These days, it’s essential for visual artists of all disciplines to have an online presence so that their work can be found, followed and talked about in the industry. And there are indeed plenty of web apps one can use to create portfolio sites, with something for everyone and various feature sets. But what if you’re looking for something clean, elegant and easy to use, that lets your work do the talking?
The enthusiastic team behind Salon.io believe they have the answer – their still-in-the-works app allows you to create stunning showcases of your art with minimal effort, while retaining the flexibility to be customized as much as you need. But how does it fare against the competition? Let’s give it a try and find out!
Salon.io isn’t like most other portfolio apps that offer a bevy of themes and widgets – it instead focuses on allowing you to display your work on a single page in a flexible grid (more on that later) with simple WYSIWYG drag-and-drop controls. There’s also support for custom HTML and CSS should you need it. The app is built using HTML5, runs on modern browsers and has an iPad-specific interface as well. Salon.io is still in beta and you’ll require an invite to try it out.
To create a portfolio on Salon.io, all you need to do is give it a name, drag and drop your images (photographs, graphic design, digital art – anything that’s either a JPG, PNG, or GIF up to 5MB in size) into the browser window, and you’re done! You can rearrange and resize the images, add some text, change the page’s background color, and even create another page like this to link to the first one. It’s that simple.
Salon.io follows the concept of salon style hanging, where different-sized artworks with a common theme or creator are arranged together on a wall. When you upload your images, you can choose to arrange them yourself in a flexible canvas, or place them in a fixed size, variable size or square grid, or have everything arranged automatically. Text boxes can be manipulated the same way in the layout too.
Your visitors will see a clean page filled with your images and text in the layout you’ve specified. Clicking on images brings up a detail view with a caption, copyright information and source information, which also allows navigation across the images on the page a la a typical lightbox view. When viewed on an iPad, the interface allows gesture controls (pinch and swipe) to zoom in and out of images (which align to the screen) and to navigate through them.
Editing your site
Salon.io’s interface allows you to switch from Edit mode (when you want to make changes) to Visitor mode (to see how your site looks), with just a click. In Edit mode, you can freely drag and drop images to rearrange them however you like, or choose to have them auto-arrange. Images can be resized and can also have tags, caption, copyright info, source URL, and be set to link to detail view, another page on your Salon.io site, a URL or nothing at all.
You can add text by clicking anywhere on the canvas and beginning to type. Plain text, HTML and even Markup are supported (and there’s a handy guide available too). Text can be styled by choosing a font family, size, color, weight, line height, letter spacing, paragraph alignment, and edit the box background color and padding – all without any custom CSS.
You can also add embeddable content (using text boxes) such as videos from Youtube and Vimeo, audio widgets from Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and even maps from Google or Bing. And while Salon.io is targeted at the single-page-website set, you can add multiple pages if you want to and have them show up in the navigation bar at the top of the screen. The page manager gives you an overview of your pages and allows you to customize the aforementioned settings too.
I built a simple photography portfolio for myself using photos from one of my recent concert shoots and added an About page and Google Analytics as well. The app is a lot of fun to play with and works very well – provided you’re using the right browser (I couldn’t get it to work on Rockmelt, which is based on an older version of Chrome). By design, building a site with Salon.io takes no time at all and has fewer moving parts – which means it’s great for first-timers.
I wasn’t particularly drawn to Salon.io’s minimalist aesthetic, but once I began to use the app, it all started to make sense. That being said, it may not suit you if you’re in a market where the lack of up-front contact information and classic web design elements (navigation, social media widgets) are favored by potential clients (like India, where I’m from).
There are a couple of things that I wasn’t too comfortable with. For one, Salon.io can presently only be experienced fully on the desktop or on an iPad – it doesn’t work properly on other mobile devices or even on older browsers. It also lacks a proper media/asset library, which means you’ll have to go through a few hoops to add background images, a fixed logo and so on.
I’ve used a few other apps in the past to build portfolios, including Sidengo, Behance, 4ormat, Deviantart and even my own WordPress site; Salon.io is easily the simplest and fastest solution out there. Having said that, it’s more suited for beginners or for those looking for a minimal single-page website (I’m more partial to WordPress’ well-rounded feature set).
As mentioned, Salon.io is still in beta and you’ll need an invite to try it – if you want one, ping me on Twitter and I’ll hook you up. You can request features if you have ideas for them in the app’s Help section, and hopefully they’ll be included when it launches. If the look and feel of Salon.io sites appeal to you, you’d do well to give this a try since the app is well built. I can’t wait to see how this shapes up over time.