Xara – Web Designer review

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If you don’t fancy falling into the clutches of Adobe or learning how to program in some odd web language, or getting inside the head of WordPress, then your web design options can seem a bit bleak. True, the odd program like NetObjects Fusion makes the effort to stand its ground alongside those who want a web site that doesn’t look like it was designed in 1995 yet don’t want to code, but elsewhere there’s precious little choice.

Then along comes Xara Web Designer, a sort of extended version of the company’s Xtreme vector graphics program but with the web bits enhanced and pushed to the fore, instead of being tucked away round the back like an afterthought. The result is a top-notch graphics package that’s very clever at handling text, images, shading, transparency, layers and so on, allied to 54MB of templates for pages, buttons, headers, text boxes, etc.

Add to that the ability to drag and drop content onto web pages, dynamic layouts that let you move a picture round a page while the text automatically re-formats round it (or change colours on the fly) as well as the ability to create simple Flash animations, and you’ve got a way to create good-looking web sites that’s dirt cheap.

For the seriously graphically challenged, Xara Web Designer comes with 17 templates, each one comprising different page layouts, buttons, headers and navigation bars; in addition there are plenty of individual buttons, headers, icons, photo galleries, shapes, text panels and Flash examples, any of which can be dragged onto a page and then set to match its colour and style, thus preserving the ‘look’ of the site with the minimum of effort.

This is the easiest way to prototype a site and, because Web Designer is a graphics program at heart, it’s easy to edit any of the visual elements on the page, adding shadows, transparency, moving elements around, replacing placeholders with your own content and so on.

Alternatively, there’s nothing to stop you from starting with a blank page, defining the size and then either dragging individual page items – like a header or navigation bar – out of the gallery and onto the page, or simply creating your own text and graphics from scratch.

Web Designer gives you all the visual controls you’d expect from a proper graphics program and then backs that up with easy ways to set up things like links, add HTML snippets, mouse-overs and simple Flash objects. The repeating objects’ feature lets you create objects – like menus – once and then have them repeat on every page while applying the repel text’ feature to a panel or picture or heading makes wraparound text easy. Web Designer also includes a simple FTP program for publishing your site.

It can’t do everything, of course. Drop-down menus are harder than they should be, there’s no support for any kind web forms and, as with most template-based programs, if you change your mind half-way through you’ll have to start again from scratch. Coders might not like what they see under the hood, but for less than £40 Xara Web Designer can make a serious case for being the current king of low end web design.

Company: Xara

Contact: 01442 350000

Superb value at £39.00, Xara Web Designer should be the first port of call for anyone who wants to build a good looking brochure-style site without knowing anything about coding. It'll struggle to do much more than that - there are no forms or built-in shopping carts, for example - but whether you're using the included templates or starting from the scratch, the results are impressive.