Mucking Up the Fireworks?

A little while ago, Jason Santa Maria wrote a very interesting post about Photoshop and Fireworks (as well about Adobe in general…) in which he brings up many good points to which the powers that be at Adobe should pay real close attention.

First, he admits that, although Photoshop is the Adobe application he uses the most as he designs Web sites with it, at the end of the day, it really is completely inadequate for that kind of job. To me this is as true today as it was when I ditched Photoshop to use Fireworks years ago for the same reasons. Like me, many commenters to his post don’t understand how so many designers still use Photoshop for site design or for any kind of layout work for that matter (Web or print based). That is a subject I have touched on here before and something I often discuss with fellow designers. For all the incredible power Photoshop has for editing photographic images, it is indeed “woefully inadequate” as a layout application as Jason puts it. Comment #58 really nails it on the head as to why IMO.

But that is not the important part of his post for me. He then moves on to say that, after getting fed up with the tedium of doing layout work in Photoshop, he tried Fireworks again recently and realized that, almost 3 years after Adobe acquired Macromedia, Fireworks still languishes and and still only gets paltry new features at best, most being touted by how they integrate with other Adobe apps. This is where he hits a very sore spot for me.

Following on his first very valid point about Photoshop’s inadequacies as a Web and UI design tool, Fireworks should have been the application that truly filled that gap but in reality, it has not. We can blame this in a large part on Macromedia’s truly abysmal marketing of Fireworks in the past and the fact that Adobe is not doing any better now, but in reality, the problem lies much deeper than that IMO. I’m realizing that it’s really no coincidence that so many design professionals still perceive Fireworks as amateurish because, in a lot of ways, it is. If we want to be honest, Fireworks has never evolved or matured in a significant manner after Fireworks 4. What truly innovative feature has been added to Fireworks since then?

It has now lost its direction completely as Macromedia then Adobe cannot seem to decide if they want to make Fireworks a truly professional design application that serves the needs of power users working on real Web site design projects or a jack of all trade and master of none lite design app for weekend Web designers. I agree 1000% with Jason on this.

At some point, Adobe will have to decide either way and put real resources behind Fireworks’ development. If not, it will keep languishing and will eventually die. At this point, I for one am already loosing faith in Fireworks and anyone who knows me knows how devoted a Fireworks evangelist I have been for so long. But reality is catching up with me.

As the projects I work on are getting more complex and as my design skills improve, I find Fireworks increasingly frustrating to work with for some of the same reasons I abandonned Photoshop all those years ago. It is becoming inadequate for larger projects. The pain points in my workflow are not in the same places as they were in Photoshop, but they are very real nonetheless and make me waste a lot of valuable time.

For example, now that we finally have multiple pages (let’s pass on the ridiculously half baked single Master Page implementation), we should also be getting tools that speed up the editing of the more complex documents we’re creating. I’m talking things like text styles as in InDesign and Illustrator,  but especially, real color management with individual color swatches which can be set as global colors. This means that if you apply a color to objects, text or effects properties from a global color swatch, editing that one swatch in the colors panel will cascade the change throughout the entire document automatically and immediately. I’m not talking about something on the level of Illustrator’s LiveColor here but a truly basic feature that has been taken for grated in all vector design applications I know for over 2 decades.

On the last project I worked on, I got extremely frustrated with Fireworks’ absolutely primitive color features when I needed to make color changes across a document to experiment with different color schemes. With global color swatches, it would have been trivial but now, it is a real pain. This is just one example. Jason brings up many others in the later part of his post. I’m really skeptical now that Fireworks will ever get there so I’ve started exploring new avenues that will alleviate some of the more serious pain points in my design work flow.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about going to Illustrator to do the actual design work and only bring those layouts in Fireworks for the purpose of slicing, optiming and exporting graphics. I truly cannot stand Photoshop’s and Illustrator’s “slicing” features and “Save for Web” modal dialog window so I would have to keep performing those tasks in Fireworks. By doing this I would loose some of the integration advantage Fireworks has always given me (no need to move to different apps for different taks) but in the end, slicing and exporting accounts for a fraction of the time I spend actually designing Web site layouts and, in Illustrator, I would get real color management, external assets linking, text styles and a much more sophisticated basic vector editing toolset.

If Fireworks does not bring a good dose of sophistication to its core design toolset very soon, I feel that’s exactly what I’ll have no choice to do. Many of us long time Fireworks users and evangelists have been more than patient with Macromedia and Adobe but my patience is running out…

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