I’ve been playing a little bit with BaseKit. It’s a nicely designed and well executed web app, sort of like Dreamweaver as a SaaS solution. It’s UK based and has some VC backing. Still, when I bumped into one of the investment team at a networking thing last week, I’m afraid I chuckled at the foolishness of the investment (OK, I’d had a drink).
That’s because it’s one of those apps I think of as “stupid rocket science”—brilliant engineering that’s not solving a real problem. It’s a category error. Who’s the audience for this thing?
Here’s the problem that BaseKit and others are trying to resolve: most websites of any complexity require at least two quite distinct specialist skills beyond business skills: design and development. That drives up cost and implementation time. Well, what if we could automate away one or both of these skills requirements? Then, hurrah, the business user would be able to just get on with the job, without waiting on designers and developers to do their thing.
Website-in-a-box solutions like SquareSpace and WordPress.com approach this by fixing both the design and dev axis: design comes from fixed themes prepared by professional designers; development needs are handled by choosing from a plug-in module library.
But there’s an alternate approach where you give the business user a toolset that lets them do the design and build themselves. Technically, this is an interesting problem: challenging but doable. Hey, I’ve tried solving it myself, about 6 years ago.
But here’s the thing: having a design tool does not make you a designer. You don’t have to believe that design is an innate skill that some people have and some people don’t: it’s enough to realise that even if it’s learnable, it’s one hell of a big learn. It’s time consuming and requires practice: a lot of practice. Real design starts with paper and pencil, not a GUI tool.
The website-in-a-box solutions are better not despite being less flexible, but because they’re less flexible, ie. there’s less room for the non-designer to screw up the design.
So, who’s the audience for BaseKit? Can “business users” really handle their own design? No. Do designers want to master another visual tool for web design, or would they rather stick with what they know (ie. Photoshop)? Afraid it’s Photoshop. Do developers want to nudge GUI controls to resize columns, or would they rather write code? Code please!
I guess there may still be a class of hobbyist webmasters out there who might find this useful. Doubt they want to spend actual money though…
A slightly more interesting take on this idea is the forthcoming Drupal Gardens (though I’ve not actually tried it yet; still waiting for my beta invite). At least it will let you export out a real Drupal implementation. I imagine that’s a one way ticket, but at least might give you a graceful exit when you realise you don’t have the skillset and hire in a real designer and developer…