Adobe Muse: You’re Not Helping!

I have encountered many print designers through the years, mentoring them at Marlboro College Graduate School as they made the jump to web design, some with wild success, and others not so much. I’ve worked with them because clients hired them to create a web design, just like they created the logo and the brochure for the company. I’ve educated them that widow-orphan wrapping doesn’t happen (consistently) on the web, that “web safe” colors went out of fashion 10 years ago, that just because every website “looks the same”, there might be a reason for that… and of course, Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.

If you’re a print designer, you have my respect in regards to your profession. You know about paper, inks, measurements, bleeds, typography, and all kinds of other technical mumbo jumbo that I don’t know about. And when I need something printed, I hire someone from your world to do layouts for business cards, create logos and brand identity, or create that tri-fold brochure.

So why do you think the jump to my world is so simple and easy? There are every bit as many constraints on our medium as there are on yours. Sure, there’s no physical piece of paper, a printing process, binding, and so forth. But there’s cross-browser compatibility, screen resolutions, interaction and information design, accessibility, usability, and so much more to consider. After 500 years, the standards for book publishing are pretty well set. But after 15 years on the web, we’re still figuring things out.

Enter Adobe with its new Muse product. Designed to cater to those comfortable with InDesign and other print-creating products, it claims you can now build websites without knowing any code. For your amusement, code lovers, be sure to view the source of the Adobe Muse page, which was built with Muse. Note the excessive Javascript and serious class-itis on the page. Sure, the site looks great, but the code leaves so much to be desired. Also, remember this site was built by a Muse expert. Imagine what will happen when the majority of people get their hands on Muse, and what their code will look like.

OK, you say, so print designers now have the ability to build static HTML websites with a new tool from Adobe. Print designers don’t care what the code looks like, and they’ve been asking for a tool like this for years. Big win for print designers then, and a big win for Adobe who will gain from the print designers buying this tool.

But what happens next? Is it really a win in the long term? I argue not.

  • As we in the Joomla community have seen with tools like Artisteer, when you don’t understand the code, you can’t fix “that one little thing”. You try to fix it for too long, probably make it worse, then it becomes an emergency with the client, and then you hire someone to fix it. They look at the code and throw up their hands in disgust. Muse is blamed for making a bad tool.
  • What kinds of sites can you build with a static tool like Muse these days? Only the very simplest and most basic sites, the 5-page mom-and-pop sites that are nothing more than, well, the tri-fold brochure in electronic format. And what happens when the client wants to update the site on their own? Presumably they can, if they own their own copy of Muse… but would the print designer allow them to have full editing rights to the site? The client is frustrated because everyone else they know can edit their own website, so why do they have to go through the designer for everything? Muse is blamed for making a bad tool.
  • When the client asks for a blog with comments, an online calendar, a shopping cart, a contact form, a photo gallery… how is a static website designer going to respond? Are you really going to link to the Flickr photo gallery, the Google calendar, to Paypal for paying for things, to some form site for the form, and Tumblr or Blogger for the blog? And once again, Muse is blamed for making a bad tool.

I have told my students ever since the release of Joomla 1.5 in 2008 that there is almost no reason to build a static website anymore. A CMS offers so many advantages to a static site. Think about the following:

  • If the client wants a blog/calendar/shopping cart/contact form/photo gallery, you download it and drop it in, if it’s not in your CMS already. The client has a single login and can manage everything from one point, through an interface that has some sort of unity to it.
  • When the client asks for a design that works on iPad and iPhone (meaning a mobile interface), it’s easy to add in a CMS. The CMS is built to server up a single copy of content in whatever format you desire. Static HTML sites? Not so much. You’re back to building parallel sites, sites with the same content but different layouts, to support two or more different devices. Do you have time to post a press release in more than one place? Do you really want to go back to the late 1990s when we built one site for Internet Explorer and another for Netscape?
  • Even though Muse might mask some of the more technical aspects of web design, including code, web hosting, file transfer and management, and so forth, these aspects still exist. Sometimes they break. And if you don’t understand the basics, you can’t fix things when they break. Adobe is in for a big headache as far as tech support is concerned.

Those are just a fraction of the arguments for why a CMS offers significantly better bang for the buck over a static website.

So why will print designers love this tool?

Because on their Mac, with their copy of Safari (or Chrome, or Firefox), on their expansive and beautiful monitor, they can achieve pixel-perfection without having to deal with one of those impossible developers who always talks about things they don’t understand and really don’t matter. How hard could it really be to move that box over 2 points to the right, anyway? All that matters is the way the site looks.