Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Thoughts on Adobe Muse

A few days ago Adobe released a public demo/beta of their new web-design tool: Muse. Modelled after Indesign (it’s made by the same engineers) it aims to allow print-designers to create HTML sites without writing a single line of code.

Naturally, this didn’t work. Many influential webdesigners have already slammed the app’s many shortcomings – both technical and conceptual, so I won’t bother to repeat their perfectly valid criticisms. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t recommend it.

As far as I’m concerned, Muse’s biggest shortcoming is the absolutely attrocious quality of the HTML code it generates. But even if Adobe fixed that, by for example switching to a better layout framework and reduced the amount of code by 80%, it would still be a poor substitute for a skillful webdesigner and a text-editor. The reason for this? Semantics.

Jeffrey Zeldman wrote a post last year entitled “An indesign for HTML and CSS”:

But Nack’s “constructive” suggestion for Adobe, quoting Michael Slade, is to create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.”

Nack acknowledges that this will be difficult. I propose that it will be impossible. Says Nack:

As I noted the other day, “Almost no one would look inside, say, an EPS file and harrumph, ‘Well, that’s not how I’d write PostScript’–but they absolutely do that with HTML.”

Well, there is a reason they absolutely do that with HTML. PostScript is a programming language designed to describe page layouts and text shapes in a world of known, fixed dimensions (the world of print), with no underlying semantics. PostScript doesn’t care whether an element is a paragraph, a headline, or a list item. It doesn’t care if a bit of content on one page cites another bit of content on a different page. PostScript is a visual plotting language. And HTML is anything but.

HTML isn’t just a collection of blocks representing pretty pictures: it describes a document, whose content is meant to be consumable by just about anything. A properly written and formatted HTML document should remain human-readable even when viewing the raw source-code. This is an incredibly vital advantage of HTML over other technologies, and to just discard this like a used hankerchief, when the semantic web is right around the corner is hugely irresponsible on Adobe’s part.

Adobe is essentially lying to untold numbers of print-designers by telling them “Yes, you could – nay, should – be making websites, even if you can’t code”. And this my friends, could only lead to calamity: can you imagine handing Muse-generated HTML off to a back-end developer to integrate? He’d laugh you out of the room! For all Adobe’s claims to the contrary they are actually widening the gap between designers and developers with every new release.

Indesign can now export Flash sites, DVD menus and those god-awful iPad magazines that are nothing but 500MB zips of “interactive” Jpegs (magazines that, by the way, will look like absolute arse when Apple decides to release a retina-display packing iPad). I’m betting the only reason they didn’t release Muse as an Indesign plugin was because Indesign isn’t included in the Web-Premium Creative Suite.

Adobe’s philosophy that (print-)designers should never have to learn anything other than graphic design is hurting every single app in the creative suite today. Every release, more and more features no professional actually uses are added to already overly complicated and bloated apps.

“Look!” they’ll say, “without a single line of code I can use inverse-kinematics in Flash!” For a sales pitch that’s a pretty compelling feature. A feature noone uses of course, because full-on character animation is rare in a webdesign workflow – and the professionals I know still do it by hand.

But the feature’s there, and it’s taking up space in your tool-palette, memory, keyboard-shortcuts and even required a rewrite of the Flash IDE which means it now consumes 3 to 10% of your CPU (depending on how fast your machine is) at all times, wether you’re doing something or not. And I’m sure you can give exampes of similarly useless features across the entire suite.

Bloat and inefficiency aren’t even the worst side-effects of these additions: it’s the fact that with every year that passes, the barrier for creative people to get into these apps gets higher and higher. Flash went from being the easiest animation-tool ever to a hugely complicated development framework spread accross three different apps, and multiple programming languages. The animation-tool is still there of course, but it’s become so bloated, so slow and so unstable that I doubt it could ever enthrall newbies like it enthralled me all those years ago.

Same thing with Dreamweaver: I learnt a great deal about webdesign and hand-coding from toying with Dreamweaver’s design-view. I didn’t realize that tables for layout was bad, but then – noone really did back then. I just drew the layout and then switched to code-view to see how it’s done. I taught myself a great deal about then-contemporary webdesign techniques, and after a while I switched to hand-coding entirely, simply because it was faster that way. I’ve been teaching myself how to code better HTML and CSS ever since.

Muse doesn’t even have a code-view.

Thanks to Photoshop, Flash and Dreamweaver I taught myself how to design, how to animate and how to code, which now means that, given a copy of the Creative Suite (or any similar tool, honestly) and time, I could single-handedly build almost anything I can think of. I fear creatives growing up in Adobe’s vision of the future will never be able to say that.

One Comment

[…] was such a good idea, given Adobe’s poor track-record of code-generation tools (see: Adobe Muse). However, my earlier assumptions were proven wrong, as Edge is really shaping up to be a credible […]

Posted by Flash on the Beach 2011 – Post Mortem » Gilles Vandenoostende : My blog at January 31st, 2012 at 10:52 am.

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