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Musings on Adobe's Muse
Occasionally, a product comes out that changes the game for different aspects of the digital media industry. Often that product is heralded with a level of derision because, like most tools, it can be used well or poorly. Dynamite is very good at what it does. It blows stuff up. If that happens to be a hunk of rock that is impeding a railroad, dynamite is a good thing. If that happens to be a person, it is a bad thing. Muse is much like dynamite.
Just as Flash kicked off a generation of cool websites that introduced some of the best design, it also introduced some of the worst too. Muse might follow this same path. However, like Flash, Muse is positioned to move the web world in a positive direction in terms of HTML5 adoption. This is very exciting.
At first blush, I was skeptical. Adobe hasn't really done much with its web products lately. Dreamweaver is a solid product, but lately the innovations in the newer versions have been limited and not overly imaginative. With the rise of HTML5, there are some serious opportunities for new thinking to take hold when it comes to web design and the tools to create it. I was also a bit biased because it installed as an AIR app. AIR apps have been lackluster for me so I was immediately biased to think that Muse was a limited app.
I was wrong. HUGELY wrong. Muse (even as a beta app) is already showing a rich set of design capabilities. Like every powerful tool, each time I explore it, I discover more and more features that impress me. What strikes me most is the complete design-centric approach to managing the layout and styling of the page. Adobe compares Muse to inDesign and the comparison is very close. In fact the similarities are only lost when the you start incorporating the various web widgets like navigation menus and lightbox galleries.
I often get nervous about visual design apps for websites because they compromise thorough and flexible code or design freedom. I only trust the tool AFTER I see the code it creates. Microsoft FrontPage was horrendous and bloated. Even aspects of our beloved Dreamweaver caused us to call it a WYSIMWYG (what you see is MOSTLY what you get) tool. As a teacher, I tell my students to never trust the design view and to ALWAYS test your code in multiple browsers. Cross-browser compatibility has classically been the load that the designer/developer has had to shoulder in code view and not one they could delegate to the app itself. Muse is different. Muse takes care of cross-browser capabilities, and appears (I have only been looking at it for a couple of hours) to generate standards compliant code.
My hope is that Adobe continues the process of growing Muse. As an AIR application, they will be able to offer quick updates that exist in a single codebase for all platforms that are capable of running the AIR environment. If they do, I have a feeling that Muse will create a compelling alternative to any other web design product available.
Some things I am keeping an eye on and hoping for:
1) Muse integration with content management systems such as Drupal or WordPress. Template creation and editing is vital if this tool is going to gain traction with the professional design/development community.
2) Customizable CSS selectors for layout elements. I would like to be able to include an existing CSS template that
3) Full layered Photoshop PSD integration. Most designers I know start in Photoshop. Many have existing PSD files already designed for a site, it would be great to have those layered layouts import into Muse (or be placed) and immediately have access to the various layers.
4) Background control of PSD layers. Often managing the optimization of a background image (through tiling, striping, or scaling) is a time consuming aspect of slicing up a Photoshop document. If Muse were able to manage the various means of CSS background image optimization, it would intensify the power of the tool by a magnitude.
5) Widget management/development. I am sure this is a priority item for Adobe. It just wouldn't make sense to have this great tool without a way to integrate widgets beyond the arbitrary HTML inclusion function.
6) Troubleshooting tips and warnings. I have already managed to discover a few places where adding an object looks fine in the design view, but it doesn't look right in the preview or preview in a browser. If Adobe is going to create a design only tool, it needs to make sure that the Design views and Previews are reliable. As a developer, the last thing I want to do is troubleshoot a designers automagically created code and as a designer I don't want to troubleshoot code at all ever. If I can see that my design will break by seeing a warning in the design view, then I can find a different path to the design I am looking for.
7) Illustrator and InDesign integration. Since there could/should/would be Photoshop and Fireworks integration, why not go the whole way and integrate AI and ID too! Ideally, we would see SVG objects from AI.
That said, this is an impressive beta release for Adobe. The team who worked on Muse should be proud. The product is giving me hope that soon we will have a professional level design tool that allows greater design flexibility and more standards compliant websites. Some will be beautiful, others not. Such is the nature of dynamite. One thing is for sure. Our Digital Media Production students will be learning this tool immediately to ensure they are ahead of the curve and on top of the latest developments in digital arts.
Guru Digital Arts Collegeon