Will It Blend: PhotoCSShop?

John Nack sort-of raises the question that’s been going through people’s minds more and more of late: is CSS the new Photoshop? It sounds like a ludicrous idea but becomes less so the more we see things like an iPhone in CSS3, iOS icons in CSS3, or even a flash light.

What these impressive lab experiments prove, however, is that CSS3 reduces the need to have just about one element for every pixel in a designed bitmap graphic when doing them in CSS, and can quite effectively accomplish a lot of graphical feats. That’s great, and we should definitely leverage that power. But Photoshop, it does not make.

These experiments do nothing to indicate that CSS3 has made it easier for us to build nice, graphical-looking interfaces for the Web, but between HTML5 and CSS3, we actually have hit that point in time where it is possible to design a lot of great stuff right inside the browser. As such, the question turns to tools, which brings us back to John Nack’s post.

John suggests that Adobe “freak out a little, but in a constructive way” and I think, on that front, he’s spot on. His post then serves as a call for comments, ideas and suggestions on what he/Adobe can do to extend Photoshop with functionality that would steer it towards becoming “Photoshop in the browser”, e.g. allowing web designers to use Photoshop and get immediate HTML and CSS output as a result.

Personally, I’m not a fan of that idea. From Adobe’s point of view, they’ll have to go down this rabbit hole sooner or later so I don’t blame John for suggesting this, and in fact I highly commend him for openly discussing with the community what their thoughts on this are. Great idea. But the last thing I want is Photoshop CS6 having even more features, rendering its initial load time to unbearable levels on my Macs. Nor do I think it wise for its codebase to be extended any further until they can make it crash a bit less often.

An acceptable—to me—option would be if Photoshop went two separate ways: Photoshop, the main edition (for photo editing), and Photoshop for Web Designers, which, let’s face it, needs a better name. “But Faruk, that’s Fireworks!” I hear you say. Except it’s not, because a huge number of web designers (myself included) still prefer designing sites and pixels in Photoshop rather than Fireworks. No, this product would be a harmonious blend of Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator and Dreamweaver, designed for the sole purpose of catering to the web designer who knows his/her HTML and CSS.

As nice as that may sound, it produces several new dilemmas for Adobe, not least of which an even greater compounding of their total product lineup. Then there’s their corporate desire to integrate everything with everything else (or at least Bridge), the “group” placement of this product (should it go in Design Premium or Web Premium?), and so forth. All surmountable, I’m sure, but the question is: how well?

Already, Adobe’s products don’t have a great reputation. They may still be the best tools of their kind for the work many of us do, but aside of Lightroom I can’t think of a single Adobe app that doesn’t get hated on when I see people talk about them on Twitter. The complaints are sound, too: the apps have terribly inconsistent UI, they crash a lot, they’re bloated and expensive, their features-to-usefulness ratio is probably on the wrong end of the 80/20 rule, and they’ve ignored for years now the multitudes of requests to forego tacking on additional features and refining & stabilizing the products instead.

Compare these kinds of issues to the average software product that Apple makes. It’s a world of difference! But unless it becomes absolutely necessary, I don’t see Apple getting into the image editing / design application market. A shame, because if there’s anything Apple have done well for our industry, it is instilling a strong understanding of the value of simplicity and quality in products over feature-sets. They are by far not the only ones who inspire with that, I should note, but they also are by far the most prominent and successful ones. And even Apple sometimes messes up on the small details—or even the big ones—so we have to cut Adobe some slack here, too.

The reason I’m personally not interested much in what Adobe ends up pursuing here—if anything—is that Adobe’s stronghold on the creative design tools market is of no benefit to anyone but Adobe. Their customers don’t benefit at all, they just keep paying higher and higher prices for faster and faster crashes. Competitors obviously don’t benefit, though they’re at least making some strides towards becoming viable alternatives. End users obviously don’t benefit. Adobe truly is the only one who does.

What excites me about the idea of designing in the browser, something I’ve discussed with Andy Clarke for years now, is that it gives us the opportunity for a fresh start. No more thinking in terms of “how Photoshop does it.” A clean slate. A blank canvas. On it, we can design a new type of interface, one that isn’t just designed to build websites with, but one that is a website (or web app) itself. That’s the kind of idea that gets me excited about designing in the browser, about directly manipulating CSS instead of Layer Styles, about having a (nearly)-finished HTML & CSS structure ready for me as soon as I’m done designing.

Suffice to say, no such tools exist just yet, and from what I’ve seen so far, nothing even remotely like it is being built, either. It was (part of) my startup idea that I’ve had this past year to build, but unless I come across a talented development team interested in joining efforts on this, it’ll have to wait. Perhaps someone else will build such an app in the meantime, but even if so, I’ll be very curious to see if it delivers on the vision I have for a future where we don’t have to leave the browser in order to design a pretty darn great website.

Until then, you’ll find me behind my Mac, cursing at Photoshop when it crashes but pushing my pixels with it nonetheless. It’s come a long way since I first started using it in 1998, you know. It’s also the only real option, still.

If you liked this, you should follow me on Twitter!