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Sparkle 1.2.3 review: Mac-friendly web design app needs a bit more luster

Nathan Alderman | June 29, 2015
In the field of Mac web design programs, River SRL's Sparkle 1.2.3 (Mac App Store link) lands between Blocs' do-it-for-me ease and Macaw's free-form flexibility. Like a raw gemstone fresh from the mine, Sparkle's still a bit rocky from some angles. But with a few extra facets, it could really shine.

sparkle mac icon

In the field of Mac web design programs, River SRL's Sparkle 1.2.3 (Mac App Store link) lands between Blocs' do-it-for-me ease and Macaw's free-form flexibility. Like a raw gemstone fresh from the mine, Sparkle's still a bit rocky from some angles. But with a few extra facets, it could really shine.

Plenty of bright ideas

Unlike its Adobe-influenced rivals, Sparkle sticks squarely with a familiar, Pages-like Mac look and feel. What it lacks in style, Sparkle's interface makes up for in clarity and ease of use.

Like Macaw, Sparkle eschews premade templates. It lets you place text, images, and other page elements wherever you like, aligned with an easily adjusted grid. But Sparkle also offers a library of useful, premade items, including dropdown menus (not yet found in Blocs or Macaw) and a photo gallery viewer. It's easy to populate and style them however you like--although I did notice that when I resized or repositioned a menu, some items would sometimes spontaneously flip from "visible" to "hidden" without any apparent reason.

I found Sparkle's layout engine more powerful and pleasant than Macaw's. I enjoyed its ability to align objects by their midpoints as well as their edges, and to evenly distribute the space between multiple objects. Most importantly, I never felt like I had to fight with it to achieve what I wanted.

I also liked Sparkle's ability to easily add common elements (a top nav bar with a logo and menu, for example) to every page on your site, just by checking a box in its inspector pane. You can even lock elements to the bottom of your page, lest they otherwise appear at the end of one short page, but in the middle of another, longer one.

And after bemoaning the constrained font selection in Blocs and especially Macaw, I frankly could have hugged the folks behind Sparkle when I discovered its ability to incorporate third-party webfonts.

True, the implementation's a bit kludgy. To enjoy full font support on every browser, you have to browse for and add three or four different types of files for each font. It's not always clear when you've successfully done so, since the filenames stick around in their respective fields even after you've added the font in question. I also couldn't install one or two of a trial batch of open-source, web-ready sample fonts, and Sparkle didn't explain what might have been wrong with those files.

Still, I loved that Sparkle had this feature at all. And its ability to add any webfont from Google's hundreds-strong library won further points with me, even if the interface--mixing those fonts in with whatever system fonts you already have installed, which makes them tougher to find--could use a little work. (Search features help narrow down your font options, provided you know what you're looking for. And once you've found your dream font from that roster, adding it is as easy as checking a box.)

 

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