2006 Jul 01
Design Logic, sales Inc. LogoYes
Greek Attic Ltd Moonfruit SiteMaker

by David M. Raab
DM News
July, 2006

I own an electric drill, but that doesn’t make me a dentist. Yet owning a computer has made many people into graphic and Web designers. This has certainly saved them time and money compared with hiring someone else. But the results can be as painful as a do-it-yourself root canal.

Design software built for professionals is really no help. Ambitious amateurs often lack the technical skills to use professional software and the aesthetic sense to use it well. Fortunately, there are systems developed specifically to help untrained users do a good job on design projects. These combine easy-to-learn interfaces with features to help users to make reasonable choices. Many are provided as Web-based services, allowing the quicker implementation and lower costs than software on the user’s own machine.

LogoYes (Design Logic Inc., 800-940-5646, www.logoyes.com) is focused on one task: creating business logos. Users specify a company image (high-tech, experienced, or creative) and an industry. The system then offers a variety of symbols that it deems appropriate. If none of the symbols appeal, users can see additional choices. After selecting a symbol, users enter their company name and an optional tagline, choose among system-selected typefaces for each, and arrange these with the symbol to form the logo. The whole process can be completed in a few minutes and everything to this point is free. Users can then pay $99 to receive EPS and JPEG files of their logo, ready for printing and online displays. Paying users can also save two versions for online review and make revisions before creating the final output.

The key to all this is the quality of LogoYes’s recommendations. The company says it has a total of 20,000 symbols, all designed especially for logo use. These are arranged by topic as well as industry and image, so each combination of choices brings up different options. This approach does narrow the number of choices to something manageable. Recommended typefaces also vary with the image type, although there are many fewer choices.

The final quality of the results will still depend on the design sense of the user and is somewhat constrained by the one symbol, one name, one tagline format. For example, I could not create a logo for “high chair heaven” that replaced both h’s with chairs. Then again, that was probably a bad idea. So LogoYes may do its users a favor by limiting the complexity of their creations.

Moonfruit SiteMaker (Greek Attic Ltd, www.moonfruit.com) lies at the other extreme of help-you-do-it-yourself software, letting users build complete, sophisticated Web sites. Many other products share this ambition, of which I have personally tried just a handful. So, although I liked Moonfruit better than the others, I can’t authoritatively say it’s the best choice available.

What I can say is that Moonfruit was remarkably easy to use given the power it provides. I was able to set up a test Web site and add some fairly impressive features working almost wholly by intuition, with just an occasional peek at the online help. Such accessibility is critical for do-it-yourself tools, whose users are unlikely to have the time or patience to work through even a simple tutorial. Moonfruit users start by picking site design templates, which automatically generate the pages for the new site. Users than replace the default contents with the text and images they actually want. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out the SiteMaker buttons: does Edit, Pages, Insert or Design add something to a page? But the answers made sense once I discovered them, so the right choices quickly became automatic. It’s worth noting that Moonfruit’s file upload function, which has been balky in several programs I’ve tested, worked particularly smoothly. The system even automatically stores smaller versions of large graphics files, to speed performance.

Each Moonfruit page is essentially a canvas that holds objects, similar to a Powerpoint slide. Users add, select, move, resize and delete objects at will. Once an object is selected, a small window opens up with tabs to set properties such as colors and fonts. Different types of objects have different properties, but since the appropriate tabs appear automatically, users don’t have to remember much about the details. There’s no HTML or JavaScript or anything remotely technical. Where Web page design is concerned, this is about as easy as it gets.

Moonfruit objects include text and images, of course. More impressively, there are objects for searchable lists such as products or members, member sign-up and log-in, bulletin boards, online chat, downloadable picture galleries, polls, email forms, MP3 jukeboxes and Ask Jeeves search. Hundreds of specialized objects can further enhance pages with buttons, clip art, graphic elements, text effects, animations, site counters, clocks, and games. Connections to PayPal widgets offer single-product ordering and multi-product shopping carts.

Nearly every object can be assigned a link, which could point to another page within the Moonfruit site, an external Web page, an email form, a file to be downloaded, a PayPal widget, or the member log-in function. Different words within a text object can be given different links. Members can be assigned to groups with rights to see particular pages and perform functions such as list updates. Outbound email can be sent to all members or specified groups.

Moonfruit definitely has its limits. Serious marketers will miss site personalization (although groups provide some capabilities), ecommerce beyond PayPal, in-site search, and reporting on visitor behavior. More sophisticated users may be concerned that pages are Macromedia Flash files, not HTML, meaning they cannot be edited or enhanced outside of the system. Nor can a site built on Moonfruit be transferred elsewhere.

But people needing simple information site with a few key capabilities, including lists, member registrations, and emails, will find Moonfruit a viable alternative to hiring a Web developer. At under $200 per year for the most extensive package, including Web hosting, price is no object. Moonfruit was launched in 2000 and says more than 750,000 sites have been built with its tools.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com.

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