6 Artist-Approved Platforms for Building Your Website
If you’ve listened to a podcast, ridden the New York City subway, or watched the Super Bowl in the last five years, you’re likely familiar with Squarespace. The website-building platform has become shorthand for planting your flag in the digital sand. It’s become so ubiquitous that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Squarespace—or perhaps competitors like Wix and Weebly—is the only game in town for easily creating your own website.
But particularly for artists and other creatives, when it comes to launching an e-commerce shop for your art or photography, publishing a digital archive, or courting design clients with a splashy portfolio, there are many more tools at your disposal. Here, we share just a few of them and how they work.
Use Dropbox to quickly create a new website
Small Victories is a very clever, no-fuss site-builder that turns your Dropbox files into a website for free (there’s a small fee for advanced features). There’s no CMS, no server, and no coding required, and anyone you share your site’s Dropbox folder with can add files—making it easy to collaborate on websites or presentations.
The project, created by New York design studio XXIX, was born when designer Jacob Heftmann was traveling in Germany. He wanted to easily transfer his photos of the trip from his computer to a website without having to do any uploading or coding. Since the files were already saved online in a Dropbox folder, he figured such a tool already existed. It didn’t, but like any good designer, he took that as an invitation to create one.
This can-do spirit evokes the philosophy behind Small Victories. “Artists and designers should have easy tools for self-publishing on the web, rather than relying on a large corporation or predefined templates to share their work,” Heftmann explained. “The Internet itself is a great medium for creative practice, and Small Victories lets you quickly and easily make new websites for experimentation and play.”
Other options: Universe is a free iOS app that allows you to build a custom site using just your phone, or try this clever hack to turn a collection of Instagram accounts into a portfolio.
Manage your online collection or archive
CollectiveAccess is a free, open-source cataloging tool that artists, galleries, and museums can use to organize their archives and collections, and make them accessible online. It also allows users to understand the relationships between objects in different ways by visualizing collections as interactive maps, or organizing objects into hierarchies. The New Museum used the software to make a rich three-decade archive, including over 10,000 images, videos, sound files, documents, and digital artwork source codes available for anyone explore.
By virtue of the fact that the project is open-source, many aspects of its development are driven by volunteers who contribute code, ideas, and tech support. “From the start, openness, sustainability, and extensibility were our focus,” said Catherine Lillie, the project manager at CollectiveAccess. “A development model based around a publicly accessible code repository and a lively support forum fostered an openness to community-driven ideas and suggestions.”
Other options: CollectionSpace is another open-source collection management option, and Omeka is a web-publishing platform for sharing collections and exhibitions.
Sell your work through your portfolio
Like Squarespace, Format provides smart-looking website templates for non-coders, and a recent survey of 1,630 photographers gave the site high marks for ease of use, attractive layouts, affordability, and responsive customer support. The service also includes features for the creative small business—like integrated e-commerce tools for those itching to sell their work online, and proofing galleries for photographers to share shoots with their clients.
When Lukas Dryja graduated from design school in the early aughts, he was shocked by how few of his classmates were showing their work online. This apparent lack of access inspired him to launch Format (with co-founder Tyler Rooney) in 2010. Like design school, the site’s mission includes building connections between creatives. “We want to create a community,” Dryja said, “not just a product.”
Other options: SmugMug is another site geared towards photographers and other artists selling prints, offering business features such as integrated printing directly from selected photo labs, and the ability to sell photo and video downloads.
Take full advantage of your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
Portfolio is Adobe’s answer to the portfolio website, and like most Adobe products, one of its major advantages is deep integration into the Adobe universe of tools and services. It allows you to import Behance projects, easily uploads Lightroom galleries, and uses fonts from Typekit. “If you are a Creative Cloud member and have Behance/Lightroom content, you can publish a site in minutes, as opposed to hours or days,” explained Clément Faydi, a principal designer at Adobe. “We’re taking the pain out of creating a portfolio so our users can focus back on what’s most important: their work.”
Other options: If you’re a designer looking for a way to connect your portfolio with a jobs board, Dribble is another option: The platform is integrated within a hiring interface, allowing potential employers or clients to easily discover your work through the site.
Connect with an established digital design community
Cargo, a portfolio-builder geared towards artists and designers, grew out of SpaceCollective.org, an art project and experiment in digital community interaction, which was active during the mid-aughts. It allowed users to create customizable, freestanding websites that also functioned as personal profiles—something between a portfolio and a blog. (In its original iteration, the platform was invite-only, lending it a certain caché.)
These days, Cargo offers the standard array of portfolio-building tools and is especially popular among graphic designers. In 2017, the company launched a redesigned version of the platform, Cargo 2. “We wanted to take advantage of more robust browser technologies, maturing web typography, increasingly elegant image handling, e-commerce, and the abundance of open-source products,” said co-founder Folkert Gorter.
Gorter emphasizes that the platform has always been driven and maintained by artists and creatives from diverse disciplines. “At any given time during our nine-year history, our team has consisted of filmmakers, musicians, interior decorators, graphic novelists—all designing, programming, and supporting Cargo.”
Other options: Another portfolio option favored by designers and creative agencies is Semplice, a WordPress-based website builder that charges a one-time fee, rather than offering a subscription service.
Get your portfolio from a mom-and-pop shop
Creating a website always seems simple at first, until suddenly it’s 2 a.m. and you’re tearing your hair out over a broken link. Wouldn’t it be nice to have customer service requests go straight to the company’s founder or CEO? For portfolio-builder 22Slides’s founder Bryan Buchanan, this direct connection to his users is part of the company’s ethos: “When clients email us, they’re not dealing with customer service reps, they’re sent straight to the top,” he said. “We try to keep communications more like a small design firm than some anonymous website hosting company.”
If Buchanan’s one-on-one approach seems more old-fashioned small-business owner than tech-startup bro, it’s probably because he started out as a freelance photographer and designer himself. The company doesn’t run on investor funding, which means it probably has more in common with its clients than with its major competitors. But despite its relatively small size, 22Slides gets high marks among photographers for features like its intuitive interface.