Muse Yesterday I received a very intriguing email in my inbox. It was a request for me to participate in creative software study on behalf of Adobe for a new offering in production, codename “Muse.”

According to the study, Muse is Adobe’s new potential creative software solution that will allow designers and creative professionals to design and develop websites simultaneously, without the need to write or manipulate any actual code. A pretty bold claim, to say the least.

This is not Adobe’s first foray into web-output technology. Their present iteration, Dreamweaver, has been touted as their WYSIWYG alternative to full-on code manipulation for quite some time. But even this software relies heavily on programming to bolster what can only be described as a clunky visual interface. What Muse is suggesting it will be able to do blows this right out of the water.

Muse start-up screen

According to Evans Research Associates, the company managing the study, the software will allow the user to:

• Quickly create a sitemap for your web design, easily adding, removing and rearranging pages.
• Create and apply master pages to share design elements such as logos, headers and footers that are common across multiple web pages.
• Lay out your website using tools similar to those found in InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator including common shortcuts and features like multi-file place, smart guides, paste in place, eyedropper tool, hand and zoom tool, page columns, gutters and more.
• Place and style images and graphics including .PNG, .PSD, .GIF and .SWF with precise control over color, fill, opacity, stroke, rounded corners, gradients and effects.
• Quickly edit placed artwork and images in Photoshop using Edit Original.
• Embed HTML code snippets from sources like Google Maps, YouTube and social media buttons from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
• Add completely customizable smart site navigation with menus that automatically reflect your site map layout.
• Add pre-coded, fully customizable interactive elements like slideshows, tabbed and accordion panels, lightboxes and more.
• Preview your design in Muse or in your browser.
• Publish your completed design from within Muse to a trial site for testing a review purposes. Take your trial site live by hosting with Adobe, or exporting your site for ftp to other hosting providers.

The survey also included a brief video showcasing the technology.

Web design in action on the Muse interface

In terms of functionality, Muse asserts that the experience will be similar to the suite that so many of us have come to know and love. The screens visible in the video are quite promising: guides and rules are visible (an Adobe mainstay), and objects on the stage seem to react fluidly and easily to drag-and-drop controls – a welcome change from the cursing and futile dragging so common previously in Dreamweaver. The user experience on first blush seems like something closer to Photoshop or InDesign, rather than Flash. As someone who has never felt at home in the sterile, finicky Flash environment, this is a very exciting possibility.

So far, the software seems to have one very-glaring downside: Adobe is positioning this to be a subscription-based acquisiton model, as opposed to the one-time purchase common for most Adobe products; purchasers will have the option of paying annual or monthly contract. Considering the exorbitant price-tag on the present Adobe Suite has been a sticky issue for creative professionals for quite some time now (being forced to shell out upwards of $2000 each time a new version is released is painful, to say the least), this may be an attempt to placate all those pirating designers out there while simultaneously building a model that continually funds itself. No word yet on what kind of fee will be attached to such a scenario, and many professionals may find themselves hard-pressed to try to acquire budget for a monthly expenditure as opposed to a one-time cost.

Auto-sitemap functionality

Surprisingly, my explorations on the web yielded very little about this new technology. It appears AIGA San Francisco has already been given a live demo of the software, and a San Francisco-based design agency has an article outlining an entire new suite of products that will be available via Adobe in the future centered around web content and output, among which Muse is listed.

Overall, I am hesitantly optimistic. Whereas I would be delighted to be able to develop my own websites while I am simultaneously designing them, I have serious reservations about what would be possible within the software. It seems to me the only way for this to feasibly work is for it to have a strict set limit of actions available in it’s toolbox of scripts and widgets, and this deeply concerns me. I foresee a future where the functionality and creativity of what can be accomplished online is limited to Muse’s software options. And that is precisely what differentiates a good designer from a great designer – the ability to think outside the box, and not suffer from the limitations of what is developmentally feasible to produce cutting-edge, unique solutions. Will Muse be able to accommodate these needs?

However, in terms of a down-and-dirty website creation kit, I am totally on board. Ditch the subscription model, give it a single price-point, Adobe, and I will be the first one in line. I am sure many other designers will agree.

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