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Lots of big companies, from Apple to Microsoft to Google, are putting more and more money into creating tools that will allow anybody to create a website with a WYSIWYG editor.

For example, this email I just got from Adobe:

Build websites as quickly and easily as an Adobe® InDesign® layout.

Currently in beta form, the application code-named "Muse" is a new technology that enables graphic designers to use familiar, free-form tools to design and publish HTML and CSS websites—all without writing code or being restricted to templates. Be part of this incredible free preview and experience how Muse will revolutionize the way you create for the web.

As a web developer, I can't foresee any way that Adobe or any other company will be to create some solution which allows a user with no HTML/CSS/JS knowledge to build a useful website design for these reasons:

  • The code generated will almost certainly be a mess, which makes it difficult for a programmer who wants to write the backend for the site to work with it. They may even be required to change the code themselves to structure it as they need it.
  • HTML is not pixel-based, so it is very difficult to develop a tool that can easily design templates which can flow with changes in text size, etc. In addition, elements should follow each other in reasonable order, not in some random order (e.g. as dictated by when an element is added).
  • Code generated in one tool would likely not be portable to other tools easily, which would lock you in to the original tool.

(I am assuming that the tool would allow complete control of a website; as Adobe said, "as quickly and easily as an Adobe InDesign layout". Programs which let you use professionally-designed templates are a different story.)

Do you think it will ever be possible for a person unskilled in HTML to create quality (both behind-the-scenes and appearance) web designs/sites?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, gnat, GlenH7, mattnz, DougM Jun 27 at 15:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Your question title could be improved by clarifying that the person doesn't need to know HTML, as opposed to HTML not being used in the process at all. –  Alger Aug 15 '11 at 21:29
    
Thanks for the note, it was a bit unclear. –  Tom Marthenal Aug 16 '11 at 1:10
    
Check this venturebeat.com/2011/08/15/adobe-muse –  Comptrol Aug 18 '11 at 16:19
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8 Answers 8

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Not anytime soon. The era of WYSIWYG editors is long over (like the dinosaurs) but companies continue to pump it out. I remember the days of using Dreamweaver and having dozens of spacer.gif images to put the layout in the same way.

Software like this is fool's gold - it's meant to appeal to people who want something quick and dirty (tomorrow as opposed to in three months) and who don't know or care about quality. It's not a real solution, it just provides that illusion; in the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar: It's a trap!

To be perfectly honest, and I'm going to adopt a ranty tone for this so be warned, the fact that snake oil like this is perpetuated disgusts me because it fosters and encourages the idea that you don't have to do things correctly. Whether it's some WYSIWYG editor to let the receptionist create a web page or some nifty wizard that looks like it will create a full CRUD application for you in a couple of clicks, it's the attitude that I hate - it makes businesses think that quality doesn't matter and you can just toss out garbage as quickly as possible, so when the time comes that the shoddy design falls apart there's too much invested in it to do it properly and you're left trying to monkey patch a leaky pipe because nobody wants to replace the thing. It's completely the wrong attitude to have, but it gets pushed more. To go back to the Star Wars references, it's the path to the Dark Side, and once you start down that path forever will it dominate your destiny.

To flat out answer your question, yes someday there will be a way to create a good website without using raw HTML, but that day is far off.

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+1 for the "It's a trap" reference! –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 15 '11 at 20:48
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Good to know that you can't create a good website in Flash; I've been bamboozled all these years. –  Aaron McIver Aug 15 '11 at 22:46
    
Read jhocking's answer. I know you were talking about Dreamweaver and such (and I agree with several of your points), but there are a ton of websites that let you make really appealing personal pages very easily. –  yarian Aug 15 '11 at 23:22
    
This is a highly biased answer. You should have used Muse to decide if that day isn't today. I hope you update your answer after giving a try to it. Take a look at, it looks great: venturebeat.com/2011/08/15/adobe-muse –  Comptrol Aug 18 '11 at 2:05
    
It might become possible if we move away from HTML/CSS to something less crap. –  Alan B Dec 9 '13 at 11:48
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In a sense, this is already possible. This is the entire point of blogging tools like WordPress and its many templates: to enable content creators to make great websites with little technical know-how about HTML.

That said, the functionality of the website is completely constrained to what the website-creation tool included. Just like with everything in life, if you want novel functionality and a custom creation then that involves lots of work under the hood.

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I would argue that there's a difference between a blog (trivial layout, the meat of it being content) and an actual website that's meant to be visually appealing. When you go to a blog it's normally for the content so a very spartan look is fine, not so much for a "brochureware" site meant to attract customers. –  Wayne M Aug 15 '11 at 20:47
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Many blogs are very good websites; the visual appeal of a "brochureware" site as you put it mostly comes down to the quality of the graphic design plugged into the template, not the underlying HTML. They aren't e-commerce sites or something, but they certainly are very nice websites. As for the visual appearance being "spartan", I call that "minimalistic" and much prefer that to the opposite. –  jhocking Aug 15 '11 at 21:26
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@Wayne M: Have you seen some of the Wordpress themes? They look very visually appealing. –  yarian Aug 15 '11 at 23:22
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I use WordPress. It's great as long as you're doing something that it supports, but as soon as you want to tweak something in a way which goes against the grain, it becomes a nightmare. In any case, I agree with Wayne M's answer - the whole thing can be a bit of a trap. And it's definitely annoying how it makes non-"computer people" think that building web applications is easy. –  Bobby Tables Aug 15 '11 at 23:57
    
It's true, that is very annoying. However it is hardly WordPress' fault that people can't tell the difference between a web site and a web application. –  jhocking Aug 16 '11 at 0:08
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Wayne M's answer is great since it underlines the major problem of the WYSIWYG editors: they produce low quality code. From Microsoft FrontPage era to Macromedia Dreamweaver to Microsoft Expression suite to Adobe InDesign, every time the advertisement said that the new product is designed to produce high quality, clean HTML and CSS, and every time the next advertisement for the next product showed that the previous one was a lie.

But there is more. Not only they are not sophisticated enough to create a clean code, but they can't do it, and will never be able to do it. Never (of course, I'm not talking about the futuristic year 3000 computers smarter than any men). Why?

Because they take a wrong path from the beginning. Their idea: give a tool to a fool, and he would be able to do marvels with it and with no skills nor knowledge at all. This is not what happens in real life. I, as a developer, often work with inexperienced self-called designers. They don't know anything neither about the web in general, nor about HTML or CSS. When they give me their design, it's hugely difficult to do clean code. Often impossible. The only way is to change their design first.

I'm an human, so I can do it. On the other hand, a WYSIWYG software product would never dare changing the design made by a human. That's why those products would always produce bad code when being in hands of a person who does not understand how web pages are made. If they are used by an experienced developer who also knows how the visual design must be done in order to be easily transformed into an HTML and CSS code, then of course there are chances that the final code will be pretty clean. But I suspect that those real designers would find it easier to give their design to a programmer who will do the same work by hand, maybe optimizing what needs to be optimized.


This being said, the fact that WYSIWYG products will mostly produce bad code doesn't really matter. When creating those products, the companies are targeting the people who don't care about quality. What's the point in writing valid XHTML 1.1 code or in using CSS sprites or applying some optimization techniques to a small static website which will be used by a hundred of people per day? For those websites, quality doesn't matter.

And when quality matters, the websites will be done by hand, no matter how good WYSIWYG software is.

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Probably, as long as the tool can produce what the client wants. As soon as the client wants something that cannot be done by this tool, then the answer will be "no".

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You wrote the question without HTML, and it appears on a website.

However, rich web applications interact with users in complex ways. That complexity is irreducible. The complexity remains whether HTML is used, or Javascript, or any other language. It has proven very hard to express that complexity through a drag-and-drop process. We've been trying to do that for decades now with limited success. Even if we could do that, the complexity is still there, and some talent and skill will be needed to deal with it. HTML could become the assembly language of web design, but there will still be plenty of work for web developers.

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Auto-generation leads to fluff (especially with web development). Fluff leads to bulky and unncessary bytes going over the wire.

In my opinion, I'd rather have complete control over what gets put into markup. The closest thing to a compromise is saving markup snippets that take a little longer to type out.

There's no free lunches! =)

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To an extent...

It will probably not happen anytime soon that you will not have to know HTML to make a fully customized webpage (unless HTML is replaced by another "language"). But tools such as Wordpress, Blogger (by Google), Webs.com (formerly Freewebs), and other sites allow you to create a customized website, as I said before, to an extent.

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Your points sound logical. However, building web pages for data processing applications are offering alternatives to pure HTML/CSS interface, for example: MS-Silverlight, ZOHO Creator, Code OnTime, and possibly others. Also for information processing applications, the use of controls takes care of many visual aspects without having to know much about the HTML/CSS world.

Also, for web sites there is at least one tool that is truly genius that does not require HTML to build great sites (may be it is using templates internally) but if you don't know HTML/CSS, it would not be too bad if you could select from 50 templates or so - The tool is Artisteer: http://www.artisteer.com/

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