Thursday, December 25, 2014

A nice tool: Dynamik Website Builder by CobaltApps

It's been a while since I blogged about something technical so today I want to say a few good words about a terrific tool that we've been using as of late and which we may 'standardize' on.

Many of you know that we do our websites in WordPress and with it we use the Genesis Framework. For those who don't know what a framework is, it is enough to say that these beasts add facility, ability, and stability to WordPress. There are lots of good frameworks out there. We like Genesis.

Traditionally developers have two choices when doing a site. a) Start from scratch. b) Use a template, often called a 'theme.' Most developers start with a theme.

A theme is basically the layout of the homepage and in reality is boxes within boxes where you put content.

A theme is great if the client likes the layout, but it can get cumbersome to make structural changes... like move a box from here to there or add a new box somewhere.

One of the current trends is to offer a third option... a "theme builder" theme. There are several of these out there. Most can be rather cumbersome to use, but that's a story for another time.

The 'builder' we are using is called the Dynamik Website Builder (DWB) theme which only works with the Genesis framework.

Originally DWB was its own framework, called Catalyst but Eric Hamm, the head-honcho at Cobalt Apps decided to 'throw in' with Genesis, probably thinking "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" I think it was a good decision for him and the rest of the large Genesis community of users.

There is a ton of documentation on the CobaltApps site about DWB and I'm not going to go over it here. I'm only going to point out some of the reasons we like it and why you might want to consider it for yourself or your clients.

1) It gives us simple tools to create boxes (known as widget areas.) We can easily create any layout we want without writing any code (besides a splash of CSS.) So when a client asks for a layout with three rows of four boxes where some rows have boxes of varying size, it is simple to do. Before DWB we'd have to find a theme that maybe had 3 boxes in a row and then make modifications as well as add more rows. If you've ever had to deconstruct a theme, you know what a PITA is it.

2) A lot of thought was put into the product in giving developers what they wanted most... easy menu-driven styling... fonts, colors, widths, etc., so that instead of having to write a ton of custom CSS, you just check some boxes or add color codes or sizes to the design menus... done and done. And the developers have made the chore of getting sites too look good (resize) on small devices much easier.

3) Having only one learning curve has been a a productivity enhancer for us. Even though most themes that run under Genesis have things in common, often there is enough in differences that each time you use a different theme for your clients you have to learn or re-learn the nuances of it. With DWB it's a "learn it once, know it forever" kind of paradigm. (Sort of like the old "write once, run everywhere" motto of Java in the 1990s!) Yes, there is a learning curve but it's a one-time deal and the curve is not very steep. This is not Ruby on Rails!

4) The docs, videos and the community are all very helpful. You got a question? Pop it on their forum and in an hour or so someone will tell you how to do what you are having troubles doing. These are nice people... and sometimes "the man" himself (Eric) will pop on and contribute his knowledge. This is NOT a Debian newsgroup (for those who know that wild-ass bunch in the Linux world!)

Dynamik is a very nice system. Yes, it cost money, and a case can be made that it should not cost as much as it does. And no one likes the "hold 'em hostage" method of support by extorting users each year for updates. Most people will pay a reasonable amount, but 50% of the original license each year? Some would call that 'greed.' Others would not. All I know is that the "hostage" paradigm has made us look very, very carefully at what tools we buy because if we get dependent on them and the vendor decides to raise the renewal price into the stratosphere, we're stuck. But again, that's a story for another day.

If you do websites for others for a living (or part of your living) you would be wise to check out the Dynamik Website Builder. There is no demo, but you can see all of the design screens on their site, as well as the video on their homepage.

You might like what you see.

We have, so far.

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner 
NewMedia Website Design
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA   916-962-9296