I wanted to take a little time to tell you all why as a company we switched from using other content management systems (CMS) to Squarespace.
A few years ago I felt a little disenchanted with website design. So much so that for a while I did not do any new websites for customers and decided instead to focus on Brand Identity Design and Product Photography.
Eventually, I became sad by this because I missed website design and felt I wanted to offer it to my clients again. After all, I had a vast knowledge of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), User Interface Design (UI Design), Digital Marketing and coding skills that were going to waste.
Why was I so disenchanted with website design I hear you ask? I was not happy delivering websites to customers using the platforms and methods I was currently using.
Let me start from the beginning
I built my first website in 2003 which was for a band I was playing in at the time. I used Dreamweaver and Photoshop mainly to make the graphics, and I hand coded the HTML in tables. I was delighted with the result, and from there I was hooked on website design.
As time passed and technologies changed, I began to code my websites with CSS and ran into all the horrible Internet Explorer issues we had to deal with back then.
I worked with a few server-side developers to create dynamic websites for my clients but always wanted more control over this aspect of what I did. At the time I felt a bit torn between being a website designer and being a website developer. I dabbled with a little PHP coding, but my interest was mainly with design, and I in all honestly did not enjoy server-side work.
At the time WordPress was beginning to appear on the scene (don't ask me to remember dates), but I was more interested in another CMS (Content Management System). ExpressionEngine which I discovered through another website designer and frontend developer whom I admired and followed at the time.
ExpressionEngine was a real game changer for me as it allowed me to craft my front-end code just the way I wanted and then with using platform dynamically bring it to life, it was so liberating! It meant I could take back more control over the websites I was creating for my clients and build them exactly how I visualised them.
ExpressionEngine uses its own written markup code to change static website pages into dynamic ones. You add the ExpressionEngine markup code around your HTML markup that you want to make dynamic. ExpressionEngine is built using PHP, and the ExpressionEngine markup code you use does have some similarities to PHP but it in no way as scary as PHP looks. If you are familiar with Shopify Liquid code, it is a little bit like that.
ExpressionEngine does not change your front-end code one bit. So what you start with is what you end up with, but of course, you can control the content of your website via the ExpressionEngine Control Panel once you have finished coding up all of your pages. Unlike WordPress, you don't get a 'header.php' or 'footer.php' etc... from the start. Instead, you create these (PHP includes) yourself which sounds like a lot of work but isn't really at all, and it means you can build them any way you like and only add code that you need for your website.
I loved it! It meant I could create a cleanly coded dynamic website that looked and behaved exactly how I wanted.
So why did I stop using ExpressionEngine? In all honesty, I am planning to go back to ExpressionEngine for some specific projects that would be difficult to create with Squarespace. However, I did stop using it at the time for a few reasons.
It was expensive, and you had to buy a license for each copy of the software. Platforms such as WordPress were free, and it was sometimes tricky convincing clients of the benefits of the investment. WordPress was beginning to become very popular, and I could not ignore this. Customers often would ask if I could create them a WordPress website. I was starting to feel that I could not overlook WordPress anymore.
I was still designing and producing front-end code for customers who were creating custom CMS systems, and this type of work remained unaffected.
So I began working with partners on WordPress websites and building a few of my own, and in all honesty, I never felt comfortable with it. I knew I would have to spend lots more time improving my PHP skills if I was going to be able to work with it in the same way that I had been working with ExpressionEngine. I was not sure if this was the direction I wanted to go in as the further I got with the platform, the more I discovered just how much work was needed to keep a WordPress website functioning long term.
Reselling Website Hosting
At the time I also was running a hosting reseller account to deliver all my client websites online. I noticed that the WordPress sites ran into far more problems than I would have liked. The ExpressionEngine ones also did occasionally to be fair but not as often. Looking back the server company themselves caused some of these issues by performing software updates and changes to their systems and not rightly informing me of these changes beforehand. I am sure that there are better companies about now than the ones I was using at the time.
The Larger Problem
All these moving parts together would frequently add up to creating more work for me, often at inconvenient times. Having to deal with these kinds of issues was having an impact on my time.
It all just didn't feel right, and I couldn't honestly deliver websites in this way and feel confident that my customers were going to have the best possible experience.
So I was stuck, and I was not sure where to turn. I was a website designer and front-developer desperate to create and deliver beautiful, functional websites for my clients, and I was not sure what the best way to do this was.
Then a few years ago in 2016 (I think), I discovered Squarespace!
Now, that is not entirely true as I was aware of the platform a long time previous (possibly ten years back, wow!) but I never really saw it as an option. I guess I did not know what it was and what it was all about so I just ignored it. I wish I could go back and rectify that, but there you go. Of course, from what I know now about Squarespace and it's history it was a very different platform back then so who knows if it would have even worked for me with the kinds of websites, I was creating at the time.
I digress. Discovering Squarespace was a game changer! Once I had the lightbulb moment with it, I could see how my customers could use this platform for their businesses and how I could create websites for them using it that would be easy to monitor and maintain. I was excited!
Study & Education
So I hit the old Squarespace books hard and begin learning everything I could about Squarespace. Luckily Squarespace has a fantastic community of users and experts and there, is lots of great information out there.
I decided to start work on rebuilding my business website using Squarespace which was at the time using WordPress. It was a big learning curve, but I eventually did it, made the switch and ended up with a new Squarespace website for my business.
I moved on to building the first websites for my clients on the platform and so far they have all been delighted with the results. I eventually became a Squarespace Circle Member and now build the majority of the websites I produce on the platform.
I am very excited about my future as a Squarespace website designer. Now, the platform is not perfect, and there are some things I would like to see it do better, but I believe that Squarespace as a company is very forward thinking and will improve the platform over time and I feel very comfortable recommending it and designing and building websites for my customers with it.
About the authors
Michael James Collett and Rachel Willett specialise in Identity Design, Website Design and Digital Marketing. We help businesses communicate more effectively with their customers through creating beautiful, strategic and crafted brand identities and websites.