I have recently been playing around with a new Adobe product called Muse. As far as I am aware, this is simply a codename for what will eventually be a full-fledged product. Muse is meant as a tool for developing a dynamic and visually appealing website via a wysiwyg visual editor. Essentially you can simply define all of the pages of your site, and then use their drag-and-drop tools to place widgets, change colors and set behaviors for objects. You can also import your own objects as needed and of course embed html as needed directly from Muse. Once you’ve finished creating your site in the program you can simply export it to html and deploy it as you see fit.
What You See Is What You Get
It should be fairly obvious that the power a user will have over the finer points of a site when building it with Muse will be somewhat limited. But then, that’s not really the point of this tool. Muse is aimed at giving design oriented people a simple way to create a good looking website quickly without having to work with code. While the network security nerd in me finds many issues with things like this let me be clear and state that my blog, This 8-Bit Life, is hosted by Squarespace and built using their tools. I did not code the site. So I cannot really fault anyone for using tools like this.
When you start up Muse you are greeted with a simple panel that lets you either create a new site or open an existing project. Selecting “Create New” gives you a pop-up menu asking for the dimensions you wish to work in. This can later be easily edited with the aid of handles in the Design view. Once you’ve defined the dimensions you are taken to the Plan view, this is actually one of my favorite parts of this tool as it allows you to quickly map out a website, also called wire framing. From here you can define the home page and all other top level pages and then assign other pages that will branch off from those. This view in particular is very useful simply for considering the flow of your site. Having a bird’s eye view of your site can really put things into perspective.
After you have defined your pages and named them you can move to the Design view which is where all of your editing will take place. Adobe has done a fair job with making this an easy and painless process by giving the user access to widgets that serve as ready-made, dynamic pieces that are common among many websites. For instance the menu bar widget will automatically create buttons in whatever arrangement you wish and pull the names for all of your top level pages and their respective children. Once placed on the page, you can edit its behavior as a whole or as individual buttons via a fly out menu. Every one of Muse’s widgets has a fly out menu that lets you tweak it to your liking. Once you have behavior defined you can edit the colors of objects based on their state, like having a drop-down menu turn blue when it’s clicked. The widgets that Muse offers currently are pretty basic, things like Featured News displays, slideshow widgets, menus, etc. I do hope to see more widgets offered, or maybe even a community repository for widgets that are freely available. Something like that could add real power to this tool without adding much complexity.
Other than the ability to add your own assets such as images, flash objects, html snippets, and their built-in widgets, there isn’t a lot to this tool. You can make a decent amount of visual changes to objects including glow effects, contextual coloring, shadowing, etc. But ultimately this is just a simple tool for creating a basic website rapidly and deploying it with little effort. I could see this being a great tool for a small business that isn’t able to hire a professional to make a site for them. It takes very little time to learn to use the tool and thanks to a series of fairly in-depth videos on Adobe’s web site you can make a good looking, simple website without ever learning html.
Room for Improvement
Like all things in this world, Muse is not perfect. A few things that I would like to see added are the ability to print out a site plan from the Plan view, a repository for community created widgets, and templates for basic website types (blog, e-commerce, personal, business, etc). This is a pre-release version and still very much a work in progress but overall a very usable and well crafted tool. I will certainly be recommending it to my less technically inclined friends who decide that they want a website.
Please go ahead and download the tool, give it a go, and let us know what you think in the comments!