Coffee Cup – Visual Site Designer 6.0 review

WYSIWYG web design software
Photo of Coffee Cup – Visual Site Designer 6.0
$49.00 (approximately £30)

The latest version of Coffee Cup’s WYSIWYG web site designer adds significant new features, including some which are overdue, like W3C compliance and support for web-friendly PNG image files.

Elsewhere the changes are primarily cosmetic, with new shapes and styles, a revamped interface and new themes intended to get design-challenged site creators up and running more quickly without needing to know a line of code.

The opening screen invites you to create a new blank web site, open an existing one or create a new one based on a theme; 10 themes are included and 40 more are available from Coffee Cup for $29.00. The included themes are billed as an improvement on those available in previous versions, but they still look stale and old-fashioned to us, and don’t include things like alternative images and design elements which would make them more useful.

Visual Site Designer (VSD) lets you create web sites rather like pages in a printed newsletter. Thus, there are tools for creating shapes with solid fills, bitmap fills and gradients, lines, text boxes and so on which can be arranged, aligned and layered to create more complex and interesting visual elements.

You can then add navigation links, visual effects (like drop shadows and ‘glows’) as well as rollovers from within the program; other features like photo galleries, forms, music and video players, calendars and even fancy Flash-based fonts are available at extra cost. More adventurous users can add HTML and Javascript by hand and there’s built-in support for Google Analytics so you can track visitors to your site and see what they’re doing.

The trouble is, VSD gets caught between two stools. On the one hand the included themes are uninspiring and don’t do enough of the behind-the-scenes work for you: for example, adding a new page doesn’t automatically add a new item to the navigation bar and it’s also not possible to switch themes mid-way through designing a site.

On the other hand, the tools for building web pages from scratch probably require too many design skills from the target audience. Certainly, creating navigation bars is limited and long winded.

Elsewhere, picture re-sizing’s not very intuitive – there doesn’t seem to be a way of re-sizing by dragging a corner – and the properties dialogues take some getting used to because they’re designed to stay open all the time, even when nothing’s selected and all the options are greyed out. As a result, they always seem to be in the way.

Furthermore, pages are sorted alphabetically on the Show Page menu when it would make more sense to have them ordered in site sequence, and there’s no neat way to get an overview of your site, apart from using Windows’ tile feature.

Company: Coffee Cup

Contact: 00 1 678 495 3480

While the price may attract beginners interested in designing and publishing simple web sites, they're likely to leave disappointed, frustrated at Visual Site Designer's limitations and dated look. When you can get Xara Web Designer, which works in a similar way but is vector-based and has slicker themes, for only £10 more, this package is hard to recommend.