I spent a lot of my youth and early 20’s doing these things:
1. Messing with Yahoo Sitemaker to try to put squares together in something resembling a website.
2. Doing the same thing with Adobe Dreamweaver.
3. Reskinning WordPress themes while desperately looking at tutorials about how to change PHP functionality.
4. Trying to hand-code simple sites by rewriting stolen CSS and HTML until it looks kinda like what I made on Photoshop.
As you can see, I am an untrained layman who likes to make websites. But even people who don’t want to make websites themselves still need to understand some HTML or at least particular CMS functionality in order to make their Tumblr, Blogger, Cargo site or whatever work the way they want it to. You have to redirect your DNS settings, learn what FTP means, sit and load one image at a time on a gallery, etc.
As much as I like that web design forces you to learn the deeper language behind websites, I’ve always thought it’s kind of like forcing everyone to cook from scratch, or to sew their own clothes. I envisioned a future where there would be a sublime shortcut that let people edit sites by just dialing in their preferences in a natural, simple WYSIWYG way.
Well I think it’s here, and I think it’s Squarespace.
At ZJ, we’ve been marveling over Squarespace’s home page for a couple months, using it as an example of how a clean, simple 1-pager can tell a full story about a product in short, elegant way. But this weekend I actually used Squarespace, and it was surreal. Here are just a couple reasons why:
1. You can tell every aspect of Squarespace is designed by designers
The Squarespace CMS is simple, sleek and beautiful. Typing in URLs in a box just kind of feels good because all the entry boxes are so well-designed. The millions of features you have to tinker with on a CMS like WordPress are gone, in place of just a couple modes you can be in, like Manage mode and Edit mode.
2. Editing the CSS of a Squarespace does not need to involve knowledge of CSS
To edit a look you go to the page you want to edit, select Edit mode and click on what you want to change. It lets you select from a color wheel or a long list of fonts. It even has all Google fonts preloaded so you’re not stuck with regular web fonts but you don’t have to use Typekit (unless you want a font more legit than a Google font, which the layman doesn’t, necessarily). You can dial up the size or shrink it, and see it all change right in front of you. Much better than tweaking one element you hunt down in the CSS and nervously refreshing to see whether or not it looks like crap.
3. ‘Blocks’ make it easy to build a long, beautiful, multi-function page
Blocks on Squarespace are kind of like macros or widgets on other templates, and they let you add text, a gallery, a video, a form, even a map to a page. You just drag the blocks around until you get a layout you like, and the padding between boxes is already set to be foolproof, so you won’t end up with squished layouts.
And that’s just what I learned from playing with it for one day. Sure certain elements of Squarespace are hidden and it’s hard to find the CSS and manually change it at times, but they’re promising a developer toolkit soon that will make all of that much more accessible for hardcore designers and developers.
For anyone making a website or portfolio right now, I would say look into Squarespace before making a Cargo or WordPress site. If Squarespace builds more social following functionality into their platform, it will definitely squash all its competition, and I could see them being smart enough to figure that out.