The latest product offering from Adobe Labs is Muse, a design program that allows individuals to "design and publish HTML websites without writing code". Essentially this is a piece of software that allows print designers to design websites in an environment they are familiar with, due to it’s similarity to other applications such as Adobe InDesign. Designers can then publish layouts as HTML pages, that Adobe claims meets the latest web standards.
Many bloggers and the wider community have been particularly vocal about the failings of Muse and Adobe's other recent forays, that include Edge and Wallaby. Elliot Jay Stocks has written a particularly good article examining Muse's flaws, while also asserting that Adobe has taken a massive step in the wrong direction. Like many web designers I'm inclined to agree with Elliott's astute evaluation.
Personally I believe that this software panders to lazy print designers who are terrified of learning code or even the fundamentals of the web. The same individuals, studios and agencies who are afraid to develop relationships with knowledgeable developers, as they continue to churn out naive design for the web. In short an audience who aren't prepared to adapt to the changes within their own industry.
Frustratingly it also exposes Adobe’s failure to grasp web standards, as it continues a long established pattern of releasing software intended to make coding obsolete. An article published over at Design Shack provides an excellent summary of these past ventures and I'm sorry to say it's somewhat amusing.
The reality of WYSIWYG Web design software
There is a belief among many designers, that appears to be shared by Adobe, that code can be machine generated. However experienced developers realise that writing code requires creativity and knowledge to produce semantic and lean markup. Believing otherwise exposes the arrogance of many designers and Adobe themselves, while belittling the entire web development community.
A comment thread at .NET magazine exposes the worrying belief of many designers that code is irrelevant so long as websites display as intended. However this belief is ignorant of web standards, which are intended to make websites more accessible to search engines and assisted technologies.
HTML5 and Aria roles pose significant problems for any code generator as they require human interpretation. For instance should a set of links be contained within a "nav" element or within a section element designated as a "directory" by its ARIA role? Obviously context determines the appropriate usage of ARIA roles and HTML5 elements and it’s impossible for a piece of software to determine this. Adobe’s engineers obviously realise this as well, because the code generated by Muse, despite the doctype, makes no attempt to utilise HTML5’s new semantic elements.
Experienced web designers also recognise that Adobe's assertion that designers should be free to design websites without worrying about technology is fundamentally wrong. Web design requires an understanding of technology to produce outcomes that not only look great, but perform well in a variety of environments.
Behind Adobe's marketing spin
The thing the annoys me the most is that behind the marketing spin lurks a design program more suited to designing for the web than anything else offered by Adobe. The tool of choice for many is PhotoShop, but at its heart it remains a tool for image manipulation and isn’t a productive tool for layout design. Adobe offered an alternative in Fireworks, but it was never fully embraced by the design community.
It's possible to draw a parallel between Dreamweaver and Muse. Both are robust products, but both have little credibility in the eyes of the wider web design community due to the way they are perceived. Dreamweaver is a great code editor, but when it was purchased from Macromedia Adobe seemed more interested in expanding the design related features found within the dreaded "design view". Essentially the way in which the Adobe marketed and developed the product is what tarnished it.
If Adobe had of simply marketed Muse as a design tool for web design and rapid prototyping the community probably would have been more receptive. However Adobe has exposed their naivety and alienated developers by making outlandish claims about Muse's capabilities.
There's a part of me that hopes they wind back the marketing rhetoric given the web community's response and that Muse becomes a rapid prototyping tool - not a tool for building web-ready sites.
Adobe needs a paradigm shift
The assertion of Adobe's engineers and marketing team that hand writing code will soon be a thing of the past ignores an established history of these ventures failing. From the beginning programs such as Word, Frontpage, Dreamweaver and a score of others have attempted to allow "creative types" not to worry about code, but have always failed and been laughed at and scorned by the web design community.
Adobe’s floundering efforts to adopt to a new landscape, where it’s flagship technology Flash has no future is laughable. It’s a shame though because Adobe has proven it’s ability by offering print designers tools that have revolutionised their industry.
However Adobe now also needs to concentrate on providing tools for web developers, rather than hacks and ignorant print designers. This may mean further segmenting their products to continue to provide tools for print designers, while developing new products for real web designers and developers. Simply slapping a "Web Design" label on a suite of products isn’t good enough anymore. Adobe certainly have the ability to innovate within this arena, but continuing to undermine the web standards community and developers is a one way ticket to disaster.
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