Introducing Muse: Why Adobe’s New Design Tool is Worthy of Your Attention

by 22 09/10/2012

Here is a distinction I always make clear to my clients from the get go: ‘I’m a designer. Not a developer.’

It is important for me to state this because I couldn’t write code if my life depended on it.

Ok, so I may be exaggerating a little. Even so, a general understanding of webpage structure, a few HTML tags and a little know-how of where to insert open source code taken from the Internet, is the extent of my coding knowledge.

Designers like me- who are more visual than technical- have often been limited by our absolute helplessness when it comes to typing out powerful HTML and CSS.  We are often at the mercy of techy, and sometimes impatient developers, to help bring our artwork to dynamic and functioning life.

And so, largely visual designers like me have often sighed and wondered ‘If only there was a program that truly allowed us to create functional artwork without bothering with the back-end’.

Enter Muse

Adobe Muse is a piece of software that promises to do just that. Muse takes what designers like best about WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) Adobe products like Fireworks and InDesign and brings it squarely into the world of website development. Muse is more powerful than similar products like the now-defunct iWeb but just as easy to use.

And, since it has the Adobe name attached to it, we can be sure that it will have a better fate than similar faceless products that have tried to do the same but failed.

But first, lets get the pink elephant out of the way

This is where I need to pause and provide a disclaimer because, somehow, discussing WYSIWYG design tools opens up an age old debate as to whether web designers should be able to code or not.

There is a good chunk of the web community that will argue that ‘good’ designers do know how to code and WYSIWYG tools (even sophisticated ones) only serve in making clunky, simplistic websites. But here’s the thing: designers with a strong aesthetic sense rarely have the technical capacity to be good coders and vice versa.

The two skills require someone to have an equally powerful right and left side of the brain, and most of us just aren’t that brilliant. The majority of designers can only be truly creative or technical. And if you are the former, you want to bring your visuals to the canvas with as little HTML/CSS/Javascript syntax in the way as possible.

So, while I personally advocate collaboration between designers and developers and an openness to learning about the other side’s work when it’s so crucial to your own, I don’t expect good designers to be expert coders just as I don’t expect developers to be typography connoisseurs. But again- the purpose of this article is not to debate what makes a ‘good web designer’. The purpose here is to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of Muse as a WYSIWYG design tool.

Bottomline: Designers don’t have to be good at coding. If you are, good for you. But it doesn’t make a designer any better or worse by default.

Coming back to Muse

Muse was offered to the public last year as a subscription based product. Because Adobe is still doing frequent updates to the program, we will have to wait a little before we will be able to get the standalone version (at least that’s what we hope- maybe Adobe will find the subscription plan more profitable and stick indefinitely with it). However, even in its subscription form, Muse is worth the price.

In this review of Adobe Muse, I’ll review eight great reasons to give it a try:

1 – You don’t have to write code.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Muse makes it completely possible to create great brochure websites without writing a lick of code. For most standard static websites, Muse is all you need. Why use code to position an image when you can drag and drop it exactly where you need it? For complex dynamic functionality and databases, you will still need to turn to other solutions but for simple static sites with basic functionality, Muse can help you get things done easily and quickly.

Another Adobe product, Fireworks, is great at allowing designers to whip out artwork on the fly without writing code. However, as most developers would tell you, the code Fireworks generates isn’t the neatest in the world. Detractors would tell you that Muse code isn’t much better but don’t listen to them. There is a marked improvement here and the code Muse generates is both cleaner and more compact than that churned out by similar tools.

It’s not as perfect as handwritten code but give it time: somewhere in our future, machines and software will be able to do away with the need for coding altogether. Take Muse as the first step to that future.

2 – Muse has a simple work flow

The four tabs in Muse- Plan, Design, Preview and Publish- are not only self-explanatory but also provide for a well organized logical workflow. You structure your website in the plan view, get creative in the design view, test out your website in preview, switch between the tabs as required and voila! You are ready to publish.

3 – Muse adheres to the latest web standards

From HTML to CSS3, Muse synchronizes your website’s layout with the new requirements of modern web development and attempts to generate standards compliant code.

4 – You can use master pages to control your website’s look

In the plan view within Muse, you can visually organize the entire hierarchy of your website. You can also define a master page and attach child pages to it. Any changes you make to the master page will be implemented across all the other pages on your website.  The changes you make in the plan view will automatically update your website’s navigation.

5 – Get creative with Adobe TypeKit

Muse divides available typefaces into ‘web safe’ and ‘system’ fonts categories. And it allows you to add typefaces from the over 400 web fonts available through Adobe TypeKit. With such a clean system, you won’t be making any bad font choices for your website.

While its best to stick to web safe fonts for the bulk of your content for mass consumption, Muse also accommodates your individualism. If you absolutely must use a gorgeous display font you just downloaded off the Internet, Muse can automatically convert it to an image and attach alt-text to it for better search engine optimization.

6 – Add built-in widgets for additional capability

Muse has a selection of some very nifty widgets that you can customize to fit the style and look of your website. You can use the widgets to add a number of different popular capabilities to your website. For instance, you can add video, navigation bars, slide presentations, content from other websites like Google Maps and Tumblr, and even contact forms.

7 – Publish from within Muse

You can publish your Muse website from within the program to Adobe Business Catalyst servers or, export it as HTML, for uploading to the webhost of your choice.  Both publishing options are easy to navigate and just a few clicks away.

8 – The price is right

You can subscribe to muse for $14.99 per month or get it as part of the Adobe creative cloud. Either way, it’s a great little product that will be a significant addition to your existing design tool arsenal.

With coverage of the good behind us, we can do a round up of the cons before concluding: Muse is still very much in its infancy so, of course, there is a lot of room for improvement.

Here are the things that Muse hasn’t gotten exactly right yet:

  1. Layout can be rigid
  2. Built-in options don’t have a lot of choices
  3. Drawing tool can seem limited
  4. Generated code is far from perfect
  5. Print-friendly workspace doesn’t exactly lend itself well to responsive web design
  6. There is little application of Muse outside brochure HTML websites
  7. The subscription plan might turn off some users and make them opt for alternatives like Xara and Artisteer instead.

The good news is that all the issues listed above are entirely actionable. As more updates arrive, we are bound to see a lot of these problems disappear or improve.

What’s ultimately worth noting is that Muse is on the right track and with time, it has the potential to become one of the most powerful web authoring tools. Keep an eye on Muse.

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About 

Babar Suleman is a visual storyteller and a communication planner. He is interested in the interplay of words and visuals in the communication process and uses his diverse experience as a writer and designer in creating meaningful user experiences and effective branding strategies.

You can contact Babar at his official website or on the social media channels below.

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22 COMMENTS

Lynne Smyers

Thanks for the review. I haven’t seen anything anywhere, including the Adobe site on whether or not Muse allows for adding content and updates to the site once it’s been published. Is it CMS oe not? I think that will be the determining factor on whether or not I want to go down this road.

January 9, 2013 Reply

    Carl E. Moore

    I’m currently starting to use Adobe Muse, In order to use the software CMS function you will have to publish your site using Adobe Business Catalyst server. You or your client would have to subscribe to the Adobe Business Catalyst hosting plan in order for this function to work. Other than that you can load your site in any host your desire but you will lose the CMS function.

    July 3, 2013 Reply

Josh

The argument that you can only utilize one side of your brain is based on over-summarized pop psychology from decades ago. Current neuroscience completely refutes this. The sides of the brain are not “artsy” and “techy”. It is a sad joke to think the brain works that specifically. The right hemisphere handles global (low-frequency) information types and the left handles local (high frequency). What does this mean? As users of photoshop, this is directly analagous to guassian blurring versus sharpening. In fact, photoshop manipulates high and low frequencies to acheive this. The idea that you have to pick a side is unsupported. You use almost all of your brain all of the time (contrary to the old junk maxims floating around). I have been an artist since as long as I can remember. I am also a programmer and scientist. Do some research before you make such an argument. It is an excuse not to learn the abstract workings of programming and scripting and ignores the poetic sophistication that many “techies” see quite clearly.

January 13, 2013 Reply

Babar Suleman

Josh, thanks for providing us with some accurate and up-to-date scientific facts on how the human brain functions. However, my argument wasn’t as rooted in neuroscience as it is a result of interactions I’ve had with various designers and developers. I know many designers like myself who are very visuals-oriented and like everything to be WYSIWYG. Coding and back-end programming is more of a technical skill that requires strong analytics and problem solving- and lots of patience to boot. While there is certainly an abundance of creative people who are good at both approaches, you’ll find innumerable designers that prefer one way over the other- and have the natural aptitude to excel at it. Personal predilection and natural aptitude are both factors (among many others) behind why some people become doctors, scientists and engineers while others lean towards the liberal arts.

January 14, 2013 Reply

Norm Thellman

I’ve been using Serif Webplus X6 to design website and it’s GREAT!!!

February 2, 2013 Reply

Norman Risner

Designing websites with Serif Webplus is great….beats anything hands down.

February 8, 2013 Reply

Richard Turgeon

I’ve been saying for YEARS that designers and developers simply can’t be the same person. That’s not to say that designers shouldn’t know some code and developers shoudn’t have some design sensibility, but THANK YOU for saying this… it is indeed the white elephant in the room.

Also this is a nice review of a product I’m interested in trying since I already work in Freeway Pro. I’m wondering if you’ve tried that and how you think Muse compares. I’ve invested a lot of time in getting used to Pro, but Adobe’s support and Typekit makes it tempting to switch over.

February 24, 2013 Reply

Aaron

As the Normans have said, Serif Webplus X6 is an EXCELLENT WYSIWYG designer. Muse doesn’t even come close to the amount of versatility and simplicity you get from Webplus. Now, if Adobe wants to, I’m sure they will one day turn Muse into the best because Adobe tends to make killer software when they put enough effort into it but as for now, I know of nothing that allows designers with little/no developing skill to build great websites as easily as Serif Webplus.

A side comment… I can’t believe Josh wasted his time trying to sound smart by picking out one little phrase in an article about a WYSIWYG web designer to write his thesis on. Josh, if you are a scientist/programmer/artist/astronaut/lion tamer, what are you doing here reading an article about a program that codes for you? Hmm.

March 9, 2013 Reply

Cindy Eubanks

Thanks for the great review. I have been watching videos and rading about Muse and I am very impressed. Just downloaded a 30 day trial. This just may be the furture of site development. Can’t wait to get started! Totally agree with you on the creative vs techy issue.

March 10, 2013 Reply

Rashaad Sallie

ive always wanted a GOOD program that will allow me to design and not have to code. Ive tried Muse aout a little and it seems to do the job, however, I find it abit slow, the css coding is abit messy as well. I totaly agree with you on the argument of creative vs technical – Im extremely creative but had to also be technical as outsourcing small bits of code is a wate of time. I think designers today need to at least understand some code just like how we needed to understand the print process to get the best job done. As for Muse, Im not quite sure if I’m ready to jump right in – WordPress still wins as it is coded well, has good security, regualr updates and endless widgets – not to mention SEO.

Im gonna keep my eye out for Muse, but theres no way Im gonna get it if it is on a subscription bases as well.

April 8, 2013 Reply

Theresa

I have been building and designing websites for 20 years now and just finished a paper on Muse. My assessment it that while it will create a website with ease, the code is crap. There is no support for accessibility. The site is propriotry in that if you don’t host it on Adobe’e Business Catalyst the form widget will not work and you have to rexport the entire site for any change to one page. It creats a nightmare for anyone to come behind to maintain and defeats the whole purpose of CCS stylesheets by writting a redundent style sheet for each page, along with a global and one for each master. So always a minimum of three style sheets for each page, more if you have more than one master template page.

Personally I am tired of hearing designers complain about not wanting to learn code. If you don’t want to that is fine, design for print. But If you want to be a web designer and not learn even the basics, then I liken that as wanting to be a composer but refusing to learn to read and write music. It is not just about a nice looking site there are more issues at stake that a designer must know about especially when it comes to accessibility. So take a few days to educate yourself to what those standards are and then let someone else code your design, but lets not muddy the waters with a program that creats a giftwraped turd.

April 21, 2013 Reply

alan

I’m always amused by the coders that insist that we all learn to code. The idea that not coding is akin to composers not being able to read music is silly. There have been plenty of great musicians that are masters of their instruments, that don’t read music.
If the coders are so great, why are so many web sites so ghastly? I appreciate the so-called html/css geniuses seeing themselves as masters of the web universe, but that is no longer the case. I can’t tell you how many of my clients want me to re-design an atrocious site done by a develoiper with absolutely no deisgn skill whatsoever.
If Muse can help this situation, I’m all for it.

June 6, 2013 Reply

    Ed

    “Knowing the code” to make a website is no longer necesary to create the website. But the thing about this code generators is that they introduce bugs that are very hard to solve, and limit those little customizations that you want to make.

    Web development should be done by a team of designers and developers, because many developers really lack that visual *stuff* that make wonderful websites happen. At the same time, many designers lack the knowledge to “make it work”.

    Why am I here? I’m a programmer first, designer second, but I’m all up for anything that speeds up my job, while preserving quality.

    December 9, 2013 Reply

Sam

“Personally I am tired of hearing designers complain about not wanting to learn code. If you don’t want to that is fine, design for print.”
You’re still stuck in 2002 or something or only do brochure website from the bakery around the corner. Concepters, Interaction design, visual design, service design, copywriting, front-end development, back-end development.. they are all individual skills that work together to make great digital products. Basic knowledge of what is possible with code, sure, every team member should know a bit of that. But demanding people that make a user experience to know how to write code is the same as demanding from every car owner that he/she knows all the mechanics of a car.

June 14, 2013 Reply

Manuel

I’m a windows developer for 20 years , mostly I worked with Visual Basic and Access, successfully. For 15 years unsuccessfully trying to learn to program in a web environment . It just does not suit my way of understanding and thinking. I totally agree with the author of this article. Despite being a developer, and have successfully developed quality software, do not enjoy constantly fighting with the code. It doesn’t let me know when a project ended. I lose a lot of time without reaching fruition. Some time ago I want to do web design and development without coding , at least in this network unencrypted different source code that currently exists in the web (HTML , CSS , PHP , etc).
Moreover, the reading of the code is not easy for me. I see a mass of jumbled letters , I can not see a flowchart of execution. If at least aesthetically code was code readable for me as Basic, for me it would be very simple.

For me such tools are a matter of triumph or fail. So far , my attempts serial failures web development , both front-end and back-end . I hope my luck will change with these tools , in spite of many developers , who see their web projects with many hours budgeted at risk.

The industry is changing rapidly , so far attempts to satisfy unmet needs for marketing needs and to seek new sources of income. Adobe has realized this , and for a company like Adobe can mean renewed or die .

It is an unstoppable movement which today’s society demands , to facilitate the creation of quality projects easily. It is a very profound change that is behind . This movement is consolidating allow individuals to make complex web projects without having a team of 3 or 4 people with different technical profiles behind.

There are many people interested in that this does not occur, and when it does, strike out at those who use these tools not to be professional , not knowing encode, bla,bla,bla … But professionalism can not be measured in many coding languages ​​are known to use , but yes how much we give our clients satisfaction for a job well done and in a short period of time , no surprises , and no continuous programming errors .

October 2, 2013 Reply

George

@Manuel

As a developer for 20 years, I have a hard time believing you haven’t seen many waves of WYSIWYG apps come and go. This isn’t an unstopable movement. It’s something which crops up every couple of years as soon as people forget what horrible code dreamweaver use to put out.

Creating mockups and general design for a website that is later handed off to coders is fine, if you want to be a designer who cant code that’s the type of arrangement you should enter into. If you’re trying to bridge the gap and have a piece of software transform your design into a functioning site then the results aren’t going to be great. You’re going to have horrible, slow, unmaintainable code and many of the things you imagine wont function properly.

November 12, 2013 Reply

    Minion

    I find Muse to be great for small presentation websites. Nobody cares for how many decades you’ve been coding… Yeah i know basics of HTML, CSS and JS and i could’ve wasted 2 weeks doing a small presentation of website, or just a couple of hours with muse… client is happy and he said he doesn’t care about the little messy code as long as everything runs fine…

    January 29, 2014 Reply

Gerald

You can now host Muse on a third party hosting service.
http://tv.adobe.com/watch/muse-feature-tour/muse-choose-your-hosting-provider/
Since I already subscribe to Adobe CC, I will give a try to actually see how the code is generated.

February 2, 2014 Reply

Daniel

Can thre crazy egg code be implemented into a website built in muse?

February 10, 2014 Reply

Joel Miller

“Muse adheres to the latest web standards”
followed by
“If you absolutely must use a gorgeous display font you just downloaded off the Internet, Muse can automatically convert it to an image”
see here:
http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-fonts/

March 8, 2014 Reply


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