Squarespace radically revamps its web design tools for the first time

Squarespace has made a name for itself helping people build their own websites. Now, nearly 20 years after its launch, it unlocks the pattern that made it famous, giving users unprecedented control over the entire screen.

[Image: Squarespace]

The company just launched Fluid Engine, a web design platform with radically improved drag-and-drop technology: think fully customizable grids, full-bleed content, and a separate view that lets you create a custom look for your mobile website. Fluid Engine is the company’s first radical website builder update in 10 years.

Squarespace was created because its founder, Anthony Casalena, wanted an easy way to create a website for himself. With Fluid Engine, his company is now reinforcing the idea that everyone, even hobbyists, deserves the right to a fully customizable and easy-to-use website.

[Image: Squarespace]

Before Fluid Engine, there was Layout Engine, a 12-column grid that let you drag and drop widgets and resize each one by dragging one of the corners. It was flexible, but “there were some things that people found difficult,” Casalena says. This is because the screen was split into 12 columns, so your widget (be it an image, text, or button) had no choice but to fit in one of these columns.

[Image: Squarespace]

Fluid Engine sports a grid so customizable that you can even control the gap between each cell, letting you segment your screen however you want. The resulting experience can be described as “smooth” (hence the name): after selecting a widget from the menu, you can drop and size it wherever you want. To guide you, a light gray grid appears when you hover over the blank screen. Meanwhile, a preview of the widget you’re holding shows you what it would look like and where it would be if you dropped it there.

“It’s a more intuitive placement,” says Casalena. (Existing Squarespace customers can convert existing pages to Fluid Engine by clicking the “upgrade” button that appears when you hover over the section.)

For the first time, Squarespace users can also create overlapping images, opening up tons of opportunities for a dynamic interface. In another first, users can now stretch images to the edge of the screen for a full-bleed layout.

“Images are the most compelling thing you can put on a screen, and the bigger they are, the more impact they have,” says Jeff Aldrich, senior product manager, during a live demo. (Squarespace’s main competitor, Wix, also offers full-bleed layout, but it’s only available on Editor X, an advanced authoring platform more aimed at professional web designers.)

[Image: Squarespace]

Fluid Engine is the result of several incremental updates that have occurred over the years. But the fundamental idea behind such a major overhaul was to make web design more accessible for those who don’t know anything about it and more efficient for those who do. Hobbyists can choose from thousands of templates and make them their own, while pros have less reason to learn custom code.

“A lot of professionals use Squarespace and create sites for other people,” says Casalena. “And I think this tool benefits them as much as it benefits beginners, because they have more possible outcomes.”