Sleak and sophisticated with lots of room for customization. Great for blogs, portfolio sites and users who already have an eye for design.
Squarespace is primarily made up of three different editors. LayoutEngine is a drag and drop editor for individual pages. Edit Mode is how you edit headers, footers and sidebars. Style Mode is used to adjust fonts, colors and other stylistic options.
In past reviews, I have argued that this is a bad idea for website builders. Specifically, I worried that compartmentalizing concerns with multiple editors is unnecessary and confusing. But Squarespace is different. Squarespace is a very deep product. So much so that it demands separate editors.
LayoutEngine, is where you edit pages. The interface focusses you exclusively on the page, so your website headers, sidebars or footers are not visible. Here’s how it looks:
LayoutEngine feels incredibly intuitive.
For example, moving elements into columns has been a vexing problem for most website builders, but Squarespace has solved this fundamental problem better than any other website builder. Creating a column is as easy as dragging an element to the side of another element. There’s no “column” element to add. It just works. And when you resize columns, they snap nicely to a grid. That way everything aligns correctly.
You can tell Squarespace put a lot of care into making LayoutEngine just perfect. Everything snaps, moves, resizes and responds perfectly. It’s very satisfying to use.
Edit Mode is where you design everything around pages (for example: sidebars, headers, footers etc.) In Edit Mode the interface expands out so you can see the entire site:
Finally, Style Mode is where you make stylistic changes to individual element on the site. It works really well. Just turn on Style Mode and click any element on the website to change it’s color, size, font etc. Style mode allows you to dive deep and quickly change almost anything on your site.
So how much can you change? Pretty much everything. There’s enough here for users to effectively create their own themes from scratch.
Have three separate editors means users are able to get granular with changes without being overwhelmed by a complex interface. But having three editors does have trade-offs. For example, having LayoutEngine focussed exclusively on the page means that users don’t really see the page being created in context. I’m sure some users would prefer to build up their pages with headers and footers visible so that they could get a sense of the context.
But ultimately, these three editors work well together. Squarespace has managed to set up a workflow that makes you feel like you are moving between the layers in a natural way.
A Word on Polish
Squarespace is one of the most polished web apps I’ve ever used. For example, you can use the “delete” key on your keyboard to “delete” elements. Dragging and dropping images feels satisfying and quick. Overall, the entire app feels more like you are using a native app rather than a browser-based app.
Every pixel on the interface is perfect. Nothing seems out of place or ill-considered. The overall Squarespace brand has a sophisticated look and feel (almost to the point of being austere).
So, if you enjoy using software that is genuinely crafted, Squarespace is for you.
What Squarespace Does, It Does Best In Class
The Squarespace team must set high expectations for themselves. When they build a feature, they seem to set out to build the best possible version of that feature.
Images work wonderfully on Squarespace. Want the full-size version of an image to pop-out into a lightbox? No problem. Want to make a grid-based image gallery? No problem. Need to do image editing and cropping? Squarespace includes a ridiculously robust image editor called Aviary:
Plus when you upload an image to Squarespace, it automatically saves the image into various sizes- which means your images will look perfect on any screen.
Blogs also work wonderfully on Squarespace. You create a post in the same way you create a page- using the LayoutEngine. So you can add just about any content to your post (video, galleries etc.). You can also schedule posts, add thumbnails, locations, excerpts and even more to your posts. So if you’re wondering whether Squarespace supports a certain blog feature- it probably does.
Both the blog and images have a really easy to use interface. It’s hard to make the complex seem simple but Squarespace does it with ease.
There’s plenty of other features that Squarespace has done a great job with. They’ve included one of the best in-app analytics I’ve seen (and don’t worry you can also plug in Google Analytics). The form editor is super easy to use while being powerful enough to accomplish just about anything (and integrates with Mailchimp and Google Docs). Finally, there are iPhone, iPad and Android Apps for managing your Squarespace site on the go.
There’s a lot in the product and it’s all executed flawlessly.
Themes and Mobile
Squarespace templates are completely responsive so they look great on mobile devices. This is huge. In comparison to other website builders, Squarespace is leagues ahead on this. Too many website builders have been unable to adequately address mobile. Squarespace has done a stellar job here.
Squarespace themes are beautiful and flexible. The themes are essentially skeletons that you can apply your own stylings to. So for users out there who want to exercise precise control of themes, this will be welcome.
If there is a criticism for Squarespaces themes, it is that they all feel a bit similar. Squarespace certainly favors a specific visual style for their templates; sleek, simple and photography-heavy. But not every user is looking for that. This visual style may work well for blogs and portfolio’s but it doesn’t feel perfectly suited for churches, small businesses and restaurants.
Who is Squarespace for?
Squarespace has accomplished something special: they’ve managed to make a platform that allows almost anyone with no coding experience to create their own site from the ground-up.
But all this power comes at a cost: even though Squarespace has a well thought out interface, they’ve bit off so much functionality that it’s not the easiest website builder (in comparison to Weebly or Webs for example). But it’s a little misleading so say that: Squarespace is trying to build something more powerful than Weebly or Webs, so of course it will have a steeper learning curve.
In fact, Squarespace doesn’t once refer to itself as “easy to use” on it’s homepage (unlike every other website builder homepage).
I had a chance to ask Seine Kim, Squarespaces public relations specialist, about this. She said, “We absolutely believe we are an easy to use platform, however, you do have to invest some time in the beginning to learn the platform and its many features. We offer many resources (including live workshops, live chat, and 24/7 email support) onhelp.squarespace.com. Once you get used to the platform, it’s a snap… and even fun to use.”
And I would agree. Squarespace is not the easiest website builder. But it is very powerful and users that are willing to invest a bit of time learning will be rewarded.
My last caveat is what I mentioned earlier: that Squarespace seems best suited for portfolio and blog sites. Their templates have a heavy emphasis on photography and many features seem to support portfolio’s and blogs.
Ultimately, Squarespace will work well for people who really want to get specific with designing their own site but do not know how to code. It is not for users who want to get up and running quickly with a cookie-cutter template. According to Kim, “We are best suited for folks with an eye for design and an idea of what they want their website to look like, but lack the technical skills to code it from scratch.”
And I would agree with that. All users have different desires for the degree of control they want. Users looking for lots of control will do well to check out Squarespace.