Joshua Chen founded Chen Design Associates (CDA) more than 20 years ago to bring a new experience to clients in the branding and design space. The CDA team works with clients to bring their stories to life — online, in print, or in the physical environment. According to Chen, "Our agency is highly collaborative and no matter what project we’re working on, we always have the same goal: to help clients communicate the essence of who they are to their core audiences."
Max Spector, art director and senior designer, and Wes Mitchell, designer, are two core team members at CDA who work closely with Chen on both print and design projects. The team has found that in the print design world, presenting artwork to the client is usually a straightforward task, due to its static nature. However, in the web realm, it's more of a challenge to communicate exactly how their plan for animation, graphics, transitions, and movement will translate into the viewing experience.
CDA's traditional web design workflows involved creating a design in Adobe® Photoshop® software, outsourcing the coding of the site to a developer, and hoping that person correctly translated the design vision. "But now with the introduction of Adobe Muse™ software...we can show clients exactly what we have in mind for specific parts of a website without having to get into coding a site," says Chen. "It gives us control from brain to fingertips, versus from brain to mouth to developer. It allows for more efficiency so we can get to the same page with a client more quickly."
As designers, Chen and his team often deal with nuances — tiny moves that improve the overall quality of a design in a subtle way. "In print design, working in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator®, and InDesign® gives us the power to control these minute details," says Spector. "Now, with Adobe Muse, we have that same power over our web designs. We don't have to try to explain to a developer why something needs to move 20 pixels to the right. With Adobe Muse, we just move it."
The team at CDA takes a systematic approach to all of their work. They set up the work parameters, talk with clients about target audiences, map out the site architecture, and start developing creative assets. "That process used to involve drawing little squares for each aspect of a site," says Mitchell. "Now we simply create master pages for each element of the site in Adobe Muse to show the concepts and transition them to the site's actual pages later on."
The team notes that Adobe Muse hasn't changed how they approach design. "We use it in much the same way we'd use InDesign or Photoshop for our other projects. One of its greatest strengths is how transparent and lightweight it is," adds Mitchell. "There aren't a lot of hidden controls or features, so everything we need to develop our creative is right onscreen, easy to find, and simple to use. We don't have to overthink how to use Adobe Muse. It works just like the rest of the Adobe creative software we use on a daily basis, so it fits nicely into our workflows and becomes part of our daily process."
CDA clients often approach websites saying they need something simple. Many design agencies handle these "simple" sites using templates that unfortunately often look like templates. CDA's approach is different. "What some clients need from design might not seem large in scale, but there's no reason the end product should feel small and unimportant," says Spector. "Using Adobe Muse, we're able to deliver sites that look unique and feel full and robust. Nobody is going to look at any of the sites and say, 'They built that with Adobe Muse.'"
Three projects CDA created in Adobe Muse demonstrate how the team uses the software to design unique sites without getting into heavy development. Bitter+Sweet is a Cupertino, California-based coffee and dessert bar. The company wanted something clean and straightforward — a website that connected Bitter+Sweet with the local community. Adobe Muse made it possible to combine basic site elements — images and text — with more complex features such as maps and blog posts. "The site was built in Adobe Muse, yet has a custom feel," says Spector.
Another CDA client, Kettle Whistle, bills itself as "afternoon tea with a twist." The company wanted to promote a touch of elegance and exclusivity for afternoon tea events, but still make them accessible and attractive to everyone. Kettle Whistle is known for painstakingly putting together events with a lot of attention to detail; the CDA team wanted the site to feel the same way. "We were able to bring in high-quality images from the menu and some artistic shots of the events to set the tone for the site," says Spector. "We experimented with typography, backgrounds, and page sizing in Adobe Muse to match the brand image and develop a single-page site that feels like you're viewing a menu."
The People’s Harvest site was another satisfying project for CDA. The goal was to connect the wholesomeness of earlier generations of local farmers with today's movement to recapture whole, healthy, locally sourced food. The composition blends images, colors, and textures to evoke a nostalgia for earlier times, but on a site with the functionality you'd expect from a modern company. It's a simple site but doesn't feel that way.
CDA doesn’t want to just settle for what's easy and expected. "We like pushing boundaries," says Chen. "Adobe Muse gives us the freedom to explore and push the envelope because it lets designers work the way they want without being confined to just one workflow."
Pushing boundaries goes hand in hand with exploration, and CDA is constantly discovering how to use different tools to get work done faster and up to its standards. "You can have good typography without good design, but there is no good design without good typography," says Spector. "So with Bitter+Sweet and People's Harvest, we used Typekit® to expand the site's typographical potential."
On the Kettle Whistle site, CDA used anchor tabs to simplify site navigation and an arbitrary HTML feature to embed a Google Map of the location right onscreen. "We used to have to code around maps and videos to get them on websites," explains Mitchell. "Adobe Muse makes it easy to just copy and paste an HTML link and see the actual element instead of a bunch of code."
He continues, "One of the great things about Adobe Muse is the roundtrip editing; it treats images and content the way InDesign does. If we update an element outside of Adobe Muse it refers to the most recent version of the saved file and updates it in Adobe Muse. It takes a lot of thinking out of the process and streamlines our workflow."
Most people wouldn't trust a chef who doesn't eat his own food, and CDA applies a similar philosophy to design. "We take pride in using tools for our clients that we'd use for ourselves," says Chen. "After we started working with Adobe Muse, we decided to create something new for our own site — consistent, of course, with the attention to detail that we bring to our clients." Using Adobe Muse, CDA created something that is carefully crafted and in no way lacking for not having a developer involved in the process.
It was also important that the new CDA site translate beautifully to the mobile environment, and Adobe Muse gave the team flexibility to send mobile users automatically to a version of the site that is customized for them. "We wanted visitors to be able to connect with CDA in as many ways as they would like, and the new site also provides these options in an elegant and thoughtful way," concludes Chen.