As with any great endeavor, web design is about both inspiration and perseverance. Back in the day, creating web pages was the sole province of hardcore coders, but that’s not the case anymore given that there are numerous tools to simplify the process. Some of these even have a visual interface like a website builder, allowing you to drag and drop links, text and images as if you were designing a poster or presentation.
Other web design tools are geared towards programmers, acting as advanced text editors, and allowing for building a website line-by-line. However, most web design tools exist somewhere between these two extremes.
In this guide we have focused on five of the very best tools currently available. When weighing up which to include, we have focused on ease of use, supported web languages, cost, and how easy the tools make it to upload the finished project once you are done.
If this is your first time building a website we recommend using a free tool such as Bluefish before spending any money. All premium tools covered in this guide offer a trial version, in any case, so you can get an idea of what they’re about before you commit.
If web design software is too complicated for you, then you might want to try online website builders that focus on simplicity and ease of use rather than on offering an extensive feature set.
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Best web design software - at a glance
A web design juggernaut
Adobe Dreamweaver is a long-established app that allows you to code your website design directly, without having to know too much about programming. The software works through a mix of visual editing and HTML editing, which means it shouldn't have too steep a learning curve for most users.
Additionally, while coding your own website design requires you to put in more effort than simply using an existing readymade template, at least you have the chance to ensure you get the look you actually want, rather than trying to work around someone else's design specifications.
A particularly good feature of Dreamweaver is that it allows you to produce a responsive design, which means your website can be optimized to display on desktops as well as mobile devices, without limiting the user experience.
However, if you are a more advanced user you may be pleased to note that Dreamweaver provides multi-monitor support for Windows. It also supports the Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) to work with HTML5 elements and CSS grids. Additionally, there's also support for Git to allow you to edit source code directly from within Dreamweaver.
Dreamweaver is available as part of Adobe's mid-range packaged app subscription service, Creative Cloud, which also includes Photoshop. The subscription costs from $20.99 a month if you pay annually, and also comes with a month's free access to Adobe Stock image. Alternatively, if you only wish to pay monthly, it costs $31.49 per month.
Quick, easy and powerful website creation
Wix is more of a website builder than a coding platform, but it is one of the most popular online website creators, offering a range of plans and products. The free version has Wix branding, limited storage space (500MB) and bandwidth, but move up to the most popular plan (unlimited) and there’s no Wix ads. You get unlimited bandwidth (hence its name) and 10GB storage, along with a free domain, Google Ad vouchers and much more. The e-commerce plans start with the "Business Basic" plan with a price of $17 (£13.30) per month.
An excellent collection of 500 plus templates gets the design process off to a quick start. The drag-and-drop editor gives you all kinds of tools and features to explore – an image editor, video backgrounds, animations, social buttons, an integrated site blog – and just about everything can be tweaked, tuned and restyled. Furthermore, as of recently, Wix introduced Wix Turbo, which increases the speed and performance of websites substantially.
All the core editing functions are really smartly designed, and operate more like a native app than your average website builder. Wix does have some weaknesses, with tech support seeming a little sluggish and limited in some respects. But there’s no denying that the superb editor and range of top-notch templates make it easy for web building novices to create something impressive.
Building your website platform
WordPress is an alternative way to set up and design your website, being rather different to the other offerings we've highlighted here because it's actually a content management system (CMS). The power here is that it is a simple matter to set up a website in minutes. Indeed, many web hosting packages include a one-click install of WordPress from their Control Panel, but even without that, WordPress is relatively easy to install.
Once installed, the backend for administration and management is very user-friendly. You can use the existing WordPress design templates for your website, but more likely you will want to download and install an existing free or premium WordPress template – all of which can be done with just a few clicks.
Even if you would prefer to work with your own design, you can often do so using drag-and-drop functions, usually from a downloaded design with an in-built framework. This can allow you to create a professional-looking website without having to learn programming or coding at all.
Better still, there are so many free add-ons available to download and install, often requiring nothing more than a few clicks. This makes the whole process of customizing your website very simple, and it does not require any professional skills.
Overall, WordPress is a very easy CMS to use, and can provide a very quick way to get any form of website online fast. The huge variety of template designs and additional community supported features mean that getting something which is near the mark of what you want isn't hard at all. Just ensure that in the settings you select to turn off comments so as to avoid spam.
The DIY e-commerce website
Weebly is another online CMS, this time targeted at people with little or no coding experience, by providing easy to use drag and drop tools for creating a website. Weebly also provides the ability for users to create online stores using existing templates to work with their simply website-building framework.
The number of themes available for Weebly is somewhat limited, but the designs are clean and professional-looking, plus there are options to personalize accordingly. Additionally, the themes are responsive, which means they are optimized to work with mobile devices, plus they have in built SEO, analytics, and even a feature for posting ads directly to Facebook.
There's a free tier available for basic use, and allows you to get used to the service, with paid plans starting from $6 per month. However, to use your own domain and get rid of ads, you'll need to start with the $12 per month Professional plan.
Cloud-based offering that needs no coding knowledge
Webflow is a cloud-based service which has been created specifically to allow people with no coding knowledge to get started with web design.
Aside from being truly cross-platform, as it's web-based, Webflow emphasizes the concept of 'smart codelessness'. In the first instance this means a crisp drag and drop interface allowing you to drop elements such as text and images seamlessly onto a page using one of the freely available templates.
Unlike many WYSIWYG editors, the code produced is very clean and well-written even if you choose the 'I have no coding experience' option during setup. Webflow's automation tool will create the necessary HTML/CSS code for you. You can make granular changes to individual elements using the panels on the right.
Webflow offers a free demonstration of its features via the website, and you can also subscribe for a free Starter package which allows you to create up to two projects. If you require more than this, prices start at $12 a month for the basic package, rising to $36 a month for the business package. This is a little pricey compared to equivalent tools, mind you.
Lightweight and easy to use – a big fish in a small pond
Bluefish is amongst the smallest web design tools available today. The tiny installer weighs in at just under 53MB and setup takes only a few moments. While the interface is text-only, it's clearly designed with novices in mind as it employs clear-cut toolbars, user customizable menus and syntax highlighting.
Bluefish has an excellent search function, allowing you to find text across multiple projects. The tool also has no trouble juggling hundreds of documents at the same time. Although Bluefish supports working with remote files, the varied and useful dialogs and wizards don't currently support direct upload of web pages via FTP.
Despite the best efforts of the developers, Bluefish may take some time to get used to. The tool is available free of charge, however, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try. During our test on a Windows 10 PC we found we had to install GTK+ 2.24.8 in order to run Bluefish. A download link for GTK is available via the Bluefish website.
Edit your code
Atom is an open source editor for designing, developing, and editing code. It's very easy to use and there are developer tools to simplify the process. The integrated packet manager also means you can add additional features directly from Github, who developed Atom, and there's a drag-and-drop feature for moving files and folders around.
While a lot of people may be intimated by the idea of coding if they have no programming experience, at some point in the web design process it can be important to be able to edit code directly. This is particularly helpful if you want to customize code for existing software add-ons in order to get the features you want for your website.
Note that existing text editing apps are not good for working with code as they insert additional formatting that can render your code useless. Hence the need for a dedicated code editor.
However, Atom is free to download and use, and the extensive range of libraries available could be especially helpful. Furthermore, Atom's user interface can be tweaked and customized directly or via installing the third-party themes that help you work best, or the ones which simply make the program easier to use. Atom also comes with a very strong support community.
Other web design tools you might find useful
If you're involved in web design, the chances are you'll also need some graphic design skills and assets. Here we'll look at a couple of other resources and assets you'll properly need to help with your website design process:
1. Graphics program
You don't need anything too expensive or fancy unless you're chasing a career in graphic design or illustration. However, you'll probably find yourself wanting to create simple logos, headings, text features, as well as manipulate photos, all as part of your website design.
There are a lot of different packages out there, from GIMP which is a completely free software platform, to older software such as Jasc's Paint Shop Pro which remains a competent program that can be bought on the cheap at Amazon.
Alternatively, check out these other features for the latest in best, and sometimes free, software you might want to use:
2. Stock photos
On top of creating your own graphics, there's also a good chance you'll want to use stock photos to really give your website a professional look.
Stock photos are available on almost any subject matter, and on top of that there are also an increasing number of stock video websites, in case you want to add video media.
Even better is that there are a number of free stock image and video websites, but be advised that these tend to be much more limited than paid-for stock image sites.
Here you can check out some of our features on these, to help you choose the best ones:
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