The announcement that Google is going to launch a free web design tool has inevitably kicked off speculation that it's trying to usurp Adobe's place in a web designer's toolkit. Buried in a blog entry about the company's ad network system DoubleClick was a passing reference to a new tool called Google Web Designer.
Details are scant. All we know so far is that it'll be free, that it'll be primarily aimed at creating HTML5 banner ads (a la Adobe's Edge Animate application), but will capable of producing larger site elements, microsites and even full sites if needed. It will naturally also be integrated with Google's ad networks. And that's it for info so far.
The lack of more information - we don't even know if Google Web Designer will be desktop application like Edge Animate or a web service like Google's own Office-style word processor and spreadsheet Apps - hasn't prevented speculation that this is part of a plan to 'do over' Adobe in similar fashion what it's attempting to do to Microsoft with those Apps: where it has undercut the market-leading tool developer by offering its tools for free and making its profits from services around them. Or in the case of Google Web Designer, charge for how you use the output.
Adding in controversy surrounding Adobe's decision to focus on its subscription service, Creative Cloud, rather than traditional upgrades - a decision it has admitted has made it vulnerable - and you can see how an inexpensive website design tool focused on a modern web designer's could be more appealing for some than having to sign up for a whole host of multi-media tools.
But enough about Sketch, we're talking about Google Web Designer - which is unlikely to be much of what others are speculating it could be.
What will Google Web Designer's features be?
I'm going to indulge in my own speculation about what Google Web Designer will be here: it won't be Dreamweaver. It will be basically be Edge Animate without the design heritage. It will be hyper-focussed tool that will make creating animated, interactive banner ads simple and easy - much more so than when we had to build them in Flash Pro. As with Flash Pro and Edge Animate, it'll also be capable of creating visually-led but relatively simple micro sites that can be embedded into other sites (which are very popular with clients currently). It won't have Edge Animate's more grown-up design tools - from proper keyframing to reusable symbols - but could quite possibly include many template-driven design tools that aim to open up ad creation to as wide an audience as possible.
And this is the real danger from Google Web Designer. If clients start thinking that they can create their ads themselves rather than hiring you to do it, you could lose out. As we've seen over the past few year, template-driven site design tools offered by hosting companies like 1&1 have proven popular with lower-budget clients who previously would have provided day-to-day work for many smaller web design firms. And designing an ad appears to clients be a lot simpler than creating a full site.
So what could small shops do if this came to be? The answer's simple - do it better. Show clients the real value of your skills - that what you design is more effective than if they throw it into Google Web Designer themselves. Better design leads to more clicks, more contact, more requests for more information - and more sales. It's a trickier thing to prove with branding and awareness campaigns that direct ones, but so it ever was.
As for my speculation on what Google Web Designer will be, I'm hoping Google prove me wrong. The more serious competitors to Adobe's tools we have, the more everyone - Adobe-included - has to innovate to stand out. And no-one wants to see the web swamped with (even more) poorly created ads built by non-designers.