Should smart WYSIWYGs spell the ‘end of coding’?

Macaw The Code-Savvy Web Design Tool

Blonde, Brunette or Redhead?

I mentioned in my last article the need to explain responsive design to clients. While it might feel like a novelty to newcomers, developers’ tools make it easier than ever to work on fluid layouts. Front-end frameworks already save hours of setup, and we all have our own templates to ensure projects hit the ground running.

The challenge is not so much tackling the issue – we’ve harvested plenty of code snippets over time but to make sure websites differentiate between themselves. For my sanity and peace of mind I try and deviate from the ‘blank slate’ as much as possible; woe betide me should the builder from London and cameraman from Bristol find mutual divs in their websites.

Nonetheless (and feel free to point me elsewhere if I’m mistaken) the workflow still revolves around coding. We tend to it, scrutinise others’ and develop some kind of sixth sense not dissimilar to The Matrix: “You get used to it. I…I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead.” There’s a pride and tidiness around coding that I wouldn’t trade for the world. That said, front-end software is catching up.

Welcome to Macaw

This past week I’ve been playing with a trial version of Macaw. Dubbed the ‘code-savvy web design tool’, Macaw is a WYSIWYG* with bells on. Where it differs from its peers is that, eerily enough, it seems to work. Divs position smartly on the canvas, fluidity is a given, shortcuts are intuitive and, shockingly, previews are accurate. This last point was a real treat; in my experience, WYSIWYGs’ ‘design views’ looked no better than a crudely assembled ransom note.

Macaw’s biggest boast, and greatest point of contention, is that at no point are you required to consult or modify your code. Once you are happy with the front-end, it is run through Macaw’s processor and out comes smart, tidy and semantically sound markup.

Could this be the end of coding as we know it today?

The implications of Macaw (or other smart WYSIWYGs that might surface) are twofold. On the one hand, we are free to pursue more creative beginnings to projects. However much we might try to keep things fresh, there’s always a rigid safety net; whether Bootstrap, Foundation or some template we’ve devised ourselves. If Macaw can guarantee the blank slate will support basic, mobile-first requirements then great. Sure, there are bugs in its first release, but it’s realistic to assume that over time we will be able to drag and drop a bespoke website from start to finish.

On the other hand, in an industry where trends change faster than Java updates, there’s danger in being dependent on the native software which, impressive as it is, will have a shelf life. Using WYSIWYGs like some sort of middle man between the source and end result will make you vulnerable when the inevitable strikes: glitches and troubleshooting. One bug, one last-minute request from the client, and you’ll open the file to markup you did not oversee. It will be tidy, but nonetheless alien.

“This could be the beginning of the end of coding” is the quote proudly worn on Macaw’s homepage. While tempting, we should enjoy the smart WYSIWYG with a grain of salt, never taking for granted the building blocks of web design. With that in mind, I look forward to getting stuck in!

WYSIWYG i.e. “What You See Is What You Get” editor – Adobe Dreamweaver being the most well-known.

Words: Bruce Sigrist

 

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