choose a hosting platform. In general, unless they’re lucky, the typical small business starting out with their first website, makes the wrong choice in web hosts.

Usually they’ll go to the host that is advertising more than others, and that has the highest recognition factor, but without really researching for negative points.  Your first priority is always to go to Google and type: “[name of hosting service] sucks”, where “[name of hosting service]” is replaced by the actual name of the service.  This will show you all the complaints about that service and give you a better idea of what to expect.  If you don’t see any results, it doesn’t mean that the service doesn’t suck, but it may mean it sucks a lot less than the ones people are complaining about.

The factors you especially want to look at include:

  • Speed
  • Customer service
  • Complaints handling
  • Respect for customers
  • Honesty in billing
  • Easy to transfer in or out
  • Know what they are doing

Customer service is major, because many of the bigger companies just hire people in call centers with no real knowledge of the technology they are supporting.  These people just answer questions by reading from a script, and their entire purpose is to screen out minor problems, so that the tech support workers who know what they are doing (and therefore cost more) are handling the least amount of cases possible.

Also it is important to know that most small businesses pay for more than they need (or will ever need) simply because they don’t have a clear picture of what their real needs are.

Expertly designed site navigation

See, we didn’t just say “good navigation” or “clear navigation”, because that’s not enough. Navigation has to be designed. As for where it sits on the page (which is not the same as navigation design, that is part of page design), this must be at the top of the page or on the left side.

Due to the rapid increase in mobile device usage, it’s much more common to use a fixed navigation bar at the top of the screen, and to avoid using submenus.  This means professional navigation design is much more important than ever.

Contact information

Your site should have contact information, even if the address and phone numbers only point to a virtual office. Including your email address has good and bad points.  If you choose to include your email address, you should also make sure you have excellent spam filtering in place, and it should be an address that is exclusively reserved for new contacts. Alternatively, use a contact form, which can excuse you from showing an email address. If you use a contact form, you’ll still need good spam filtering, because spammers now target us using our contact forms as well.

If you’re selling anything, always include the prices

Strangely enough, millions of business owners think it’s clever to hide pricing from their site. In reality, nothing could be worse than to do this. One possible reason is that you want to hide your prices to avoid competitors from under-cutting you, but if this is your concern it either means your prices are too high, or you don’t have confidence that the value you provide justifies the extra cost.

Showing prices helps buyers make the choice to do business with you and shows that you’re honest. When you sell something that doesn’t have a fixed price, using an automated estimation system is far better than expecting the user to email you for a quote.  The average user does not want to make that level of commitment. Doing business online is very different to offline business.

If you have physical products, include sample images

This one is obvious, but you’ll see many websites where it’s not thought to be important.  It is a good idea to allow the user to activate a list view (without images) if that’s what they want, but images should always be available on request. Also don’t use images that are not of the actual product, you should try to show exactly what the customer can expect to see.

A valid SSL certificate creates trust

You won’t need this if you’re not selling online, but it can still be a good idea to have one anyway.  This way, a user can connect to a secure encrypted version of your site and verify that they’re not looking at a fake version. The user will also feel more confident and trusting on sites that seem to respect their privacy and security.

Social media integration

Way back at the start of this article, we learned that social media is not a replacement for a website. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore social media, either.  Social media helps reinforce your website and creates additional communications channels between you and your customers. Make sure you have competent people managing your social media, because mistakes can be very embarrassing.  Always remember that your business social media pages are not your personal social media.  Also, if you do have personal social media pages which can in any way associate you with the business you run, you should watch how you behave on your personal social media as well.

Blog pages with genuinely original content are worth the investment

You need to avoid those sketchy SEO motivated blog posts that have become such a blight on the landscape of the web. Those will eventually prove costly, even if they work in the short term.  Your blog is part of your SEO, but it shouldn’t exist purely for SEO.

It has to provide genuine value to the person reading it, and must exist for their benefit. Also, unless you’re a professional writer with a genuine gift for writing, don’t be tempted to write it yourself. Hire a professional writer, because that way you’ll get the best results.

Now, when we say professional, that means a real professional, not just somebody who writes for money. They need to know how to write an informative and entertaining article that keeps you reading to the last line.

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Fixing Performance Issues on Slow Sites Mon, 08 May 2017 06:31:46 +0000 If your site moves like one of those sloths from the DMV in Zootopia, there are ways you can possibly fix whatever is slowing it down. Figuring out what is causing the problem is half the battle, so once you’ve…

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If your site moves like one of those sloths from the DMV in Zootopia, there are ways you can possibly fix whatever is slowing it down. Figuring out what is causing the problem is half the battle, so once you’ve isolated the causes, you’ll at least have the answers to solving the problem.

Low quality hosting is the most likely culprit

When it comes to web hosting, the concept of low quality doesn’t always mean the same thing it does in other contexts. For example, the price you pay for the hosting is not always an accurate reflection of the quality you can expect. Nor is popularity of the service or how well known the brand name is.

In fact, some of the most popular hosting brands are the worst choices, simply because too many people are using them.  It depends a little bit on the quality of their infrastructure. If they’re investing properly in their technology, then you might not experience significant performance issues. On the other hand, you might be sharing a single server with hundreds of other sites, and that problem will increase as disk storage capacity continues to grow.

So in that situation, it’s possible that switching to a smaller, less-well-known web hosting service with good technology could be a better choice.  Doing this may also mean you get more personal customer service, at a higher quality level than you’d get from a behemoth.  It’s worth thinking about, and it’s easy to test by just buying a one month subscription on the new host and benchmarking the performance against your existing site.

Use your F12 key

Most web browsers are tuned to have their debug console accessed through the F12 key, and yours is quite likely not an exception.  And speaking of exceptions, that’s pretty much what you’re looking for, or to be precise, errors in your JavaScript code that are throwing exceptions and affecting performance.

You’ll find these errors both in your own code and in imported code libraries like jQuery.  Just because jQuery is big and popular doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Here’s an example of the kind of thing you’re looking for:

The errors flagged in blue are just CSS errors and you can generally expect to see those due to the amount of shimming developers have to do when building style sheets, simply because there still isn’t a single standard that has been adopted across all browsers. They shouldn’t normally affect performance unless you’re using a lot of animations or transistion effects.

But that error flagged in orange is a JavaScript error, and not only that, in this case it’s the jackpot because it’s specifically telling us that this particular error will cause code to run very slowly.

Get some free advice from Google

Did you know Google can analyze your web page for free and give you tips about how to fix any issues?  All you need to do is visit Google’s Page Speed Insights page and enter the URL of the page you want to analyze.

It really could not be any easier, though you may not necessarily want to religiously follow all their advice. Google’s system is good at figuring out what might be slowing your page down, but some fixes may not solve as many problems as they create.

Ideally you want to see scores above 85. While nobody knows for certain, page loading times are widely thought to have a significant influence on your page rank in Google.  Don’t despair if your site isn’t right up there at the top of the green zone, because many major website don’t get fantastic scores.

Some notable examples include:

  •  (70m/77d)
  • (47m/65d)
  • (58m/56d)
  • (49m/71d)
  • (61m/72d)
  • (33m/44d)
  • (69m/81d)
  • (59m/67d)
  • (53m/69d)
  • (49m/81d)

None of these examples is really an excuse to let your own site perform poorly, but they do prove that a sluggish site is not necessarily synonymous with failure.

Use images correctly

If anyone would know the correct image formats to use and when, it should be designers, right? But amazingly it seems quite a lot of you don’t know, or when you do, you think it doesn’t matter.  Well here’s the news: it does matter, all the time.

This problem has been gathering momentum since a certain template style has been adopted as the defacto standard for business sites, and it’s a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down. As a professional designer, you owe it to yourself and your clients not to fall into the trap of lazy design shortcuts.

One of these unfortunate shortcuts has been using large PNG images for hero units at the top of a page (or anywhere else, but that’s where you’ll normally find them). Now, it goes without saying that you should never do this, ever, even if you require transparent sections in the image.

Here are the fundamentals that you should keep in mind when creating that masterpiece:

  • Use large images sparingly if at all

Large images are a terrible idea because the larger the image is, the longer it takes to load. Now there are a few different techniques you can use to make large images work far more efficiently, but before we get into that, let’s just say that you ought to use smaller images most of the time, and save large ones for when they’re really needed.

  • Set the PPI/DPI value appropriately

Depending on what graphics editor you use, it may show values for DPI or PPI. The latter is better, because it indicates your graphics editor is designed for web use instead of print. The problem with changing DPI in some versions of PhotoShop is that they’ll adjust not only the DPI but also the physical dimensions of your image as well.  This is not a problem in the latest version of PhotoShop (which uses PPI), so if you’re using an older version, it’s time to upgrade. Or use GIMP instead.

  • Slice large images

This is where the magic starts.  You’ll find many people telling you that slicing your images doesn’t improve loading times because you’re still downloading the same number of bytes and any perceived improvement is merely psychological. Those people are using the laziest version of image slicing, so they don’t know the true possibilities.

After slicing your image, you have the chance to optimize it.  Supposing the original image was in PNG format, you can now convert any non-transparent portions to JPG format, and save a lot of bytes, leaving the portions that require transparency as PNG images.

Next you can play with the compression level of each individual slice until that slice is perfectly optimized. The overall effect of this optimization can result in savings greater than 50% in comparison to the original unoptimized image.

Video can be optimized too 

The art of video compression relies on two things: the target format and the codec you use for encoding. Which format you select depends entirely on your needs. In general, if you need high quality, MP4 with H.264 encoding will give the best quality at high compression, but when you don’t need that high quality, WebM and FLV provide smaller file sizes.  Your video editing software may still offer FLV as an option, but it’s not recommended to use this format.

If you need DVD quality, MP4 with H.264 encoding is going to give excellent results, but comes at the cost of being a hefty download.  For streaming video, WebM gives much better compression. The problem is that not all mobile operating systems support WebM yet (they should, but they appear to have some crazy reason not to, possibly following the mobile developer’s golden rule: thou shalt inconvenience and confuse thine customer as much as thou canst).

Should you use the MPEG-4 codec instead of H.264 with MP4 videos? Generally not, because it results in larger file sizes at the same quality level.  But if your video is going to have small physical dimensions, and you want perfect transmission of the video for streaming, MPEG-4 is a good codec because it has built-in error correction to ensure data integrity.

What about WMV? Well this is a special case.  It gives virtually the same video quality as MP4, but with even better compression. The downside here is that Mac and iOS users can only view your video if they use a payware video converter, which introduces a delay in playback, which is exactly the thing we were trying to avoid in optimizing our page.

WMV files don’t have any issues for Android, Windows, or Linux users.  But with 12.5% of the Internet community using Apple devices, you’ll have to decide if it is worth inconveniencing them. Personally I wouldn’t recommend that you do that just to get a faster load time.

And finally, because it’s internet video, if you’re not allowing full-screen or theater mode playback, shrink the physical size of the video down to the size you’ll be showing on your page, and see how many bytes you can save.

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