Lost Motion Assembly | Blog

Design, development and occasional bloggery

Think Design AND Code


Recently a couple of print designer folks have quizzed me on my opinions on Adobe Muse, Adobe’s recent attempt to bridge the gap between web and print designers by offering up a very InDesign like interface. The general consensus seemed to be that Muse would do away with the need for print designers to learn HTML and CSS. Worryingly, this isn’t just the opinion – or more likely, hope – of print designers looking to wet their feet in the world of the web. This seems to be the entire raison d’être for Muse, and it’s a position that Adobe are using as their primary selling point.

I’m not against improved tools and ease of use – indeed, I’m a very content Apple user – but the last thing the web needs is another WYSIWYG editor that obfuscates HTML. As it stands, Muse does seem to spit out some reasonably clean and standards compliant code, so it at least seems a step forwards compared to Dreamweaver. And it does seem to contain a suite of useful tools (the site planning section has definitely piqued my interest). However the markup it generates is horribly non-semantic and the stylesheets are ludicrously unmanageable. For a more in-depth look at some of the technical failings of Muse go check out Elliot Jay Stock’s excellent review.

I’m going to skip the dissection on Muse’s shortcomings – Elliot has picked it apart very well. As it stands, Muse could still develop into a dominant position as the premier web design tool, in much the same way that InDesign – deservedly – rose up from the ranks to hold the top spot. So my issue is not so much the app itself, it’s Adobe’s assertion that the code should take a back seat to design that rankles.

“Think design, not code”

— From the Adobe Muse webpage

Coding HTML is part of the design process. Ignoring the code to focus on the purely visual is akin to ignoring the structural engineering of a building to focus on the sweeping glass façade. The sooner we stop treating code as a pesky obstacle to be avoided, the sooner we can get on with building a better web. And it is building, with all of its manual, hands-on connotations, not this rarefied notion of design as distinct from the nuts and bolts.

Why should I get my hands dirty?

Here are some reasons: semantics, accessibility, optimisation, responsiveness, compatibility, extensibility. We web designers love to throw these esoteric words around like we’re at a dinner party at Hogwarts, but that’s not to take away from their importance. These concepts are part of the very landscape of the web, and understanding them is vital. If you choose to ignore these then you can at best hope to be a web decorator, not a designer.

But it’s a great way to learn how to code!

This seemed to be a reoccurring argument, that Muse would provide time-starved designers with a gentle slope into web design. Do we think of a microwave as shortcut to learning how to cook? No. Learning to cook is how you learn to cook. I have never met a designer who isn’t short on time, so putting a tool in front of them that promises to remove the need to actually learn something will mean that they will probably never get around to learning.

Learn, or learn not.

The irony is that HTML and CSS is not that hard to learn, and the time (not to mention money) invested in getting to grips with Muse could well be spent getting acquainted with HTML. Understanding the medium you are designing for makes for better designer, in the same way that understanding the print process makes for a better print designer. And if you don’t want to concern yourself with HTML that’s fine, just find someone who is au fait with it and collaborate with them early on in the design process.

Predicting the future

When InDesign first came out it seemed unlikely that it could ever compete with the entrenched dominance held by Quark. By version 3.00/CS 1 it was already gaining position and now with CS6 out in the wild Quark is starting to feel like a poor Indesign copy. Muse will no doubt go through its awkward adolescent years before suddenly finding itself and confidently asserting itself much like it’s older siblings. And perhaps in 12 months time I’ll find myself happily using it to build sites. But I won’t ignore the code, and I won’t hide from it, and neither should anyone else. Go forth, get your hands dirty, and enjoy it.

Go code.

By: Dre