Adobe Muse damages the Earth


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):

http://www.adobe.com/products/muse.html

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 – Put JavaScript at bottom
  • A – Avoid CSS expressions
  • n/aMake JavaScript and CSS external
  • A – Reduce DNS lookups
  • A – Minify JavaScript and CSS
  • A – Avoid URL redirects
  • A – Remove duplicate JavaScript and CSS
  • 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”?

Nope.

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.

12 Comments

  1. To add to the list…

    Instead of utilizing existing code and really making Muse act like InDesign or other CS apps, Adobe is rewriting everything as an AIR application. Despite Adobe’s marketing, many beta users complained that a rewritten AIR function did not really behave like InDesign and the other CS apps.

    As a participant in the pre-public beta and beta forums, I observed that the Muse developers were not really proficient with web design. Many came from the InDesign team with no real web design experience. They did not understand CSS caching. Users that updated their designs would see wonky layouts in the browser because the new HTML was pulling from cached CSS. It was not until several public beta releases before Adobe developers addressed the CSS cache problem.

    Adobe developers also admitted to copying (stealing) content from an incorrect smashingmagazine article when defining their “web safe” font replacement families. They really had no clue what fonts are installed universally on computers. Some font families had exclusively Mac fonts.

    History shows that any good web tool was acquired by Adobe. They’ve never developed a good web tool on their own.

  2. Great comment Jim, and more fact-based than my essentially emotional reaction. For the record, I don’t have the same feeling about Adobe Edge, which, though it will GUI-ify some of HTML5, has a better chance of moving us in the right direction. It’s true that Adobe has been very print-centric in the past.

    I’ve noted the problem with Mac-only fonts before. This was a great example of designers mistaking themselves for the human race. Even today, only a small percentage of people use Macs, but designers often assume that their high-end Mac workstation is the ultimate reality (I say this as a paying Apple Developer).

    The Muse example is a clear case of what happens when you “silo” artists away from the final media they are creating for. If your design immediately translates to its final medium (the web), you have a better chance of creating effective design for a medium. If you straightjacket design into one medium and translate to another, the results will always be lousy.

    This is all really ironic since the sample people on the InDesign team you mention could really help the web by pushing effective web-based typography, so that 400 years of “type based” interface wisdom could improve design on the web. Laura Franz has written a great book (in my newest posting) called “Typographic Web Design”. This is the way that print design can contribute to the web, rather than trying to force the web to ape paper, due to an imagined superiority of the graphic design profession to web hacks.

    Until recently, Microsoft had the same problem – ignoring Windows itself, all their good stuff was acquired,and they tended to break. Now, they’ve re-written IE from scratch (basecode was actually from NCSA Mosaic) and run quantitative studies to reduce browser energy consumption – IE10 will really be “greener” software. So, MSFT is starting to be one of the “good guys”.

  3. My thought’s. Use it for what it is and quit you’re bitching. Some small business owners can’t hire a damn coder to get on the web but they may be able to learn just enough to get by in their small market by doing it their self. As for carbon footprint on the web, that’s laughable – we might just crash the internet. I use WordPress personally and am not a coder by any stretch but have accomplished far more than I could afford to pay someone to do. It’s frustrating to see so much griping about the fact that adobe is doing it all wrong — at least they’re doing something!

    1. Sorry I didn’t get this posted earlier! The point of the article is how various design tools affect the Internet. In contrast to Muse, WordPress is a highly sustainable solution. The reason is that it is an Internet-centric app designed for a common use of the Web that doesn’t require point by point coding – posting information, comments and media. WordPress itself is pretty klunky as far as Web Performance, but under a sustainability framework the benefits of letting people construct blogs with no or reduced coding outweights its increased carbon footprint.

      The case where WordPress is misused is when it is shoehorned to resemble another media. The Inhabitat site, which was the worst example of a high-footprint “green” website I found (see: https://sustainablevirtualdesign.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/green-design-vs-sustainable-web-design-some-data/) was a WordPress site with so much junk grafted onto it that it was a true “Hummer” website – in contrast to its green message “design will save the world.”

      The problem Muse is not that it is a site editor, but that it tries to transform web pages into the pages of a graphic design book. The interface tries to mimic popular print design tools, and the Adobe marketing strategy was to reassure nervous print designers that “someday the web will be print.” The resulting sites break on lots of browsers, don’t work at all on mobiles, and as a group are are inefficient. Since the efficiency of paper appears to be as good as the web for “long-form” media, it would better to print a design book, and use a basic blog format to promote online.

      Carbon footprints for the web are not laughable. The presumption that environmental issues don’t matter for the web comes from its virtual nature – somehow the bits don’t seem real. The web hides the huge electrical infrastructure supporting it from users, and the “freemium” model of free web services further encourages the idea that the web is somehow a free lunch. In practice, the Internet is using about 2% of world power, including all the countries with poor Internet use. As these countries come online, and we move more services to the Internet, it will grow to a major component of the entire energy budget of civilization. You can see more information on this on the “factoids” page (https://sustainablevirtualdesign.wordpress.com/factoids/). I discuss the incorrect belief that the Internet is somehow absolved from environmental issues in my .NET magazine article at :http://www.netmagazine.com/features/save-planet-through-sustainable-web-design

      The most important point is that web sustainability is a design issue, not site engineering. Expecting site engineers to “fix” any energy use issues is like Hummer owners demanding that their vehicles be upgraded to get 1000 miles per gallon. So, sustainability on the web is a design issue – and choice of design tool is a choice that impacts sustainability.

  4. Since its release, I’ve seen some fairly ridiculous criticisms of Adobe Muse by fearful and insecure web developers. However, this article takes the biscuit. Who wrote this meaningless drivel? Who is the author? I’m quite sure he/she doesn’t run a successful business. Perhaps you are holding on too tightly to past hours of painful coding to accept the future of web design. There is a palpable surge toward empowering the masses, not to protect over-charging “web designers”. In many ways, the very people who are so fearful of change are the very people who made it inevitable through their own actions. The writing is firmly on the wall – I suggest you pay attention.

  5. I have used Adobe Muse for a few months now and I also develop WordPress and other websites for clients. I like the portability and fast design of Muse. That comes in handy mocking up sites for clients… sometimes with them right beside the designer. However, even with all of the optimizing ability of Muse, it still creates issues getting indexed by search engines. Whether is because of the so-called “print-centric” method of design, overuse of ID tags, clumsy code structure, or some of the odd text handling, I still get better, quicker results from my WordPress and other site design methods. Hopefully Adobe will improve this but until then… I don’t fear becoming a dinosaur as a graphic artist and website developer pre-Muse. To me it is just one more tool possibility for quality design. When it works better it will make quality design, faster and more affordable for customers. Quality visual communication or graphic arts comes first; the “tool” is secondary.

    1. Great comment! Muse has been improving since its inception. If you understand the web, you can use it effectively. The danger, is not really in using a GUI web editor software but marketing. There’s a tendency to imply there’s an “easy” button, combined with the long-held hope that “someday, the web will be just like …..” Muse was marketed in a way that feeds into the comfortable notion that one’s current skill is all one needs to enter a new area of design.

      In any case, any graphic designer who learns how to use the web as its own medium is in the catbird seat. In particular the shift to real typography in web design benefits those with design skill. The real dinos are web designers who learned their craft in the 1990s and haven’t updated.

      But knowing the web’s specifics is necessary to fully use the medium – otherwise, we’re just putting jet-style tailfins on an automobile.

  6. I am a graphic/web designer who loves Muse. I attended a meeting of “coders” last month and well I was quite shocked at most of what I learned and heard at the meeting. Standoffish programmers not caring one iota about what the most important component of “web design” is – which is the client and their business. I design one page webs which are perfect for small business – why? because I do custom photography using Photoshop & Illustrator – illustrations and the result is rich, beautiful sites that are affordable. I am fully aware of the need for coding and programmers for more detailed web-sites and for security issues etc. but hey everyone can hack everything these days – its just the way it is. Not every business has thousands of dollars to invest in advertising and what you get from “do it yourself free web-sites” is terrible and useless really as far as marketing goes but groups of programmers feast on the gullible there. Using Muse I give my clients another option and for that I’m happy to be please with Muse. It allows me to do a web design set-up that is professional and then my client can interactively change/modify text & images as they wish – they like that. I honestly don’t believe Muse is an application that is attempting to wipe out programmers – I think programmers are often just a bit too arrogant for their own good.

    Signed
    Faithful Adobe Muse (silly creative person lol) user

    P.S. my own site isn’t finished because I keep getting clients….sigh but check out the cool no scroll movement to information – I rarely see it in high priced web-sites – its quite cool and my home page with the fade in attracts people who don’t even care that much about web-sites

    1. Your point about developers is well-taken! Coders, (just like visual designers), try to build their own exclusionary worlds to minimize competition. The current drift to using a command line (Terminal on the Mac) as proof you’re a “coder” is a good example of this. It tries to exclude designers with some code experience in favor of code-only people being judged as worthy. A lot of the fuss around Node.js has a similar origin – it allows developers to create sites that only developers can understand.

      Another example is the profusion of native-code (java and object-c) apps on mobiles when the same app could be created with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

      Yet another example is creating presentation (CSS styles) in JavaScript, thereby preventing non-javascript designers from altering the styles on the site. It also results in massive JavaScript “frameworks” being added to documents when they aren’t necessary. JavaScript was developed to create interactive behavior on sites. Putting visual layout and presentation into a interactive language is a case of incorrect media mapping.

      The problem with Muse is not that it is a web editor, but that it also mis-maps a purely visual design world. The marketing implies that this visual design world (where a web page is a graphic image) is the only place that “creatives” live. In particular, Muse tries to map another media (namely, visual-only, fixed-width, static InDesign documents) onto the web. Its layout implies to the designer that web pages are about the size of a graphic designer’s workstation, instead of the reality (cellphone to e-billboard). So, Muse documents blow up pretty badly on mobiles, and the documents it creates typically fail usability and accessibility tests.

      There’s no programming fix for this – you have to create all the designs for different screens, then link them with media queries. Example: http://designmodo.com/responsive-design-examples/. A failure to do is basically sending people on mobiles to a different drinking fountain.

      Also consider that CSS defines audio styles (e.g. control of sounds and speaking voices) for web users with no or limited vision. A Muse site, like Adobe Flash before it, will lock these people out. This can, and will, result in lawsuits from people with disabilities.

      In short, the problem when we imply that one media is really another – a car with tailfins syndrome. There have been some repellent YouTube videos (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJZSLvTK4pw) that imply that print design is about to be replaced by the web. This is an almost comical failure to understand the value of different media. As noted elsewhere in this blog, printed documents are sometimes more sustainable than the web, even accounting for toxic inks and paper waste. The pushback is the marketing for Muse (and similar programs) that implies that web design is really a form of print design.

      If you’re sure that the target audience for a website doesn’t include mobile users, or people with disabilities, one could provide some justification for Muse. But if the goal is a design-book or portfolio type site, it may be better to go with more web-compliant authoring sites, e.g. SquareSpace or Weebly. They are limited, but the pages generated by these sites (in contrast to Muse Pages) tend to be standards-compliant, with low footprints. And sometimes limits are good.

  7. Yet again, more propaganda by computer programmers who want to tell us that websites are only worthwhile if they are hand coded.

    Please people do not listen to this lie. Developers can be constantly found on the internet preaching their holier than thou attitude and denouncing anything which take business away from them.

    Do you even know anything about sustainability? I highly doubt it, because if you did, you would know that even if all the websites in the world were designed using Adobe Muse, it would still have about 0.00000000000001% of the impact of the fossil fuel industry in terms of its carbon footprint.

    Yet we hear nothing about that. Just another lame excuse from you lot about why people should pay over the odds to hire people like you to put together a basic website which Muse could do for free and in about 5 minutes.

    Face it: technology HAS caught up with you and you’re either going to have to get over it or be left behind.

    1. Thanks for the comment! with Muse is not the software itself – it can be used to design in a sustainable way. However, the interface encourages treating websites like traditional graphic design projects, reducing the site’s sustainability, the the self-conscious ads from Adobe promising that it will remove that which one is afraid of. In any case, one can get faster and more efficient results using template sites like SquareSpace or Cargo Collective.

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