On website visual expectations

Recently, I was listening to a Wix ad during a podcast, and it was emphasizing the customization available on Wix. It heavily implied that the customization was always, in-all-cases, was a good thing. I disagree.

I’ve required my web design students at LCC to build a website with HTML/CSS and with WordPress.com since the beginning. Over the past couple of years, I’ve also required them to build a site with Wix. The Wix projects always turn out different than the other two – more chaotic, more confusing.

With the WordPress.com sites, they’re using a theme from a limited selection of themes, and that requires visual consistency. It typically has a unique homepage design, and all of the other pages use a single template. When viewing the WordPress.com sites built by students, finding the menu is easy. It’s easy to find where the content is on each page, and it has a clear visual hierarchy.

(The HTML/CSS sites often have strong visual consistency too, mostly because it’s their first website, and so they use the same layout for every page!)

However, the Wix system encourages a different page layout/template for every page. It shuffles the menu location, hides text below really tall image galleries, and makes it very difficult to navigate between pages.

If you are a skilled graphic designer, who has years of experience, you know how to make a consistent visual language. You know how to prioritize user experience, and have a hierarchy on each page.

Most people building a website today aren’t trained graphic designers. They rely on the tool they’re using to help make smart design decisions on their behalf. WordPress.com, and the traditional website builders like it separate the creation of content from the theme/template/visual design. Because of this, their visual design remains consistent.

Wix doesn’t separate content creation from visual design. This gives more customization, but greatly hurts consistency over the entire site. It makes it harder to navigate their websites, and harder to find the content you want on a single page.

Most people choosing a tool to build a new website should not use a ‘new-style’ drag-and-drop website builder like Wix. They should use something with an established theme or template – a separation of visual design from content. WordPress.com is just fine, or many other options.

A couple caveats, as things aren’t quite that simple:

  1. WordPress does allow for some visual design within its content, but limits things to maintain consistency.
  2. Wix does have you set a basic template for an overall design, but lets you break all of the rules on an individual page.