FAQ: What’s the Best Web Publishing Tool for Creatives?
This is an updated version of a post written earlier this year.
In the following post, I’m mainly talking to those who would like an online space to show their work but who might not have the tools or inclination to write a website by hand. In a fairly loose way – painters, photographers, sculptors, designers, illustrators and fine artists. Indeed, anyone that feels they need a portfolio website but doesn’t want to build one from scratch.
I’m often asked by friends who make things (often technophobes) what the best way to get their work online is. Initially, I suggest they might want to hire a professional webs designer to build them a site, but for artists on no budget, this may not be practical or even necessary.
Despite being able to design and build websites from scratch myself (it’s my day job), when it comes to how I show my personal work online, I’m still working out and developing the best way for me to do it. In fact, until recently all my current ‘online nodes’ were websites that are hosted and run on third party platforms, and while I’m capable of building the sites for scratch, web design is a job in itself, and as a web manager at Burning Red, I like to see what’s already out there and what is the easiest and best tool to use for different purposes. I’m not showcasing my web design skills with these portfolios, but using them as an online repository for my graphic design, photographs, video, drawing and art. All these fields are something I care about as individual pursuits but unless I can edit down these as individual projects, I’m keeping them separate. That’s not to say I might bite the bullet and build fully bespoke and hand-stitched master portfolio site next month, or indeed switch my blogging platform of choice next week, but the web is a fluid beast and maybe I don’t like putting all of my eggs in one basket.
So, if you make things and are thinking about how to get your work online without learning (much) HTML or paying a web designer, read on.
Now, ask yourself –
- Do you even need a website?
- Are you getting by without one? Or do you feel you might be missing out on some WWW. Magic?
- Will a site help generate more interest about you and your work?
What will its function be?
- An online portfolio?
- A shop to sell work?
- Or a contact point, a ‘hub’ of all things you – feeding in your social networks and a signpost to other places online you might exist?
Whatever the reason there’s a likely hood there’s a tool out there to help you create a site yourself. many of these will be free, at least to try or to run a ‘lite’ version. At the end of the day though, it is important to remember that no one service will do it all, and you may well have to compromise on design and or functionality. If you need your site to achieve specific goals or wish to create an online space as unique as you and your work, then stop now. You need to employ a designer to help you create a bespoke site, tailored to your needs. It will mean investing somewhat, but it will often be money well spent.
Before you begin.
Do you have a Domain? A Domain is the name of your website – ‘youracewebsite.com’ for example. many free services will give you a ‘sub’ domian to their service ‘yoursite.blogspot.com’ or ‘yoursite.tumblr.com’ and if you have bought your own domain, you can usually forward it to one of these sub domains or sometimes with an upgrade to the service, you can use your domain ‘natively’ on top of a service.
I won’t go into recommending domain and hosting services here as there are hundreds out there, all vying for your attention. There’s a few I’ve used over the years – Rackspace, 4Dreg, 34sp, Dreamhost and they all have their differences (and price brackets), but generally I’ve been very happy with the service from each of them. Some people recommend keeping your Hosting and Domain provider separate, but it depends on what you’re doing – keeping them in the same place simply makes for easier management, especially if you only have one or two to deal with.
If you’re a design studio juggling dozens or more, then separating may make sense for unseen possible eventualities.
Most of the services / platforms mentioned below are ‘Hosted’. This means they give you webspace and and maintain it, look after hosting and server space etc without you worrying about it for free in return for you using their service and spreading the word. (Rather than ‘Self-Hosted’ in which you host a website on some server space you own). Out of the box, they can be somewhat limited in design and functionality, but it keeps your hands away from code and potentially breaking the internet(!)
Not to be confused with WordPress.org. .com and .org are essentially the same platform / Content Management System, but the .com hosts your site for you and is a more ‘hands off’ service. If you don’t know the first thing about coding or html, .com might be a good place to start.
If you fancy getting your hands dirty and have heard of FTP, CSS and HEX numbers before, you might want to download the latest version of wordpress.org (if you do that, you’ll need to have already set up a domain name and hosting). Many Hosting companies will install it for you, but once it’s up, it’s up to you to customise and tweak it.
But be warned – this will depend on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go – take this pill, and you may unwittingly be taking the path of the web designer and could be knee deep in markup and hyper-text tags before you know it. That’s not a bad thing, but you’re probably reading this because you’d rather be making artwork and writing engaging blog posts than spending you days learning to code. Remember that *
It is possible to gain greater access to the workings of your .com site – linking it to a domain name, access to the HTML / CSS etc for a small monthly fee, however for most purposes the free flavour should suit you fine.
WordPress is widely supported by developers and designers creating ‘themes’ to change the look of sites and plugins which can push it’s functions far beyond blogging and basic website management. If you want a ‘proper’ website, WordPress would be a good place to start.
* Saying that – a little HTML goes a long way, just like any language – and you’re in the internet now.
WordPress.org is a very powerful CMS platform and is more than capable of running a full featured website (this site is built in WordPress), in fact if a client doesn’t need or cannot afford a fully bespoke Content Management System, WordPress is my go to platform to create fully dynamic and expandable websites. With a huge open source community behind it, it’s a platform you can grow with but you can also get a site up and running relatively easily, certainly compared to other self hosted CMS alternatives. however, if you are not interested in learning HTML it’s probably best to leave this one to the professionals.
The original and erm, best. Was once independent, now owned by Google, Blogger has traditionally been a fairly get up and go low frills blogging platform. If you want to get publishing online, but with a little more old-skool kudos, Blogger is great. It’s not always been the prettiest or enjoyable platform to use, but it’s all hosted for you like wordpress.com and is easily customisable within reason. There is a large community creating templates for Blogger, many of which are free and If you know some HTML and CSS, tweaking your template can go pretty far. I personally find it a better fit for writing and posting up the occasional image and would likely opt for another platform as a main gallery or portfolio site.
The current darling of the internet, Tumblr is a hugely popular platform. Originally set up as a really simple blogging tool for those who didn’t have the need or patience for a Blogger or WordPress type site, Tumblr does a few things and it does them quickly, well and in a ‘fun’ accessible manner.
Due to it’s simplicity, it seems to mean different things to different people and can be used in a few different ways. I would argue it’s largest user base is young things expressing their feelings and populating their feed by re-blogging things they love in a torrent of consciousness popularity race.
This waterfall of information feel of Tumblr fits well with it’s ‘Tumble blog’ model, but it can also be molded onto a more conventional website. It’s convenient place to post images, video, audio and to a lesser degree words. I don’t find the writen word very effective on Tumblr. if other people follow your feeds, I imagine it’s a the more immediate imagery that they’ll notice. I find writing gets in the way on Tumblr. that’s not to say that’s always the case, and if you use your Tumblr as your main site, it can be constructed into a ‘regular’ website of varying degrees. There’s a large theme developer community as well as all having free access to the HTML and CSS if you’re brave.
Cargo is billed as a collective of creative people and makers, and does manage to exude a certain coolness and exclusivity – mainly due to the high caliber of the artists that use it and that you need to either be invited or accepted to join.
Applying for membership is as simple as filling in a short blurb about yourself and work and a link to any existing work online. If you meet their requirements, you have access to a pretty full featured website builder. It is intended as a portfolio / gallery platform with access to the CSS to tweak colours and layout to a degree, but there’s a large number of quality templates available – as with the other platforms, ranging from free to not.
Like WordPress.com, you can gain greater access to the workings of your site – linking it to a domain name, access to the HTML etc for a small monthly fee.
Not as famous as wordpress, or as hip as cargo (although it could be argues cargo owes much inspiration to the layout and design of Indexhibit), it is worth knowing about.
Designed by Daniel Eatock it was developed as a CMS for artists and designers who care about simply displaying work in an easy to navigate manner. It’s stripped back aesthetic lends itself to a particular artist website aesthetic, and is fairly easy to use. you do need a basic knowledge of FTP uploading and a smattering of HTML might be helpful (in fact a little HTML is useful anyway).
If you are a photographer, the chances are you already have a Flickr Account. While it’s lost a fair bit of ground to services such as instagram and facebook for those who love to share their snapshots and 500px for the more pro/enthusiant user, I’d like to think it’s still got a place in the heart of the intenet, even more so since their recent reboot.
I think it still serves a more discerning internet user and many people host their portfolio work here, not just photographers. Illustrators, painters etc.
While not a portfolio site – more a community network, It can function as a host to your photos online – you can link to the images via your own website /blog and as a sort of backup (if your harddrive goes kaput). Since relaunching earlier this year, they now offer a free terrabyte of storage to boot – not to be sniffed at!
Owned by Adobe, Behance is the largest online portfolio site online. It’s free to use and enormously well populated. It serves all kind of creative folk from Motion Graphic Designers to painters, Web Designers to Costume designers, Type creators to illustrators and pretty much most things in between. the standard of work always appears high, and the community and support around it seems vast. I would as far to suggest that even if you have another main platform to show your work, it might make sense to have a Behance account, just to tick the box. it’s easy to use and serves as a handy repository to show your work, and you can even allow people to download files from your site – type foundry’s often allow free downloads of their fonts for instance, but you could offer a PDF of your resume or mini brochure.
The one thing to note is that you do have to allow for the fact that it is so hugely popular, it makes it harder to stand out from the crowd. the layout and template is pretty much one size fits all, but they do offer a ‘pro’ version which allows you to customise the layout of your portfolio and use a custom domain name, but obviously you do pay for the privilege.
So that’s pretty much it. There are indeed other publishing platforms and web building tools out there (Squarespace for instance looks promising) but these are the most popular and tried and tested. Like I said earlier – none is better than the other, but it’s worth testing them and seeing what fits you best. You may find that non suit your needs, and in which case you’re probably best calling the pros;)