Is automating code output the right way to go?
This week Google launched a beta of its new application; Google Web Designer. It’s a free to download application that provides the means to creating HTML5 based designs using a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. What WYSIWYG (pronounced Wizzy-Wig) editors allow designers to do is create working HTML and CSS code through a codeless ‘design’ view.
But is leaving such applications free reign to generate your code a step forward?
Microsoft Frontpage was the tool of choice necessity when I was starting out in the early noughties. I soon graduated up to Macromedia (now Adobe) Dreamweaver and though I still now use Dreamweaver I only use the code view option
Frontpage and Dreamweaver were/are both WYSIWYG editors and at that time they were how most young designers and developers learnt how to make websites. However once you reach a level of proficiency you leave behind WYSIWYG editors because the code they output is simply dire.
To build a website professionally and in a progressive way you have to either learn to code or pay someone to do it for you.
But the web progresses, we have new technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 and new techniques such as Responsive Design that are putting strain on our current ways of working and it’s creating an opportunity for the return of WYSIWYG editors where the designs we create are built on the capabilities of HTML5 and CSS3.
Google Web Designer, Adobe’s Edge Reflow and the forthcoming Macaw seem to be the front runners in creating software that merges design and code again and especially in the case of Macaw they seem acutely aware that it’s the quality of the code output that will make it a success or not.
But even if the code is clean and optimised should be stop coding?
Designers and Developers feel a certain level of ownership over their work and it’s not easy to convince us to relinquish this, primarily because we know what we’ve produced inside out and we know that it’s working.
If you introduce code we don’t know then the task of fixing problems or adding updates becomes more difficult and time-consuming and any fixes we do put in place can have unexpected consequences.
Time will tell whether these applications will become sophisticated enough to produce production quality code and prove me wrong.
Where these applications could really excel is in the learning of beginners and novices who wish to learn to code.
Through these applications they’ll be able to see exactly how the outputted code changes as they tweak the visual design. But for agencies and professionals I still think they need to maintain the control that can only come from handwritten code.
But for professionals and agencies these tools could replace or be used in conjunction with graphics applications like Photoshop to provide an improved way of designing that creates not only designs that are more representative of what can be produced in the browser but also for creating responsive designs.
These applications could represent the next stage of design software for the web, it’s just when you’ve finished designing you might still want to write your own code.