There are countless different ways to design a website, and a variety of different tools to make the job easier. These range from writing the raw code in an app such as TextWrangler to using an integrated environment such as Coda. There is a more visual route available as well, commonly called “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG), which aims to make designing a website a remarkably simple process.
An application called iWeb, part of the iLife suite, is probably already sitting on your Mac. If it doesn’t meet your needs, another popular tool is RapidWeaver – a long standing visual web editor with a decent range of features. This review will showcase the main capabilities of RapidWeaver and explain how easy it can be to have a website up and running in no time.
Setting Up a Site
The first time you open RapidWeaver, you create a ‘New Project’. One of the first things worth doing is to open the ‘Setup’ window and enter the basic details for the site you’re creating. This ensures that as you start to add pages they’ll be populated with the correct site title and information:
You can add your own site logos and change more advanced options if required. One important setting to get right before publishing is the ‘Web Address’, so make sure you’re happy that this is correct.
There are a number of different elements you may want to add to a page, most of which are covered well by RapidWeaver. Clicking the ‘Add’ button in the top left opens a page browser, from which you can select one or several page types to add to your project:
Once added, the new page will appear in the left hand bar under the ‘Webpages’ heading. From there you can move on to edit the new page. Each various type of page will provide a different ‘Edit’ window. If you’ve added a simple text page, you can type text and add images into a simple text area. If you’ve added a blog, the interface is different and shows you the various categories, titles and content of all your blog posts.
The photo gallery page works particularly well, integrating with iPhoto to have a decent gallery on your site in a matter of minutes. I particularly like the changing context of the edit window, as it’s a way to keep the interface as simple as possible whilst catering for each different type of website content. It leads to a very powerful application with the minimum of visual clutter.
A theme is essentially a graphical template which completely alters the look and feel of your site. RapidWeaver ships with a range of different themes, some of which are much better than others. A huge range of additional themes are also available for purchase.
Clicking the ‘Themes’ icon brings up a preview of each available template:
Selecting one will update the appearance of your site across all the various pages you have added, and doesn’t require you to change or re-format any of the content. It’s also possible to delve into the internal workings of a theme and make changes if you’re like more advanced control over the appearance of your site.
If you’re like to see more of the technical information about a particular page, you can select the ‘Page Info’ icon, which brings up a configuration panel:
When you’ve added a few pages and a theme to your site, you’ll need to preview the result before publishing it. Click the ‘Preview’ icon and you’ll be taken to a view showing what your published website would look like.
This is usually a fairly accurate depiction of your your site would look in Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer – all the themes are tested thoroughly in each. Everything is fully functional, so you can click around between pages and try out the various links. Dynamic actions such as submitting a form won’t work until the site is published.
Publishing a site is very straight forward, and takes away the need for specialist knowledge of how FTP works. You have two options:
- Publish to MobileMe: By far the easiest solution if you have a MobileMe account, requiring no configuration whatsoever.
- Publish to FTP: You enter the server, username and password provided your host (along with a desired folder to publish your site to) and RapidWeaver does the rest
Even the publishing window looks good, employing a reflective Cover Flow style interface.
If you’re looking for a visual design tool with slightly more power than iWeb, RapidWeaver is likely to fit the bill perfectly. It won’t provide the power-features that a proficient web designer may need (and isn’t great for optimizing your site for search engines), but makes it incredibly easy to have a good looking, fully functional webpage online in a single evening.
The online support community is excellent, and if you’re stuck with the app at any stage a trip to the support forums should have the issue cleared up quickly.