WYSIWYG Apps Won’t Make You A Web Designer

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.
  • Start building more complex websites, incorporating in some Javascript or PHP.
  • 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.

Conclusion

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!

Justin Seeley is a graphic designer, author, and online content creator. His work can be seen on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, CreativeLIVE, and Pluralsight. Justin loves helping both individuals and businesses reach their professional goals through education, creative services, and social content strategy.

12 comments On WYSIWYG Apps Won’t Make You A Web Designer

  • Great and inspiring article Sir. I’m a neophyte but energetic and aspiring graphic and web designer. Deep inside, I want to be a successful hybrid developer designer someday. Thank you for making such great tutorials, because of you Sir I am now equipped with knowledge that I need to fulfill my dreams.

    Marc Ray

  • Thank you for the guidelines. I’ve been using Dreamweaver and love it, but I’m now learning Aptana Studio 3.
    I’m working on building my portfolio starting with simple and building from there. I love to design in Photoshop, and finding Illustrator is great too!

  • Justin, Thanks for writing this article. As a web designer/business owner, I’m constantly faced with people who think they can use these apps to design their own websites. Then I’ve also gained clients who’ve realized that designing and maintaining a website isn’t as easy as they think. I’ve seen the code these apps write and it’s the farthest thing from true coding language that I’ve ever seen. Glad to have you address this topic so eloquently and clearly. ~Kay

  • Hey, being the first article i’m reading on your site, this is truly inspiring. I only just got into web design in February and your article affirms what i’ve come to learn about web designing and it’s respective tools in this short period. It’s been fun learning and trying new things and hey, I’m not looking back. It’s good to note that your ‘what you should do’ list is the path I’m following on this web design journey. Cheers!

  • Hey Justin – great post and advice.

    I’m a software engineer and web developer with over 20 years experience and I guess I would say that I’m approaching this modern web development era from a different angle than above.

    I know how to code, in many programming and markup languages, but my UX design skills are lacking because I never really used tools like Photoshop, In Design etc.. to craft a well thought out and beautifully designed web site. So from a design perspective I would consider myself a novice. But there is nothing I like better on the web than a well crafted and beautifully designed web experience where the technology simply disappears into the background unnoticed. A well crafted site really is like magic and much more enjoyable to use.

    I’m now immersing myself into the Adobe Creative Cloud applications and watching a lot of videos trying to catch up. I must say, when I first tried Adobe Muse I was really excited. It really felt to me, for the first time, someone had created a WYSIWYG web development tool that didn’t suck. And the code it generated was not that bad either.

    As a seasoned web developer, the first thing I needed to determine was if I could script a Muse site and write my own widgets. Of course Adobe thought of that and provided a mechanism for scripting Muse using Muse Configurable Options Widgets (MuCow). So MuCow scratched that programming itch for me. I know I can build widgets to render and work with dynamic content and create reusable code in the process.

    I’m really hopeful that tools like Muse will only get better over time. Because I have to tell you, writing CSS and JavaScript, to do the magic that you can do in Muse with a few clicks on a on property sheet, would be very time consuming and difficult to maintain in a large application over time. Not having to wrestle with CSS is a huge time saver.

    BTW, I have enjoyed your videos on lynda.com. You are doing a great job!

  • Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and finally got
    the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from
    Houston Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the good job!

  • Hi Justin:

    Although I get what you’re saying in this article, I respectfully disagree. As you well know, it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it. Granted, Muse or Macaw probably will not be used to build a large, complicated, databased driven site. But for the rest who only want a simple, more personal site, Muse, RapidWeaver, and Macaw, are exciting solutions. Not everyone needs Photoshop, which is why Adobe makes Photoshop Elements.

    • That’s actually not my point, Scott. I realize some will use these apps to create small, basic websites, and that’s fine. The point here is that to use these apps and call yourself a “web designer” or “web developer” without true knowledge of the inner workings of the website itself is doing yourself and your clients a true disservice.

      People who want to create websites as a profession need to have knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, period. I don’t think that’s a debate, really. Let’s look at it this way… What if your client already has a website, and you’re hired to update/edit it. You are using Muse. How do you perform the task? Do you completely redesign the site in Muse? There’s no import workflow (that I’m aware of) for Muse yet, so it’s difficult to do things like this. However, if you knew HTML, CSS, etc. then it wouldn’t be a difficult task at all.

      I think that these tools are great for beginners, and for those who need to do something for themselves, but don’t necessarily want/need to hire a professional. These apps aren’t, however, for true web professionals who are looking to start a career or freelance in the web design industry.

  • I’ve been involved in many areas of design for over 35 years. Just a bit of it in graphics and a very little bit in web design. Just as the tools don’t make you great it’s also been quite true since just about forever that you really don’t have to be very good to be better than most. Most of the web sites out there are not very well designed. It may be under the hood or what you see on the page but design is the whole package not the tools. There are processes for production and implementation but not for the design.

    For web publication there are lots of tools and frankly more than any other form of design I know about. It never really has been about the tools or the languages – it’s about the design. Except in schools of design in a studio class setting it really is not taught formally any place else. Some people do have the aptitude however. When I was in architecture school the drop out rate ran about 50% a year and it has not changed much since. Design is not a style of education that most people want, like, or engage in. It is to be avoided! We are are raised in an education system that promotes wrote methodologies and minimal competencies. We are biased by answers you read or are told and what we can memorize. Design becomes what the “creative” people do so the rest of the world can get about the real work of doing it. So it’s no wonder looking for the right tools seems to be the question most important to the most people and what minimal competencies have you achieved.

  • can you teach macaw on lynda 🙂

    • We are keeping a very close eye on Macaw. As far as I know, we have no plans to do anything with it at this time. That could change if adoption rates grow larger and if they make it a viable competitor to the Adobe products that already exist.

  • It would be interesting to view this article in a few years. I totally agree that these programs don’t make a web designer. However, they are becoming better and better as time goes on. I believe that one day they will become the norm.

    As it stands now, they don’t function on their own unless the website in question is simple and/or you are able to inject code were needed. And in those cases, you obviously need to know the code.

    As a designer, i love the idea of these programs since i work with a developer. I can handle some of the tasks he would regularly do and let him focus on the harder parts of a website instead of the basic framework. I feel like it splits the work up 50-50 vs most website projects being 30-70 in favor of a developer. The problem is that while its more efficient, its not always better…yet.

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