Some seem to be pursuing Adobe's new product, codenamed Muse, as the start of a new era in web design. I've been experimenting with Adobe Muse for a couple of weeks now and I must say that I am a little torn between love and hate for the product.
Will you be my Muse? Adobe Muse is touted to be the next big thing in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web design. Basically Muse lets designers who have no interest in working with HTML or CSS code to create interactive fully functionaling websites. The idea is nothing new. Products such as Dreamweaver and Frontpage were supposed to have been doing this for years now, but those implementations never quite got away from exposing the designer to HTML and CSS code. You would get so far into creating a web page with Dreamweaver and then realize that to get the design exactly as you wanted, you would need to switch to code view to tweak the final bits.
Many of the limitations with previous WYSIWYG tools was down to the way that the document's layout engine was implemented. Adobe's Muse steps away from the accepted browser based design view in favor of a pixel based implementation similar to that used by Adobe tools such as InDesign and Photoshop. In fact, you may be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at InDesign when you first see that Adobe Muse workspace. Adobe's aim was to create a tool aimed at designers and it shows – there is no code view!
What you do get when you decide to create a new site is something akin to the new document options when working with a print document. Width, minimum height, number of columns, margin and padding – pretty functional but enough to get you going. The columns act purely as a means to help laying out page elements such as images and text boxes.
Getting started in Plan view. Once the appropriate site layout options have been selected, Muse then places the designer in "Plan view". Adobe has decided to divide Muse into four main areas, each of which correspond to a clearly defined process within the web design workflow. Plan view provides designers with a visual layout of the structure of the website and allows them to add and build page templates called Master pages. Master pages correspond with the Master pages of InDesign and most of the initial site design is done via these master page templates.
Design view – deja vu comes to mind. Muse's Design view provides the tools to design and populate the Master pages and periodically the content pages that make up the site. This is where the magic happens and where Muse really sets itself apart from the products already in the web design space. Think Adobe InDesign … and just keep thinking InDesign. Strokes, fills, gradients, image and text boxes, text wrapping, spacing and gutter options, character and paragraph styles, they are all there.
From Design view, it is possible to position any type of element at the pixel level without affecting any other element or the layout of the page. Design elements can even sit under or over one another. Elements can be cropped, rotated and have filters applied to them as if they were standard layers in any print design package. This is pretty powerful stuff for designers that have no wish to learn anything about HTML or CSS. The real magic appears though when you find the web components that are included in the Widgets Library panel. Adobe provide a couple of prebuilt compositions that include groups of common web objects like custom tooltips, featured news areas and dynamic galleries, but they also allow you to mix and match from basic components like lightboxes, terms and tabs. The Widget that I thought would be most useful to designers would be the navigation bars. It is now a breeze to create custom styles drop down and fly out menus, all of which automatically update themselves when you add new pages through the Plan view.
With that said, the product is still in beta. A lot can change between now and the future release and I would expect a lot of those changes to be in the resulting code that Muse generates. At this point, if Adobe Muse went to release as is, designers would love it and developers would hate it. There is a lot going for Muse and I think it is a brave step from Adobe to develop a product that could receive a lot of praise from designers but also a mountain of criticism from developers and various standards projects.