Xara Web Designer 7 Premium review

WYSIWYG web design program
Photo of Xara Web Designer 7 Premium
£89.99 inc, VAT

WYSIWYG web design programs often flatter to deceive – either they’re not very WYSIWYG at all, or the results are clunky and look out of step with current Web 2.0 stylings and features. Web Designer 7 Premium, the latest version of Xara’s drag-and-drop web site creator, manages the balancing act surprisingly well, introducing a range of valuable new features to go with a set of tools that already make it an easy recommendation to anyone who wants to build web sites without coding.

Template-based
Web Designer 7 Premium (hereafter just WD7P) comes with a selection of 37 themes, each complete with various page styles, navigation, text and photo placeholders. That means even complete beginners can put a simple site together by just joining the dots and replacing what’s there with their own content.

As you’d expect, new text takes on the characteristics of the page style, but so too do photos – so if you drop a full-colour picture into a template that has a weathered, sepia look, WD7P will adjust it accordingly. Similarly, if you need to add any of the built-in graphics (icons, buttons, navbars, text panels, photo galleries and so on), they’ll take on the style of the current web page.

Features like this are real time-savers, and mean you can prototype web pages like lightning. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to start from scratch, WD7P has all the tools you need to create headers and footers, text boxes, slideshows, photo galleries, navigation bars, plus plenty of widgets to bring in content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and more.

In addition, for those that know their way around HTML and CSS, it’s possible to do some tweaking or use code to integrate features from third parties.

New features
There’s loads here that’s new. New galleries and slideshows you can drop into projects; a swish accordion-style navigation panel that makes it easy to pack lots of content into less space (it’s not re-sizable, though); the ability to create online presentations with animated transitions (not so convinced about this, but it might be useful in some circumstances); a proper FTP explorer; the ability to create a site map; and full-screen previews.

You can also switch instantly between any of your installed web browsers to check how the site performs in each one, and this version also introduces support for HTML 5.0 video for any browsers or devices (that means you, Apple) without Flash installed.

Design-wise, it’s much easier to align items using the ‘magic snap’ feature and – like a proper graphics program – you can group objects together and then align them in various ways with a quick right-click. Elsewhere it’s now possible to create ‘favicons’, repeating objects that update automatically when one of them’s changed, while there are also more templates for the graphically challenged, and more drawing tools for those who prefer to roll their own.

Xara Web Designer 7 comes in a ‘Lite’ version for £39.99 that doesn’t have some of the flashier widgets and drawing tools, and lacks support for a site map, FTP and HTML 5.0 video, but it’s still perfectly serviceable for personal and community websites. Meantime, the extra £50 buys you all the web design chops that most people will ever need. Excellent value for money.

Company: Xara

Contact: 01392 209509

Positives
  • Genuine WYSIWYG design with excellent built-in themes and other elements.
Negative
  • Some of the animation features are a bit under-powered.

Verdict

Web Designer 7 Premium has achieved a remarkable balancing act. Experienced computer users will be able to build sites without coding and probably without looking at the documentation - it's that straightforward - while designers will enjoy all the graphics tools and the DTP-style layout features. And for casual use, the templates and many hundreds of included graphics mean that anyone can produce a decent, good-looking site with the minimum of effort.