Platform review: Webflow

Mar 2017

The market of website-building platforms is as saturated as any other in the digital industry, but only a handful of them are ideally suited to the standalone designer or design department in a small agency at present.

Webflow is one such platform that allows you to build sites without having to crack code.

It runs with a tagline that reads “If you can design it, you can build it with Webflow”, so I decided to put that claim to the test by redesigning the website of one of the biggest football clubs in the world: Manchester United FC.

To see the live design, visit: mufc.webflow.io

 

Here’s what I thought of my experience with the platform:

Pros

  • ‍Most comprehensive website-building platform that I have encountered to date
  • ‍Mobile-optimised as standard
  • ‍Great interconnectivity and integration
  • Extensive support available


With a powerful and intuitive editor at hand, Webflow doesn’t mess around and pulls you straight into it. I’d say it’s probably the designer’s equivalent of walking onto the hallowed turf at Old Trafford in front of 76,000 fans for the first time, but once you get possession of the ball, you get control of it very quickly and you begin to love it.

The flexibility of it is the most striking aspect to first-time users. You can start with a template to get to grips with or a completely blank canvas to go wild with, so you can come at it from any kind of background.

Whichever option you choose, the platform is mobile-first as standard, so you know that whatever you design will be suitable for most users in most niches these days.

You can create custom CMS via the ‘Collections’ feature, which perfectly bridges the gap between design and development and means that you are not restricted by any type of template that doesn’t quite feel right in this nook or that cranny.

The flexibility of the platform as a whole extends to the freedom you get with typography in the way of custom options from Typekit, Google Fonts and, of course, uploading your own, but it doesn’t stop there. You don’t even have to feel locked into the platform itself thanks to the ability to export CSS, HTML and Javascript from any website you build.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of features in Webflow, but you always have access to a range of video tutorials to guide you through if ever you get stuck. The platform autosaves the site you’re building and its associated staging URLs, so you don’t have to worry about that and the staff are seemingly always ready to respond should you begin to worry about anything else.

Cons

  • ‍User Interface (UI) can be intimidating at first
  • ‍Doesn’t feel naturally built for designers like Sketch, for instance
  • ‍Unclear where the platform fits into the design process
  • Expensive for basic website requirements


For first-timers, Webflow can appear to be a lot to take in and that makes you feel like it will be a long while before you can design and build high-quality websites in it with ease.

If you have no knowledge of CSS or HTML at all, you might find yourself on a steep learning curve, but nobody ever got great at anything without hours of grafting.

With that initial confusion in mind, it is rather difficult to see where Webflow might fit into my overall design process for a typical client. I’m sure this will come in time with more experimentation, but it is not something that you can pick up overnight like Squarespace.

I’d still prefer to work with a professional developer myself, since I know then that I don’t have to paper over the cracks in my knowledge of code to fashion a robust and good-looking website.

There are better platforms out there for the purposes of creating wireframes, for instance, like Axure 8 and Balsamiq, and the creation of high-fidelity prototypes can be pretty time-consuming to say the least.

For what you get and how long it can take to get there, my gut and my head tell me that the platform is a little on the expensive side, but there’s no denying that it can create some neat designs if you put the time in.

Conclusion

The potential exists for Webflow to be a remarkable platform for designers of all levels of experience, but coming at it as a pure newbie will prove difficult.

The pricing structure doesn’t do much to alleviate that either, especially if you are a freelancer or small outfit looking for a viable solution to not being able to get hold of decent, affordable developers.

I’ll need to run Webflow through the mill on a handful of small projects before I bolt it onto my services package, but it’s an impressive platform nonetheless. I am yet to find a more comprehensive platform for building websites that are up to scratch for today’s demanding world of users. It just takes plenty of time to get used to this one.

You can explore a full list of features of Webflow here to find out more.