In my last post (April!) I said that I was moving to Media Temple and Expression Engine. I have used Expression Engine for years to run Kidzwire and I think its one of the best pieces of publishing software written. I also have an active Media Temple account and like their hosting setup quite a bit. One of the few weakpoints of Expression Engine however is that EE’s stock templates are relatively few and are really meant to show you how to use EE to achieve a variety of formatting effects. Customization therefore requires diving into code.
Unfortunately for me, I am not a designer let alone a CSS and HTML coder. I can munge through it poorly and inefficiently at best just to create something unoriginal and ugly, and I’d bet that if I had to submit a code sample to get a job my mom probably wouldn’t hire me. So in April when I said that I was moving to EE I truly meant it but I quickly became involved in a lot of networking, consulting and a some startup activities. I quickly found that I was touching my little website project every couple of weeks, and the time I needed to “refamiliarize” myself exceeded practical time spent developing the site. The website project clearly wasn’t the best use of my time so it was time for a new strategy.
So my first thought was to just throw money at the problem: Hire a professional designer who knows EE and let them do it - heck they would design something nicer than I could anyway. Like any good platform, EE has a great “Pro Network” with some excellent designers and developers. Many of them however are busy. While looking for some that would do personal website work I found and contacted some, finding one that was too busy and another that did quote me a rate. The rate was about what I expected: 1500-2000 dollars. That’s a lot of money but good design isn’t cheap.
At the same time I was waiting for quotes I stumbled across a little blog post somewhere mentioning Squarespace. I saw them a year or two ago but hadn’t looked at them since. The platform is awesome - maybe not as uber-flexible as ExpressionEngine but pretty damn flexible. The killer feature for me was the ability to take a template and modify the CSS through a simple UI that represented complicated styles as discrete choices like “padding,” “margin,” etc. This level of discrete control goes well beyond entry-level systems but doesn’t require you to get lost in stylesheet code. It’s nice to have a website skin that hasn’t been used on thousands of other blogs and the modular architecture is more flexible than something like TypePad which I was using before.
So with bittersweet feelings I am using Squarespace to run this site - at least for now. Squarespace helps me cut the time and get a lot closer to my desired outcome. It works well (thus far) and it has saved me four figures in custom website development fees to boot, although I should say that it’s not a replacement for having your own professional web designer and I may go seek one out later. I will post any additional findings I have as I live with this platform but for now I am happy to be able to post again.