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May 06, 2008

Review of W3<MARKUP/>

Posted in: Reviews, Service Reviews

Disclosure: This is a paid review. Saying that, all our reviews are honest. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise.

What is it?

W3<MARKUP/> (order here) offers a service to designers (or developers without enough time to complete a project I guess) where the designer submits a design (in ‘unflattened’ form e.g. a Photoshop/Fireworks file) to W3<MARKUP/> and they code it in HTML and CSS. This is not to be confused with amateur “slicers” - they claim to carefully craft the code according to standards and use modern front-end coding techniques. Picking out the more interesting aspects of their service, straight from the horse’s mouth:

We Provide:

  • Pixel-precise PSD conversion to CSS / HTML by hand (W3C Valid)
  • Design implementation into skins, themes, CMS, shopping carts or other software

With:

  • AJAX, sIFR, swfIR, mootools, script.aculo.us, jQuery, Prototype code,
  • Search engine friendly / semantic code,
  • 100% control of code style and preferences via our order form,

Who it is for?

Again, the service is primarily aimed at graphic designers with no or limited experience of coding for the web. It could also appeal to those front-end coders with little time or resources to produce the XHTML/CSS for a website. The service would be of use to those with some experience, but without the confidence to code to W3C standards. Those that want a theme for a particular blog/CMS/e-commerce package could look into W3<MARKUP/>’s services.

A quick look around their site

Whilst I shall concentrate on their service in this review, it is worth making a few points about their website. After all, you have to use it to get your design coded.

The design is a little off-beat (in a good way.) The site is unusually right-aligned with a bold, textured background at higher resolutions. I think that the website flows nicely with use of the “splatters” and “brush strokes” although the main brush stroke sometimes obscures content for me.

Compared to competitors, the site offers a whole host of information, answering every question I could think I’d need to know the answer to. Whilst the home and ‘why w3′ pages cover the basic, my favourite pages are the FAQs pages and the ordering page itself.

FAQs: The FAQs page (or section I should say) is vast. There are many, many questions conveniently categorised for your sanity. This smashes the opposition where depth of information is concerned.

Order: The page I was most impressed with was the Order page. I was expecting the usual name, email and requirements boxes but was presented with a clever form asking me nearly everything about my imaginary project and adding up the cost as I went along. Nice one, W3<MARKUP/>. One (minor) niggle is that the order page doesn’t seem to be well linked to. It’s a shame that it may be missing out on exposure due to people not finding it.

The Quality of Service

What would we look for from a company that codes other people’s designs? I’d personally look for the following two things:

  • The similarity and attention to detail between the mockup and the final output. The customer expects this. That said, we know that coding in XHTML and CSS is not a pixel-perfect art. Attention to detail is key, but the odd pixel difference between browsers and platforms is expected.
  • Quality code. Simple enough - but a short turnaround adds extra pressure into the equation. Let’s see how the XHTML and CSS hold up.

Let’s review some examples:

1. getpaid4yourrecipes

Website Thumbnail

The first example is getpaid4yourrecipes. The coded version from their example section is W3C compliant for XHTML and CSS. Bonus points for adhering to XHTML Strict doctype standards. The code is extremely concise and there are no real cases of divits. Accessibility-wise the web page passes Priority 1 accessibility (without a manual check) but fails at Priority 2. The error brought up is repeated link text, probably brought on by the sample links to ‘Shirley.’ So we’ll forgive them this time as it’s only a sample.

I’d be very pleased if I were the client in this case as attention to detail has been near-perfect.

2. RockMeTV

Website Thumbnail

The second example is RockMeTV. And the quality of code? One easily rectified error in the XHTML here. Same with the CSS, although this will be valid when CSS3 becomes official. I’m generally more interested in the quality and craftsmanship of the code and again things are rosy. Code is semantic, concise and doesn’t suffer from tag bloat.

3. Right-Reg

Website Thumbnail

Again, XHTML is valid and CSS has one error. The thing that stood out the most with this design is that it is coded very semantically and also is very SEO friendly. Also, a good use of sIFR. Excellent considering a short (I assume) deadline

Conclusions

I haven’t had the opportunity of putting a design through the process and cannot comment on that aspect of their service, but here goes for the rest:
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Pros

  • Very high quality of coding shown in portfolio
  • High degree of flexibility/customisation - unlike most competitors.
  • Doesn’t feel like Joe Blogg’s Slice’n'Dice Web Shop - more like a Quality Web Boutique.
  • The price is very competitive given the attention to detail.

Cons

I’m struggling here, but:

  • Service only as good as the designer (but I guess it is the same with all websites.)
  • It would be nice to see the original design files on the website for comparison.
  • The name W3<MARKUP/> could be easier to type in reviews. ;-)

Last Word

I’ve said the following before about these types of service, but it’s worth mentioning again.

To get the most out of this, a good design talent is needed to create the design in the first place. If you’re a designer without coding knowledge then this service (or a competitor’s - they happily list them on their site) could be for you. It’s also worth me pointing out that these types of services span two categories; the professional, code-loving type in this review and the slicing monkeys that don’t help anyone (read my comment to find the difference). If you’re a designer looking for this type of service then ask someone to look over code samples - it’s worth it. It’s also better than buying a template from Templates R Us. It’s the difference between buying mass produced cheap food and the organic stuff. Don’t expect the moon on a stick, but do expect good code and a site that looks almost identical to your design.

Based on what I’ve seen, I’d have no issue recommending the service to a graphic designer friend.


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