15 August 2011

How can you be a chef if you don’t know how to cook? Adobe seems to be attempting to solve that question with their latest product, code named Muse. It’s a WYSIWYG HTML editor for designers. In the introduction video the development team tout Muse’s unique toolset for designers: a code-free workflow. (Because, you know, it’s worked so well before.)

As Elliot Jay Stocks mentions, Adobe’s goals are admirable (his words were “noble”). Rewind 15 years and I would have been a major proponent for such an application. However, as Stocks also says, as web designers, code is one of our greatest assets.

Okay, so maybe my analogy is slightly flawed. Really, since I’m comparing design to the culinary arts, it would be more accurate to say that a chef wanting to prepare a particular kind of food – say, desert – must understand the food. I’m a big Top Chef fan, and I’ve seen chefs fail miserably when challenged to prepare food they’re not familiar with. While most trained chefs have basic knowledge of all types of food, most specialize in a particular kind. The same is true of designers, who might have a general knowledge of all design, but specialize in a particular field.

For instance, as a designer I have an appreciation for and love of industrial design – created objects. But just because I value and generically understand the basic theory of object design doesn’t mean I’m qualified to actually do it.

I feel for print designers wanting to design for the web, I really do. I have friends who are extremely talented but don’t know how to code. They’re stuck with three options:

  1. Learn to code HTML+CSS+JavaScript
  2. Rely on a web developer or someone who knows code
  3. Don’t design for the web

All three are pretty crummy options, especially when you consider the current cultural landscape. The first requires a lot of time and resources, and even then isn’t guaranteed – some people just aren’t wired to be able to easily understand or write code. Nobody wants to be forced into the second option, which requires dependence on another person or team. And the third option might as well not exist; it’s 2011.

That’s why it’s admirable that Adobe would be attempting to introduce a fourth option: the ability to design without the constraints of knowing code. Admirable, but unrealistic. And, in my opinion, their approach only underscores their complete lack of understanding when it comes to the web.

So, to clarify, I think Adobe’s goals are admirable, but their philosophy is completely warped. Disregarding that the app itself is built on Adobe’s Air platform – if you can call it that – let’s take a look at some of the statements the Muse development team (from their introduction video):

Oh man, I should stop there, I’m getting worked up.

Okay, one more:

If Adobe really wants to help print designers break into the web, they need to focus their efforts on actually teaching print designers how to design for the web – which requires knowing code.

In fact, here’s a little tidbit Adobe could take to heart: I learned how to code using Dreamweaver. That’s right, I used Layout mode to design, then I switched to Source mode to learn. Once I was confident enough, I began fine tuning my designs using code, and then eventually was able to write code without the aid of the WYSIWYG editor.

Muse is a terrific idea, but should have stayed an idea. I shudder to think of the websites that will be created using it, and hope we don’t look back on Adobe’s efforts as doing more harm than good.