Mobile website building platform Universe has launched a new update that brings advanced creative controls, enhanced themes, block features and more to its grid-based web builder. Universe allows users to create a custom site or open an e-commerce store directly from a mobile phone through a simplified grid system without the need for coding. The new update, GRID System II, aims to simplify previously complex coding processes into intuitive gestures to make the website-building process easier.
“What makes Universe special is the grid system and what we’re announcing today is a big upgrade of that grid system. It’s going to allow people to do a lot more without any technical knowledge,” Universe CEO and founder Joseph Cohen told TechCrunch in an interview.
The website building process is based on simple building blocks, where the platform gives users a wide grid into which they can drop content. The new update brings redesigned creative controls with an improved graphical interface, which allows for control around block padding in the grid, along with granular text spacing. Cohen stated that users are now able to make the grid denser and can go up to seven columns wide. The new interface also includes enhanced color selection tools.
Further, Universe users can now also select from 30 new themes for their site or create their own. Prior to the addition of themes, every block was independently styled on a case-by-case basis. Now with the introduction of themes, users are able to apply consistent design elements across fonts, page backgrounds and button colors. The themes are applied to all surfaces of users’ sites, including text, backgrounds, headlines and colors.
“We have made 30 amazing themes that you can apply to your whole site. You could also go in and create your own theme from scratch. You can match or customize any of the ones that we give you out of the box. And any of the changes that you make will be applicable to your whole site. It’s basically a way of changing all the styles across the whole site in a visual and easy-to-use way,” Cohen stated.
Users can also now access new text styles, which allow them to classify text as titles, subtitles, captions and more. The company outlines that users can use the title indicator to boost SEO and enhance accessibility for their sites.
The new update also introduces a new layers feature that allows users to overlay blocks on top of each other. Previously, creators were unable to put two blocks, such as an image block and text block, on top of each other. With this new layers feature, users are given a lot more creative freedom with the design of their website.
Universe has also launched a new grid block feature that allows creators to combine different blocks in a sub-grid to create a cluster. It essentially lets you add a block to your site that creates another grid within that block, which can be used to add things like a photo gallery. Grid blocks allow for precise block arrangements to be placed on the grid. The sub-grid can then be dragged to any location on the page.
Although some may see Universe as a competitor to other popular website-building tools such as Shopify and Wix, Cohen says Universe is quite different.
“We invented a new interface called the grid, which basically allows someone who isn’t technical or isn’t a professional designer to create a totally custom website. There are other systems like Squarespace, Shopify, Weebly and Wix, but those are website builders that are desktop-based and template-based. Universe is not template-based, we do have templates available but it is not a template-based system. It’s not constrained by templates, so the grid itself is our interface for creation.”
In terms of usage, Cohen outlined that Universe has seen an increase in users amid the COVID-19 pandemic as many people started new businesses or side hustles and were looking to create websites. Early on in the pandemic, Universe released the ability for users to sell and ship products on their sites. As a result, users aren’t required to sign up for a third-party e-commerce tool, such as Shopify.
“Since the pandemic started, our business has really ballooned over the past year and a half. In terms of overall growth, we have more or less 10x the business in terms of the number of active sites that are created,” Cohen noted.
Further, Cohen outlined that Universe saw an increase in users from the influencer community who want a “link in bio” site, which is essentially a URL at the end of an Instagram profile’s bio that redirects users to a website outside of Instagram. The redirected site is often used to sell products, link to other social media accounts, showcase a portfolio and more. Cohen said that 40% of the sites created on Universe are for “link in bio” purposes and that these types of sites are Universe’s biggest growing areas of business, in addition to commerce.
Cohen says that Universe currently has hundreds of thousands of active sites and that the company plans to continue to launch more consumer-friendly updates in the future as the platform continues to grow.
“With this update, we’re leaping forward but we will continue to iterate this grid system for decades and in the fullness of time, anything that’s possible on the internet will be possible with our grid system. This includes the core creative elements but also the commerce capabilities around building a business,” Cohen stated.