RapidWeaver 4: Simple Web Design

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:

The Setup Window

The Setup Window

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.

Adding Pages

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:

Adding new pages to your site

Adding new pages to your site

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.

Themes

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:

Good lookin' themes

Good lookin' themes

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.

Advanced Settings

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:

The Page Info panel

The Page Info panel

This has a bunch of settings for each page, ranging from simply changing the title through to setting up an RSS feed for a blog, altering the response after submitting a contact form, or adding different CSS or JavaScript elements to an individual page. It offers a decent set of configuration options for an advanced user whilst staying out of the way if you’re looking to create a very simple site.

Previewing

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.

Previewing your site

Previewing your site

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

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
Publishing your site

Publishing your site

Even the publishing window looks good, employing a reflective Cover Flow style interface.

Conclusion

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.

We’ll be giving away a copy of RapidWeaver in a week or two, so stay tuned to our RSS feed or Twitter to be notified when the competition goes live!


  • Shade

    Oh yay. Maybe next we can talk about how awesome Microsoft FrontPage is and the wonders of web development using tables!!

    -_-

    • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

      :-) – I agree it’s definitely not the best tool for meeting web standards, accessibility and semantic markup – but it’s good for what it claims to be.

      If you’ve no idea how to create a site and want something basic, it does the job.

    • http://www.seydesign.com seyDoggy

      @Shade, @David RapidWeaver is perfectly capable of Standards compliant web design and has never used tables.
      http://showcase.seydesign.com/Creamux/
      Valid XHTML – yep
      Valid CSS – yep
      Tables – nope
      Accessible – turn your screen reader on and try it yourself.

      • Anon

        Seydoggy speaks truth. Rapidweaver is actually a pretty sophisticated tool and, when used properly, is fully standards compliant.

      • Shade

        I never said anything about it not being standards compliant, but please inform me, when did tables become non-standards compliant? Who said anything about tables? Nobody.

        Now what David said in regards to complete control of the semantic layout of the site IS correct, even the author noted that (in the comments).

      • Shade

        oops i did say the wonders of using tables, my mistake. But it was made int he same way the frontpage comment was. Maybe that was just a bit of mis-communication/understanding there. I’ll take part of the blame for that :P

      • Nick

        Oh man, that yellow background color is so painful. =(

  • WhatAJoke

    LOL, good one Shade!

  • http://myrapidweaver.us Ed Brenner

    Nice one seyDoggy.

    Not saying my site is compliant in any way shape or form … but I don’t really care. Given the additions I’ve added to it it could probably do with a bit of code cleanup.

    Maybe next week.

  • http://www.alexanderkucera.com AlexK

    What nice folks around here. In my book that counts as trolling Shade and David. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. Otherwise you would know that Rapidweaver is a very professional tool that just helps someone who is able to code standards compliant HTML and CSS to publish their stuff easier. Oh and in addition it also allows non-technical users to create great websites.

    Let the slamming begin.

    • Shade

      My bad AlexK, i guess i don’t know what i’m talking about. Only been a web-dev for 17 years.

      It’s not a pro tool. It’s a short-cut and/or entry-level tool. I took a look at your website to see how you could possibly come to that conclusion. Three words: Point and Case.

    • http://windesignworld.com monaye

      If you chase after two rabbits, you won’t catch either.

  • WebKarnage

    I find it quite amusing when people that clearly haven’t given an application any sort of time knock it. It often happens when people have spent a lot more on another application, and certainly don’t want to consider that may not have been necessary!

    The idea that anything that has an easy way in cannot be professional, is also an interesting one (although that hasn’t directly been said here yet) which I find occasionally, and is complete nonsense.

    RapidWeaver has the great combination of allowing an easy interface, that can be pushed very far, and also allows a mixture of template driven and hand coded to exist in one site. This allows for cost efficient building of sites where your clients don’t fancy paying for the time it takes someone to wade through unnecessary complications delivered by many applications.

    • Shade

      Just curious what “unnecessary complications delivered by many applications” that a web dev would have to “wade through” might you be referring to?

      Maybe it’s just me but building a site is usually pretty straight forward to me. You load notepad/textedit/coda/dreamweaver/or whatever else. You start typing, you save, you upload. Maybe i’m missing something here?

  • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

    Guys,

    Thank you for the comments – I don’t want this to get too heated. A couple of points:

    1. My review makes it very clear that I’m a fan of RapidWeaver – I think it’s a great application and works well, allowing you to easily make excellent websites.

    2. I think many people would agree that if you want to retain complete control over the accessibility and semantic layout of your site, you’re best off taking a more low level approach and coding the site yourself. Pre-built templates can vary in their quality.

    I can only speak from my experience, and fully appreciate that many of you will have far more experience than I with RapidWeaver – please do share your thoughts on how you’ve found it to work for you.

    Thanks

    • EGY99

      Rapidweaver works fine with the WP templates available in Themeforest?

  • http://www.jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    I’ve always wanted to design a site with RapidWeaver. I had purchased version 3 and upgraded to version 4, but never used it. I opened it up today and did not get how to use it. I don’t want to use the templates and themes. I want a custom site with a few frames, etc.

    How do I make a site from scratch with multiple frames, etc ?

    • http://alishabdar.com Ali Shabdar

      I’m using Coda myself and I am 110% happy with my 99$ purchase.
      You have everything you need:
      * powerful editor
      * CSS designer
      * built-in validator
      * live preview
      * site manager
      * terminal
      * useful plug-ins
      * and more

      P.S. About those frames; it’s not such a good idea to have frames in your pages (unless you really really need to!). Try for a better design.

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  • http://www.alexanderkucera.com AlexK

    Jash, your best bet in that case would be to use Blocks with the BlocksBox theme (which isn’t really a theme in the classic sense). That combination allows you to design a site from scratch inside of Rapidweaver.

    Otherwise you could create a theme from scratch that suits your needs and use that as basis for your site. Basically, create a handcoded HTML template and use Rapidweavers Styled Text page or the Blog page or any other page style to fill that template with content. Really easy once you get the hang of it.

  • Jon

    Rapidweaver is a great tool for someone who wants a website and knows nothing about how to design and code one. If one wants a greater degree of control over the appearance of pages, however, they still need to have an understanding of html and css.

    At the same time, it makes, in my opinion, a good “simple” sort of CMS. If someone knows how to code, wants a blog but they don’t want to use services like Blogger or deal with learning CMS’s like ExpressionEngine or WordPress it can be a valid option. It still has it’s limitations, but for many it is perfectly suitable.

    It seems pretentious to me for someone to knock it because they think the only right way to build a website is with a text editor, writing all the code out longhand.

    If the purpose of this site is to feature really well made Mac applications (which it is) then Rapidweaver fits the bill.

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  • ubrgeek

    I’ve had Rapidweaver for ages, but never really liked it for my own sites (or even sites I made for friends whose sites I cared about ;)) It’s great if you need to put something together quickly and the templates work for you (and there are roughly a gazillion templates out there, commercial and otherwise).

    I use dreamweaver for my professional work and I picked up Flux 2 recently as part of some bundle. I’m curious to see how useful it is in terms of it not being a $200 solution (as DW CS4 is) but so far, the tutorials are missing so I can’t really tell.

  • Haydn

    As a complete dummy with 3 sites to maintain and keep control over [made in iweb], and not wishing to pay fortunes to others I find iweb so frustratingly close to being ideal.

    As forms made in iweb simply do not work outside of my Mac I’m trying RW with Blocks which I think is about as close to iweb as possible. After 15 solid hours I have no new website but a nice migraine instead :-/. The RW + Blocks combo is close but no cigar for me after iweb.

    Please please please Apple, sort out the simplest improvements for iweb, particularly forms that actually work and I’m sure many many people like me would be soooo much happier and not struggling to find an equally user friendly alternative that really does do the job…….

  • galan

    As a novice to website building and with a series of content sites I wanted to build fairly quickly, I started using RapidWeaver. In most respects, I have to agree you can get a nice site up fairly quickly … unless. I’ve found that it depends on what you need your site to do. While I wouldn’t mind learning HTML and CSS someday, I just don’t have the time right now, I really don’t. And that where I hoped RW could do the job till I have that time.

    I found this discussion through a web search. And the fact I am searching at all at the moment is that my sites need to include a lot of tables, some of them lengthy. I didn’t realize you could not do that effectively from right within RW, and I’m sure like many novices, didn’t know to ask the question at the time. Since then, I’ve tried to bring in stacks (Rows was one of them) and other things to complete the task.

    I very much like RW for most of what it enables me to do from right within the Editor. But I’m not finding an effective way to deal with tables without going into HTML/CSS land. I’m disappointed in that aspect because so many sites use tables, it would add tremendous value to RW or any of its competition to have flexible table creation built right into the edit capabilities. If there is a solution out there, or combination of them, that could provide the bulk of RW does plus table support, I’m open to ideas. It can be a different app, we just need to find something that works.

  • Steven Harte

    I am a solo freelance web and graphic designer who is basically a “jack of all trades, master of none”. I can do everything from designing and coding table based email NLs, to designing an InDesign brochure, to building a CMS or static web site and on and on. Right, time for a yawn.

    Though I envy the purist coders and programmers out there that utilize Textmate, Coda, BBEdit, Espresso etc., I rely on programs/software that can reduce the vast amount of constant learning for me so I can get on to the task. After all, I have a family that needs a lot of my focus and attention.

    I have come to respect programs like Rapidweaver and the large community that makes this a viable option for home enthusiasts to mid-level professionals like myself. There are many other programs in this category and I appreciate the communities that provide them.

    As a Dreamweaver user for many years, I was always curious why DW was often construed as an inferior method to hand coding, when it could produce pretty much the same result a lot quicker. Sure, I have come to live with the fact that my web site code isn’t as efficient and refined as possible, but it works and renders well across the spectrum of browsers.

    RapidWeaver truly is a program that has a “Clark Kent” persona. It may appear simple and unassuming on the surface but once you get to know it’s capabilities you’ll be very surprised what you can do with it. Few people are aware that you can design from ground zero and not rely on a template. The multitudes of developers that provide inexpensive RW extensions and addons is astonishing and truly allows RW to do great things.

    Sure, tell a professional web dev type that you are using RapidWeaver and you’ll probably get a snobbish laugh. But when you can design a slick looking web site that your client is well pleased with, you’ll be glad you have the extra hours to spend for other things.

    But I think the overall wisdom is don’t limit yourself to one solution. Develop an arsenal of web tools that best responds to each new challenge in the most efficient way.

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