One of the best aspects of the Web 2.0 Internet is the improvement in design. "Web Pages That Suck" are practically a thing of the past, as more artistic layouts become easier than ever to get for free.
One Click to a Beautiful Site
There are so many free website design programs and services online that it is more difficult to choose one than to find one.
- Sites such as Webstarts have built over a million web pages for free. Their "real sites by real people" gallery reveals many different varieties of site design, from plain backgrounds and whitespace to highly textured multimedia extravaganzas. With loads of professional designs to choose from, WebStarts is a great way to easily get a site going with a limited set of artistic resources. You can always go back later and use the "design from scratch" option if you want to make it more personal.
- Moonfruit is another easy site building service which has fifty different designs to pick from, easily browsed and selected right from their front page. Domain names, email services, and other technical issues are taken care of, even with some e-commerce capability. Best of all, the site layouts are not only good, they are "world class". One customer complains that it's so easy to change and tweak the layouts that they can't leave it alone, constantly changing and improving "just one more thing".
- Wix.com offers similar services but with a Flash flavor to them. If animations and increased interactivity are important to your site, Wix can give you a head start with a large selection of multimedia-enabled artistic themes. It should be noted that Flash sites are notorious for not working on iPhones or iPads, and that means you may lose a significant cross-section of your audience.
Got to Pay to Play
The one drawback to these sites is that while the layout and basic services are free, not everything is. In order to remove advertising, for example, you need to pay a monthly fee, and other things like number of pages and bandwidth can also be limited. However, it is much cheaper than it would cost to have a site designed from scratch.
Does a Site Need to be Artistic?
In the early days of the web, there were a lot of sites that were designed from scratch by people without any web design experience. They looked at the tools available, such as Word, PowerPoint, and Front Page, and just started putting together content. This led to sites such as Basil Marceaux's political website, now taken down but at one point nominated for "Worst Website of 2010." It should be noted that being "artsy" doesn't make for a good site. Even the very artistic Jones/Schijoff site was nominated for "Worst Site" as well, because of its opacity and difficulty to navigate.
Another common way to get an artistic and viable site is to sign up for one of the free blogging services such as WordPress or Blogger. At first these may not seem very artistic at all, but you can quickly select from the many templates available on the sites or through other free template sites. This gives you the ability to customize your website thoroughly with colors, images, fonts, and even multimedia through the use of plugins. Best of all, these sites start out free and usually remain fully-functional without charge. There is also a very strong user base to give you support as you change the templates based on your own preference. Many great designers such as Hugh MacLeod got their start just using blogging software for their sites and are now worldwide brands.
Learning the Art of Design
Many sites can help teach you web design and cool HTML codes together, such as AListApart.com and A CSS Zen Garden. The latter has thousands of designs using CSS that can be examined not only for code but also for the layouts. All of these services can make your site both appealing and easy to use. Fortunately, the only cost to learn which one is right for you is your time and brain power.