Do we really need another HTML5 authoring app?

Yesterday Google released the beta version of its newest project: Web Designer.

Announced earlier this year, Web Designer is a visual tool for building HTML5 adverts; although one suspects Google’s ambitions for the application are much wider, given that it’s not named ‘Google Ad Builder’.

Web Designer is, at first glance, a promising piece of software, but I question whether we really need yet another tool for building HTML5 content.

All HTML5 applications — and there are already some great apps for coding HTML5, Hype for example — create an environment in which we, as designers, are separated from the source code that we’re working with; there is always an extra layer between us. It’s true that most tools — including Google Web Designer — allow you to edit code with a built-in editor of some kind, but in my experience good coding practices are usually sidelined when a deadline is looming and it’s simply faster to drag and drop.

If we want a truly open, standards-compliant web, don’t we need to learn the underlying technologies for ourselves? Is HTML5 really so complex that we can’t learn it? Is CSS3 so difficult to master we’d rather tweak a properties panel?

The creation of these tools, from Apple’s iAd to Google’s Web Designer has been enabled by the collapse of the Flash industry. According to Google there are already more HTML5-capable devices than Flash-capable devices (which makes sense given the iPhone’s nonplussed reaction to SWF files) and the market is expected to grow by over 40% by the end of the year. In fact the only surprising thing is that the market isn’t growing faster and that any Flash content is still produced at all.

However whilst Adobe have apparently sought to distance themselves from Flash (Adobe Edge Animate does not feel like a Flash interface), Google have no such compunction, and Web Designer has a distinctly Flash MX 2004 feel about it.

How much of Web Designer is new and how much is, as suggested by certain sources, simply a fork of the Motorola Mobility project Ninja (which Google now own) is difficult to say without looking under the hood. What we can be sure of is that whatever its origins, Web Designer is a natural step for Google, it makes absolute sense that having cornered the market in advertising, Google should produce a tool for building those adverts. Already tied into DoubleClick and AdMob, the option to publish for other networks is included, but is unlikely to be widely used.


Déjà vu for Actionscript programmers.

Probably the biggest blow to Adobe, and to all rival applications is that Google Web Designer is free, at least for now. It’s very hard to justify a Flash CC subscription when there’s a free alternative — albeit one that is a little more basic. Google has beaten Microsoft office into submission by delivering basic rivals free of charge, why not Adobe CC too?

In many ways Google Web Designer is inventing a role for itself. But whilst it’s free, is there any chance it won’t be successful? And if it is extended over the next year or two to include full site builds, will it reach the stage of replacing an in-depth knowledge of HTML5? It will be bad news for the Web if it does.

Have you downloaded Google Web Designer yet? Do you think Google will expand its remit in the near future? Let us know in the comments.

  • Andreas Olsson

    I think this is a really good alternative. Mainly because it is free. Tried it out earlier today, and it seems pretty nice to work with.

    “Probably the biggest blow to Adobe, and to all rival applications is that Adobe Web Designer is free, at least for now.” It should be “Google Web Designer” instead of “Adobe Web Designer”, right?

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Oops, yes it should be :) I’ve corrected that — thanks.

  • Jannik

    “Probably the biggest blow to Adobe, and to all rival applications is that Adobe Web Designer is free, at least for now.” <- That would be Google Web Designer, right? :-)

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Yes, small error. Thanks for pointing it out, it’s corrected.

  • UmairP

    Probably the biggest blow to Adobe, and to all rival applications is that Adobe Web Designer is free, at least for now.

    Did you mean Google Web Designer

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      Yes, we’ve corrected it — thanks.

  • Jotpreet Singh

    Nicely written. I just reviewed it on my blog. I it is not detected by auto spam, here it is:-

    here, I talk about its features, looks, designe, etc.

    And, I think yes, we do need another HTML 5 authoring app

  • Will

    “Google has beaten Microsoft office into submission by delivering basic rivals free of charge” Well…

  • HemanthMalli

    It seems great and its free source too!! I’m really excited to work on this !!

  • Frazer Wilson

    Are you sure you didn’t mean ‘Adobe Web Designer?’

  • Paul van den Dool

    I usually try to evade these type of applications. I think it’s good practice to hard code designs and not resort to drag and drop applications. It feels like cheating to me and should not be done. Even if a deadline is looming.

  • Tim

    +1 for Tumult Hype

  • Digital Workshop

    If you’re going to use a visual editor then IMO you certainly want one which enhances or extends your work beyond what you could code by hand.

    Least I hope so or we’ve just wasted 2 years adding HTML5++ to Opus Creator :-)


  • Paweł P.


  • Dan DiGangi

    Being a developer, I could go either way on this. It empowers a lot of individuals but at the same time, it creates the perception that we can eliminate the development role.

  • Anon

    I was hoping this would be a game changer for me – but it isn’t yet. My company recently bought a subscription for Flash CC because we still need to produce swf web ads. I’ve been really vocal about how Flash is going away and we need to move to HTML5, but our vendors aren’t there yet. So for now…this program doesn’t help me. I really hope it will in the future.

  • Michael Musgrove

    The use of these tools is the responsibility of the designer/developer, and their personal standards. I intentionally never learned Dreamweaver because I wanted to know how everything works and be able to do it myself. I’ll always hand code my sites and apps and work in an IDE like Sublime Text.

    But, for animations and complex coding, I can easily see how these tools would be a HUGE timesaver. I’ve been playing with Google Web Designer for a while, and if you create some advanced animations, then have a look at the source code, you’ll see there’s no WAY you could code all that any better or faster. But I’m not reliant on anything or anyone to integrate that code with my own. I still know what that code is and does, and that way I can maintain high coding standards.

  • Robert

    The real question is how long until engineers completely wipe out the need for working developers and designers? It’s starting to get too easy now to build websites, its ridiculous. We’re in for a rude awakening.

    • Kasey

      I don’t think they will ever wipe out designers and developers. Drag and drop editors may give anyone the ability to make their own website but that doesn’t mean they have the design skills to make it good or that the program has the ability to write decent code. There will always be the need for someone to go clean up the mess.

      • Robert

        This is true at the moment. The creative field is highly opinionated so some may not feel the need to pay someone a respectable salary with so many free tools available. I’ve seen many people that work in marketing that can code simple emails and use a few design tools. It isn’t the best quality but at this rate and with more graduates every year how can we earn a living 5-10-20 years from now.

    • wongasu

      time to move as software dev?

  • William R. Cousert

    Your ads are overlaying part of the article text. I’m using the latest version of Chrome on Windows 7 if it matters.

  • We Are Goldtree

    Most new technologies are not readily accepted by the world – so I am not shocked that the Google Web Designer project has not got the credence that its due yet. Time will tell. This guy at talks about it too.

  • Vlad Rakov

    You won’t need to choose whether your app should be native or HTML5 as there’re lots of cloud-based services which allow making a single app that’s distributed to all major platforms such as iOS,Android and HTML5. I’m using service currently because they offer great features that can be implemented even without coding

  • Archioliis R

    Hey Ben,

    Since you’re very knowledgeable about the web stuff out there I want to ask you a question. I am newbie to JS, CSS & HTML5 and I’ve been looking for a visual website editor that lets me create pages, menus, layouts. I found wix very useful and good at doing the job but it uses JS, CSS scripts from it’s servers. I am looking for a standalone software that can do such a job. Are you aware of anything like that? Any standalone visual website editor that lets me create pages, menus, layouts etc?

    Thanks for any help.

    • Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      I’m afraid there really isn’t one, lots of apps promise that but none of them really deliver; you need to learn to code. Start with HTML, then CSS, then JavaScript.

      Best of luck!