I know, it’s dramatic, but it has to be said. Adobe Muse, if it becomes widely adopted, will raise the carbon footprint of the Internet. And it does so for all the wrong reasons.
First, off, check the “showcase” website on the Muse home page – one in a long line from said company saying they’re about to do away with the web (see below):
One of the principles of Sustainable Virtual Design is that we can’t “silo” designers away from development, and this is exactly what Muse tries to do. It creates a print-style interface that encourages the production of web pages following a print model (read: fixed-width pages matching standard print pages). It re-imagines the complexity of interactive web projects as a series of pieces of electric paper.
The problem with this is immediately apparent when testing Adobe’s flagship site, Refueled with Yslow! The results (overall “C”) are reproduced below.
B – Make fewer HTTP requests
F – Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A – Avoid empty src or href
F – Add Expires headers
F – Compress components with gzip
A – Put CSS at top
A – Avoid CSS expressions
A – Reduce DNS lookups
A – Avoid URL redirects
F – Configure entity tags (ETags)
A – Make AJAX cacheable
A – Use GET for AJAX requests
A – Reduce the number of DOM elements
A – Avoid HTTP 404 (Not Found) error
A – Reduce cookie size
A – Use cookie-free domains
A – Avoid AlphaImageLoader filter
A – Do not scale images in HTML
B – Make favicon small and cacheable
It’s worth noting that a lot of the “A” values here are because the technology isn’t used on the site – e.g. it gets an “A” on Ajax because Ajax isn’t being used. The “F” values are basic mistakes in web configuration, which Muse doesn’t address at all. In fact, since it wants to hide code, it will encourage the production of less sustainable websites. The worst areas are the parts that are being hidden by the GUI (e.g. Expires headers, and Gzip compression).
But isn’t this efficiency just technical stuff – something that a lowly codebeast has to fix when ordered to by the great, artistic “creative”?
As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, and is said even better by Nathan Shedroff in in book, “Design is the Problem”, you can’t divorce design from development. The moment you do, you get unsustainable design. Art directions determines the ultimate carbon footprint of a site. The more we try to puppet-show our art into another medium we don’t understand, the less sustainably we design.
Expecting some geek engineer to respond to his “creative” overlords and “fix” the problem is like expecting an automotive engineer to make a Hummer get 100 mpg because a “creative” demands it. The problem is at the design level, or as Shedroff says,
Design is the problem.
Sure, there are lots of worse sites out there with truly horrible sustainability scores, e.g. AIGA’s “Living Principles” website. But putting out a showcase website and announcing that it is the next generation of the web – without bothering to check its sustainability, usability, accessibility and carbon footprint is just lame.
I won’t even mention that the “alt” tags on the images aren’t filled out, making the site difficult to impossible to use for those with text readers (and Google’s web spiders) – oops, I just did. Could it be that Refueled doesn’t care? Reminds me of all the usability and accessiblity problems with Flash.
Shame on you, Adobe.
Adobe is taking its cue from the history of computer-aided print design using GUI interfaces. These days, nobody learns how to set physical type, much less understand how a laser printer creates images. The assumption here is that the web will follow suit, and we’ll have the “code free world” of Adobe Marketing.
This is correct, but only to a point. The reason is that the web, unlike print, is an interactive medium. A website isn’t just a series of painting on an electric canvas, it is an interactive system. This requires understanding what’s under the hood. A car designer has to know something about engines to truly create an efficient hybrid car. Ditto for web design.
When a website apes print, like Refueled does, it might make sense to create a tool like Muse. It’s telling that the site is pushing its print version. I bet the print version is indeed far superior to the website. Putting up the website may in fact be a disservice to print, which has its own rules and does a much better job of creating a “long form” magazine read. The article – all detailing non-interactive design projects, are quite good. But the site is being touted as a solution to web design problems.
When your website is about more than visual display (sites like Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and Amazon spring to mind) it isn’t enough. Interactive systems create a third dimension to design that’s simply missing in 2D visual tools like Illustrator, InDesign, and, well, Muse. The program is appropriate for sites that are really about other kinds of design. For example, I’d have no problem steering a package designer to Muse to create a portfolio.
But actually make a non-gallery website that wouldn’t be better as a printed book? Sheesh.
Who is Adobe targeting with Muse? Worried People. There has been lots of awful propaganda on how the web will destroy print and traditional graphic design – witness “A Magazine is an iPad that Does Not Work!” on YouTube. But this is silly. See the great commentary on Wired by Daniel Donahoo, Why the A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work Video Is Ridiculous for why this is dumb. But legions of ignorant Internet and web pundits have been busy predicting the end of print since the early 1990s. Lame. It made some great designers into Worried People.
So, let me affirm that the web does not replace print. Print design isn’t going away anytime soon. The web’s interactivity encourages grasshoper-style, jumping between bits of associated information. Print allows focused concentration and understanding of a few principles. Simply making magazine pages pop up on the web doesn’t change this. In fact, while people typically spend an hour or so reading a newspaper, they take a few minutes at most on typical news websites.
The Worried People are those with great design skills who never learned anything about interactive design, user experience, and related fields. To them, the web presents a contrast of low-resolution, crappy screen displays coupled with a steamroller advance into all aspects of daily life.This has been true since the early 1990s, when the web first appeared, and is true now.
And back then, as now, Adobe promised them that everything could be done by navigating a maze of tiny icons onscreen via their nasty GUI model. Nasty, but familiar if you spent the months necessary to master the GUI. It is certainly appealing to have someone tell you that you don’t have to start over.
Some of Adobe’s GUI, of course, is awesome – Illustrator comes to mind. I wouldn’t like to type in the code for the curves and gradients when I can just drag my mouse.
However, interactivity is a different story. You have to design a process, just like an automotive designer has to figure out the ‘use contexts’ of their vehicle. This in turn drives appropriate technology and engineering. If you try to avoid it and just make a fantasy car you’ll make a gas-hog what doesn’t work for its intended audience. The best design will be done by artists with sufficient grasp of automotive engineering to integrate both areas into their creation.
Creating an interactive GUI interface would require a tool that defined a “time sequence” of pages, their appearances, and user interaction. It would have to be sort of a “super wizard” that allowed you to define user experience, and filled in the code. The code would have to be efficient.It would have to cue the designer to add in usability features for great UX. It would have to cue the designer to add accessibility features so that the disabled could use the site.
This might be possible, but Muse isn’t it. It doesn’t do any of these things. It is an electric magazine. It’s outpu lies firmly in the print model, treating web page design as the same as paper design. The lack of concern for efficiency is doubly damming (check the HTML for lame “clearfix” use and the CSS just plain lousy code).
In short, this is part of a long line of stories Adobe has told to the Worried People. Here’s some of their earlier stuff:
- In the 1990s, Adobe expected Acrobat to replace the web – a print-model tool replaces interactivity. That worked.
- In the late 1990s, Adobe expected HTML burns out of InDesign and Dreamweaver’s design view to replace coding. It went the other way, and now front-end developers are bigger than ever
- Adobe expected page design in Photoshop would be the end-all. The actual result? An increasing trend to “Prototype in Code“
- In the early 200s, Adobe expected Flash to replace the web. Yup, they said that. How prophetic.
- Now, we have Muse. What do you think?
The worst part of all of this is an implicit paternalism aimed at traditional graphic designers, who Adobe sees as their target market, and has defined as Very Worried People who are afraid of code. Adobe has bought into the very damaging idea of a “creative” who will have their spirit crushed by code, as described by Mike Monteiro of Mule Design in his great book Design is a Job.
The fact of the matter is that design is design. You’re a designer first. You may need to master the medium, which in the case of computers always requires some understanding of code, since that’s what they are. Programming itself is just design without a visual metaphor, and there’s nothing higher or lower about it. You just learn what you need to create great design. And great design always comes from hybrids rather than specialists sitting in their cloth-lined cubicles away from everyone else. This seems to be a confusion of sensitive, nervous personalities with designers – people who act the pop culture stereotype of a creative actually are creative.
Adobe apparently believes that true “creatives” are hurt by code, and that non-creative people code. It’s a great marketing trick for the Worried People, but it isn’t true, like most marketing pitches.
There are huge numbers of people out there who are “graphic designers” by job description who know web design, and web code. Their work wasn’t killed by knowing code, in fact it in all probability enhanced it – they weren’t controlled by coders. Those designers see themselves doing design, and learn whatever technology they need to do it right. And if they know all the great stuff from print (knowing a bit about typography comes to mind) they are even better designers for having mastered two fields.
Why then, the fetish not to learn code, and all the related interactive stuff that makes the web unique? Why the push to make it like a printed page? Marketing at all levels has sold us a bill of goods. It tells us we automatically deserve things because of our cultural identity. It says there is an “easy button” that you can buy. It says that the people doing the “easy button” stuff were inferior to you in your specialness – you are really the cute one. It appeals to base instincts of “something for nothing”, or platitudes that you already know how to do everything, and those scary people that seem to know more are actually inferior to you, since you’re a “creative”.
So, Muse appeals to designers by giving the Identity-Politic class of “creative”. It says creatives like their target market are very special, and that the nasty old code is just something that grunts should do so that “creatives” don’t sully their artistic purity. It says another class of apparently successful people who are “so hot right now” are really about to be swept away, like an end-times fable. Their work is trivial, and not worth knowing. We fixed them so you could inherit your rightful “creative” mantle on the web. After all, you are the special one, and they will be cast aside to reveal you in your blessedness.
This is horrible, especially for students, who will have a harder time getting a job from having sucked up this rewritten history and future.
And in appealing in this way, Adobe makes the entire web less and less sustainable. Muse will raise its carbon footprint.