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’.
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.
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:
- Layout can be rigid
- Built-in options don’t have a lot of choices
- Drawing tool can seem limited
- Generated code is far from perfect
- Print-friendly workspace doesn’t exactly lend itself well to responsive web design
- There is little application of Muse outside brochure HTML websites
- 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.