Mucking Up the Fireworks
Anyone following me on Twitter will likely tell you I have a love/hate relationship with Adobe products, specifically Photoshop, the application I use the most. After all, Photoshop is chiefly an image-editing application, but like most people I know, I use it as fully fledged layout program. Unfortunately, this requires jumping through numerous hoops, leaving one a pitiful sobbing mess by the end of the day. As a means to a website layout, Photoshop is woefully inadequate.
Photoshop is a lumbering dinosaur of an app (and the cause of many a marble of doom), snatching the attention of available resources until it’s finished whatever it needs to do. Unfortunately, Adobe’s efforts to make Photoshop such an all-in-one tool has clouded what its real use should be, and the loss of a competitor in Macromedia has stifled most forward progress. Hell, once you start needing to issue multiple editions of the same program, you should probably just split up the functionality into different apps. Let’s not even get started on the farce that is Creative Suite, where only the most popular of the bundled apps get more than a glance with each “new” edition. I’d guess Adobe has all but lost the respect of the community responsible for their success, because it seems as though Adobe has given up on respecting us.
In a moment of frustration the other day, I remembered an old friend: Fireworks.
While in college and shortly after, I actually designed many of my first websites in Fireworks. At the time it was still under Macromedia’s guidance, and on a natural path to become a strong UI design application. Fireworks blended some of the vector power of applications like Freehand and Illustrator, with some light bitmap handling and great image optimization. But then Flash got really popular and Fireworks became neglected. Now, approaching three years since Adobe bought Macromedia, Fireworks still languishes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Fireworks hasn’t received any love, but the features being added are paltry at best, most being touted by how they integrate with other Adobe programs, leaving little for Fireworks to actually get done. The plain facts are it doesn’t do bitmaps better than Photoshop and it doesn’t do vectors better than Illustrator. It does do a scant handful of things better than those programs concerning the web (specifically image optimization), but do I really need a piece of middleware to bridge that gap? No. So, just who is Fireworks for? The casual web designer? Hardly. It sits firmly on the fence between power users and weekend web designers.
It’s high time we had a grown up User Interface design program, one that understands the nature of the web and the parameters we work under. Each time I revise a bunch of related text in a Photoshop comp, I wonder why the hell there aren’t Styles palettes like InDesign. But let’s not stop there: how about per-document grids, rather than system level settings. Or functionality to treat images and text as flowing and wrapping elements, rather than islands of content that need to be moved individually. Perhaps a rendering engine that understands CSS, the intricacies of type styling, and relative sizing units (px, em, %). Knowledge of current browser UIs, chrome, scroll bars, and libraries of those elements to use in comps (Fireworks does currently touch on libraries of form elements). Also, we don’t really think of pages as flat and static entities anymore; we now have pages that adapt to user interactions, reflowing, recreating, and altering content without a page refresh. The framework for what a page is has changed considerably even in the past few years, though our applications to design those frameworks are still stuck in the web of yore.
All of this is just scratching the surface. What we need is simply a dedicated and professional level UI design application, and Fireworks could still be it. And if Adobe can’t get it done, surely the independent development community could answer the call. In the past year, a rash of image editors running on Apple’s Core Image have been released. Pixelmator for example, is basically all the functionality I currently use in Photoshop, without the stuff I don’t (as soon as they get decent color and type palettes, I would seriously consider switching).
I really do hope the answer might be my old friend Fireworks. Photoshop seems like a lost cause at this point; soon enough it will be too bloated to run on modern computers anyway. For now, the ways in which we author and design websites have grown up, and our programs need to as well.