Great WYSIWYG editor, but it lacks good support for mobile websites
Xara’s Web Designer 9 is aimed at web design novices for whom a full web-development package can be a pretty intimidating environment. Through its friendly DTP-like interface and wealth of free buttons, widgets and other design elements, it aims to make the design of professional looking websites easy. We’re reviewing the Premium version, which adds some extra options to the features found in the £40 standard edition, along with extra tools, widgets and Flash animation support.
There’s a good range of customisable design elements, but the previews are sometimes too small to illustrate them properly
Building a web page can be complex, but it’s astonishingly easy to get started in Web Designer 9. The program starts with a sample project that doubles as an interactive introduction to its key features; it covers basics such as loading one of the supplied web themes and adding text, headings, photos and other graphical elements, but also more advanced features such as pop-ups. The document’s descriptive text guides you through changing the software’s features and properties, encouraging you to use the preview feature to understand how the changes you make affect the results. It’s a great introduction, and there’s more guidance available in a comprehensive and well-written help file.
Web Designer’s Read Me document provides a superb interactive introduction to using the program
Web Designer’s interface is simple and modern, with a large workspace that supports tabs for working on multiple projects at once. To the right are galleries for the various designs, fills, lines and elements available, along with a page and layer navigator. It’s a lot to fit in, though. On a small or medium screen you’ll often find yourself resizing windows, and we were frustrated that the thumbnail previews weren’t bigger. We also found ourselves dragging an element onto the page just to see what it would look like.
A further frustration was that, despite testing the software on a fast computer, design and widget thumbnails often hadn’t finished loading as we scrolled down through the gallery. Plus, scrolling would be less necessary if you could use a search box to find items such as the Flickr slideshow widget instead of locating it manually.
BETTER BY DESIGN
Over the years, we’ve learned not to expect much from the samples and designs bundled with various creative programs, but Web Designer is a happy exception. While not all of the 60-plus themes are entirely to our tastes, there are plenty of modern, clean designs that could form the basis of an excellent website. Tools built into the program mean that you’re not stuck with just an off-the-shelf look, either; it’s the work of moments to change a theme’s colours. Where relevant, the program will change the colours and style of other elements you add subsequently so that they fit with the overall design, so that a speech bubble uses the correct colours and fonts for your theme, for example.
Even starting with a blank document, a new site begins to take shape pretty quickly
You can customise photos and graphical elements used in headers and other on-page elements, too. Replacing a stock photo is as simple as dragging across your own. Where an element repeats on every page in a site, updates made on any page will automatically apply elsewhere.
Rather than use a theme, those with more confidence can start with a blank document and choose whether or not to add any supplied content. Like the themes, the supplied widgets are generally up to date and nicely designed, although there’s limited scope for customising more complex elements such as photo frames or interactive slideshows. Adding the various multimedia and graphical elements is usually just a case of dragging them into position and setting any options or adding the relevant photos. There are widgets and buttons for social sites like Twitter and Facebook, and e-commerce widgets for PayPal, Google Checkout and others.