October 14, 2007
The following is a paid review. Please note: my time is being paid for but my opinions are my own.
Every now and again I come across web applications the purpose or market for which I struggle to understand. Designer dot Fly Publishing is one of those apps.
Designer dot Fly Publishing (D.FP) is a browser-based WYSIWYG app that enables you to create simple (as far as I can tell) web sites without using HTML or CSS.
It is billed as an alternative to traditional web site creation tools which tend to create bloated, invalid code.
Basically, you build the site within the tool, export your web pages and CSS as a zip file and then FTP the files to your web server.
I should mention that the tool manages user access by forcing you to login through Facebook, so if you don't have a Facebook account or if this causes any security concerns this is not the app for you.
D.FP is a modal editor based on or using (I can't tell) the text editor, vi.
It works via something similar to a command line interface. You layout your page by entering shorthand commands into a text field, like 's' for 'select' and 'a' to 'add' content areas (rows or columns depending on the direction you have chosen to add them).
You can string commands together by adding a '/' at the start. For example, '/sh' will select the header.
It's certainly not at all intuitive to use. In fact, according to D.FP's home page that is seemingly the intention:
Some programs have UI's designed to be intuitive so first time users can easily figure out how to use it. This isn't one of those programs. The UI is purposely cryptic because with simple text commands and modal editing comes great power.
Personally, I'm not a fan of tools that are solely geared towards power users — I believe that a well designed application should be usable by beginners and should grow with you as you become more proficient and start to learn shortcuts and more advanced functionality.
Furthermore, it would appear that the use of modes is frowned upon in interface design due to the input errors they create.
I must admit that I watched the demo video and read through the help and still found it difficult to perform even basic functions with the tool.
Organizing the web pages of my site appeared straight forward until I found that I couldn't see how to add sub-pages to my test site.
Unfortunately for anyone trying to learn D.FP, the demo video only provides a high-level overview and the help page is not especially helpful. It's one thing to create a tool that demands a steep learning curve but to do it without providing any real documentation seems rather shortsighted.
This leads me back to my opening comment about struggling to understand the audience for this application.
I thought it was interesting that the first commenter on the YouTube version of the demo video said
A fun little tool, but wouldn't it be alot easier to just learn html?
My thoughts exactly. Given that this tool has a very steep learning curve it clearly is not aimed at novices wanting to build their first web site.
But for web designers, given how difficult it is to learn to use — can you say 'trial and error'? — and the limitations in terms of functionality (adding images, tables, forms, etc), I just can't see the point.
Hand coding in HTML and CSS really isn't that hard (the basics at least) but if I wanted to use a tool that allowed me to see and edit my page without dipping into the code, I would prefer a more modern (i.e. easy) WYSIWYG approach.
I don't think it's insignificant that vi, on which this tool is based, was developed in 1976. In this age of elegant and sophisticated online UI design, D.FP seems like something of an anachronism.
Posted on: October 14, 2007 | No comments