Web Design For Novices

Paralysis of Choice

So you want to create your first web site but are feeling more than a little daunted by the thought. First stepÖ relax. Just about everyone who has ever created a web site has been here before. The feeling is not uncommon. Perhaps one of the scariest things about the whole prospect of creating a web site is the sheer number of choices out there.

There is a phenomenon that I like to call the paralysis of choice. It goes like thisÖ give me a choice between two or three items, no problem. Thatís easy. But now make it a choice between twenty items and a paralysis starts to set in. There are simply too many choices! And with people afraid of making the wrong choice, they decide that the safest choice is no choice at all. At least this way, they havenít made a mistake. So instead of getting wrapped-up in things like HTML, XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Php, letís go more basic where there are fewer choices.


The first choice is whether to do it yourself or pay for someone else to do it. For many people, this one is decided by budget alone. Web sites built from scratch can cost a lot of money. So letís assume that youíve already decided that you want or need to do-it-yourself otherwise you probably would have already shelled out the money and wouldnít be reading this article. Am I right?

Web-Based Services

The second choice is whether to use a web-based service or to construct the web site on your own computer. Many hosting services have built-in online web site building tools. While you can certainly construct a web site, the end results are usually pretty rudimentary. This avenue is probably just fine for a little personal web site, but most likely not enough to impress more important visitors, like clients and customers.

A Step Above

A step above the online web site building tool is the stand alone program that allows you to construct a web site without knowing any HTML or other types of coding. Among the better ones is Incomediaís Website X5 which comes in two flavors: Compact and Evolution. Think of these as personal and business.

You start from a number of template choices and then color combinations. Between those two elements alone, the chances of your site looking just like someone elseís is pretty slim. The main idea of Website X5 is to divide each page into a grid. In each square of the grid you decide whatís going to go there: text, a picture, a flash movie, or a slideshow, etc. Adding those elements is easy. Not bad. And it gets you an end product better than those online web site builders. But Iím still a less than wowed.

Web Templates

OK. As is usually typical Iíve saved the best for last! Unlike the canned web site templates that come with software like Microsoftís FrontPage (now dubbed Expression Web); professional web site templates are much more sophisticated and give you much more control over each design element. Each template typically comes with a list of software you would need to edit the template before you buy it. Higher level templates may require specialized software like Flash. But for a typical price of between $55 and $75 for most templates, this is short money compared to paying someone to design a web site from scratch.

Most templates also come with Adobe Photoshop (PSD) files. Even the low-cost Photoshop Elements can fully edit these. The beauty of this is that for the price of less than $100 youíll have the ability to edit every single little design element. This makes customizing your template much easier. For most templates, the only other software you would need is the design software like: FrontPage, Dreamweaver, Expression Web, SharePoint Designer, and more.

If youíd like to add Flash elements to your website, but canít afford Macromedia Flash (now Adobe Flash) there are the poor manís alternatives like SWiSHmax. SWiSHmax allows you to create Flash (SWF) files without having Flash and costs only a fraction of the price. Take a look at SWiSHzone on the web for more information. If youíd like to use SWiSH as an alternative, simply look for web templates that list SWiSH as one of the softwares.


Many people donít realize that most templates can be professionally customized for an individual. Simply look for template customizing services where you buy your template. Since you are beginning with a template that youíve picked out, you have a much better idea how itís going to turn out after some custom tweaking and there are fewer surprises. Thereís much less risk involved than with a web site designed from scratch.

You can generally save hundreds of dollars by starting with a template even after adding in custom tweaking if you prefer someone else to do it. Remember, youíre not starting from scratch. You already have a fully function site, so the costs of editing a template are small compared with the cost of constructing a full web site.

Bottom Line

So for a novice like yourself that wants to do-it-yourself, you basically have three choices: 1) use a web-based service like the one than probably comes with your webhosting plan, 2) use standalone software like Incomediaís Website X5, or 3) start with a web site template. The results you can expect will probably increase in quality in the same order.