A Closer Look at FROONT, a Webpage Design Tool

FROONT canvas

Before I proceed, I feel that a tad bit of honest disclosure is ethical and necessary. I am not a computer programmer. I am not a coder, nor am I savvy in web-design. I do not blog, vlog, or tweet. This is not to say that my MacBook is covered in dust. I stare at its screen for hours each day, whether I’m taking notes in a lecture or delaying my review of those very notes with a Portlandia binge via Netflix. I add and subtract goodies from my Amazon cart and bookmark articles from my favorite blogs. I guess the point that I’m trying to make is: I am a consumer more than creator during my online voyages.

I have, however, become familiar with several web design tools over the course of my undergraduate career, including Wix, Weebly, and Jimdo. These tools will serve as a counterpoint for the following case that I make for the web design application FROONT.

Clockwise from left: Signup page of Jimdo, Weebly, Wix, and FROONT

At first glance, FROONT is nearly identical to its shortcut-web-design-app brethren. A spacious homepage features minimal text and an attractively faded image. A sparing, crisp sans-serif typeface gives a modern chic feel. The design alludes to the popular local coffee shop and the new bikram yoga spot down the street and all things trendy.

The only object that separates the up-and-coming musician or startup hopeful from creating a website is a simple signup tab, titled “Start Designing.”

FROONT is a shortcut design tool that allows the user to create a webpage without writing a single line of code. This “Easy-Bake”genre of webpage design tools has become increasingly popular due to its uncomplicated, fill-in-the-blank scheme. After creating an account, which can be completed using a Facebook profile or email account, users are cast into FROONT’s cockpit, where both text and video tutorials calm of the faint-of-heart. From a blank canvas, users can create a webpage by utilizing an array of pre-made templates, themes, backgrounds, text columns, and other elements available from a palette bar. After a rough framework is in place, users are able to implement personalized content onto their page, such as photographs and text.

FROONT’s pricing chart

Similar to its competitors, FROONT is available in both free and premium subscription packages. Beginning at the “Free” tier, users are granted a single, branded page, whereas the seventeen-dollar-per-month“Freelancer”option allows for the creation of 20 pages and additional features, including un-branded webpages, three custom domain names and priority support. Lastly, FROONT’s thirty-nine-dollar-per-month “Agency” option allows for 50 pages, five custom domain names and a host of additional features. While this freemium model is neither new nor unique of FROONT, it does present frustrating obstacles. For starters, anyone interested in starting a website with a restricted financial status must settle for FROONT’s economical interface of less features and functionality than that of its premium version. This model prioritizes finances over creativity, leaving those with fewer resources overshadowed by larger competitors. This result is known as “pay-to-win” among gamers, and the phrase appears to ring true of FROONT and the broader “free” webpage design app genre.

FROONT allows for the easy transfer of personal images and text from local files

On one hand, FROONT provides the user a design experience with an operative likeness to social media, where displayed images can be changed by a quick drag-and-drop function and text is typed into neatly arranged boxes, while the app simultaneously yields a higher level of user autonomy, allowing the actual arrangement of the page layout.

Pre-available themes and layouts are useful, especially considering the nature of FROONT and like webpage creator apps. However, these affordances can quickly obscure practicality from both the user (visitor of the webpage) and creator perspectives. For example, selecting a layout from FROONT’s “Blocks” menu allows a user to organize his or her content through pre-available templates that provides a neat framework for all content to fall into place. However, moving content, such as photographs or blocked paragraphs, becomes tedious and ultimately ineffective after this template is in place. More difficult is the fact that these pre-available blocks are the only intuitive solution to adding content to a page. Unlike competitors Wix or Weebly, FROONT does not provide the user an intuitive “edit” or “insert” function, where individual elements such as text boxes and images can be easily manipulated or positioned around text.

Moving individual elements such as the selected image frame above become ineffective after blocks are in place
FROONT is available only through Google Chrome and Firefox browsers

One of FROONT’s more apparent and peculiar constraints is that its service is only available through Google Chrome and Firefox browsers. Here, FROONT loses ground among its competition pool, including Wix and Weebly, which are available in any major browser. While this fact alone should not discourage users from trying FROONT, it does seem to cast an unfriendly glance at Safari users.

Despite several flaws, FROONT does redeem itself in other areas. One of FROONT’s distinguishing traits is its mobile editor function. This tool allows the user to edit his or her webpage through several views, including smartphone vertical and horizontal, tablet vertical and horizontal, and desktop. While variations of this tool are available in Wix and Weebly, FROONT has designed a more user-friendly version. Here, users are able to change views fluidly while editing as opposed to selecting a new view, say “tablet,” and being redirected to a new editor window. This tool is available to the user by selecting “Expert mode,” where a sliding bar will become visible and allow the user to adjust his or her content accordingly.

A yellow sliding bar enables transitions between mobile devices and desktop views in FROONT’s “Expert” mode

A second and major strength of FROONT is its friendliness of adding personalized content to pages. Where many quick-web-design apps require that photographs be uploaded first into a bank or queue, FROONT allows the user to drag-and-drop files directly from a desktop or photo sharing app. This enables users to interchange images to display on their webpage easily without having to upload each image first, saving a considerable amount of time.

Ultimately, FROONT is a useful tool for anyone who is looking to expand his or her web presence outside of social media yet remain a safe distance from the black magic that is writing code. Whether an amateur photographer is interested in building an online portfolio or a food truck owner is searching for a way for his menu to be viewable online, FROONT is a capable and versatile application for the job. Having many shared desgin and usability traits with popular blog generators, former Tumblr and WordPress users are able to transition seamlessly to FROONT as a means of expanding creative ideas with a more powerful platform. With FROONT’s array of pre-available elements, users are able to easily create and edit unique webpages within minutes. This convenience is a double-edged sword, as such elements impede flexibility where proficient coders would be able to out-create FROONT. FROONT caters to the web design beginner through the relatively savvy, allowing the user to adjust his or her experience through providing a”Standard” or “Expert Mode” option.

The web design app is clearly not without flaws, its benefits are numerous if the user is willing to sacrifice a bit of creativity and let FROONT take the lead in the greater layout of his or her page.