The term web designer has lost its meaning. Nowadays any and everyone thinks they are a designer simply because they’ve put together some sort of “flat” layout using a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) tool like Adobe Muse or Macaw. While these tools are great entry-level apps for aspiring web designers, they are NOT a replacement for learning the languages and semantics of the web. WYSIWYG apps won’t make you a web designer, and in this article I’ll discuss why I believe that to be true.
The Problem with These Apps
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with these apps, when they’re used for their intended purpose. For instance, Adobe Muse is meant for people who need to get something on the web as quickly as possible. Macaw (and other tools like it) are meant to give you a quicker functioning prototype that you can then iterate on using your own coding skills. These tools aren’t meant to be a creation engine for complex, data-driven, or content-rich websites.
The problem is that these apps are marketed like diet pills, offering up a quick fix solution to your lack of coding knowledge. However, much like diet pills, it does very little to help you address the underlying problem. Taking a pill to lose weight doesn’t teach you how to properly diet and exercise, just like using one of these apps doesn’t teach you how to properly build a modern website. Sure, you might lose a few pounds initially, but eventually you’ll reach the limitations of your so-called wonder drug and be unable to advance past that point.
Apps like this also tend to write very sloppy code. Yes, the code is technically “standards compliant” but it’s a far cry from what any true web designer/developer would write.
Treat These Apps Like Gateway Drugs
If you want to truly become a web designer, I do think these apps are a great place to start learning the trade. They give you a clean, easy to understand view of the front end of a website, which hopefully will help you understand why certain things are coded the way they are once you get to that point. You have to treat these apps as gateway drug to the much harder stuff (HTML, CSS, etc.).
Think of it in terms of wine or coffee. When you first start trying either one of these, you start with the easy stuff. Wine usually means something simple and fruity, while coffee is usually something from Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. As you become more familiar with your own tastebuds and understand the intricacies of these drinks, you can begin to explore more exotic blends of coffee and more complex flavors of wine.
The same holds true for web design. These apps are the fast food equivalent of web design tools, and they’re meant to simply train your palatte and get it ready for the the bolder, smoother flavor of the more complex ways of website creation. True coffee drinkers don’t believe Starbucks to be capable of brewing a decent cup of coffee, just like true web designers don’t believe these apps are capable of delivering a modern, dynamic website.
What You Should Do
If you’re making the jump into web design, these apps are definitely the low hanging fruit at the moment, and I realize how tempting it can be to pick them up and never look back. However, I think you’ll be much happier and much more capable as a web designer when/if you buckle down and learn how to build things with code.
I suggest progressing slowly from one platform to another, until you’re comfortable just firing up a text editor and going to work. Here’s an example of what you might do:
- Start by using a WYSIWYG app like Muse, Macaw, etc.
- Push that platform to its limit.
- Graduate to a more sophisticated, yet still user-friendly app, like Dreamweaver.
- Use this tool to begin learning the basics of HTML and CSS.
- Study the semantics of coding (maybe with lynda.com).
- Challenge yourself to create something without looking at the WYSIWYG view more often.
- Move on to using a plain text editor like Sublime Text or Atom.
- Begin working with frameworks and CMS platforms like WordPress.
This isn’t a magic bullet, and it may take you a year or more to really grasp all of the concepts of modern web design. In the end, I think you’ll be much better equipped to handle client work or get a job as a web designer if you go down this road. Remember, nothing worth doing is ever easy. If web design were that easy, more people would be doing it already.
Like I said before, there’s nothing wrong with the apps I’ve mentioned in this article. In fact, I’m quite fond of Muse and Macaw, and I use them on a regular basis. They are, however, limited in what they can do, and I think that they’re niche products that serve a very specific purpose. If your goal is to truly learn the trade of web design, these apps can help you get there, but they certainly won’t serve all your problems. Remember, diet pills only get you so far, and in most cases are nothing more than a placebo. There is no substitute for hard work and dedication in life or business. Thanks for reading!