WordPress has become old, bloated and overwhelming. For nearly 15 years, the interface has remained roughly the same. That’s about to change, at some cost.
Not long ago, customers understood that WordPress was a DIY website solution. Some effort is required to educate yourself, build and manage a website. Companies like ours became more than WordPress product providers. We also became educators of the platform.
An Evolution Towards Simplicity
WordPress has certainly grown over the years — mostly in complexity. The evolution of the platform needs to be one towards simplicity.
WordPress should have two interfaces — one for managing the website appearance, and another for managing content. Those interfaces should work together seamlessly. The rest of the admin should fade away. New users shouldn’t concern themselves with permalink structures, tools or even the media library. The old options shouldn’t be removed. However, they should be hidden and only accessible to those that need them.
Fortunately, those two interfaces are already available within WordPress using the Customizer and the beta Gutenberg plugin. The Customizer controls the overall appearance of your website. Gutenberg will soon be integrated into the platform for managing content in a new way. Unfortunately, the two interfaces are still disjointed. That won’t be the case in the near future.
The simplification of WordPress has been met with some opposition from the community. However, we believe it’s a necessity for the long-term survival of the platform.
The Customizer For Managing Design
We recognized the need for simplicity while creating our WordPress powered SaaS website solution for nonprofits, GivingPress. When selling WordPress themes, most customers have an understanding of WordPress before making a purchase. That isn’t the case when selling websites directly to nonprofit organizations. Users with no prior knowledge of the platform were overwhelmed by WordPress. They were completely lost. So, we simplified the experience — drastically.
We moved the entire WordPress experience into the Customizer. I created a plugin that stripped away virtually every menu item from the WordPress admin, and directed users to the Customizer. With the help of Weston Ruter’s Customize Posts plugin and some plugins of our own, we moved content management into the Customizer as well. It worked! New users started to build their website instead of fleeing in terror upon seeing the old WordPress admin.
Despite the intuitive interface of the Customizer, it has some drawbacks. Even with our enhancements, managing content within the Customizer is not ideal. Also, the capabilities of the Customizer are still limited when compared to several premium WordPress page builders.
Because of these drawbacks, the Customizer hasn’t been embraced by many theme developers. Those issues need to be addressed, and they will be — when the power of Gutenberg is integrated into the Customizer.
Gutenberg For Managing Content
The Gutenberg plugin is the latest development towards the simplification of WordPress. Gutenberg will eventually replace the old content editor within WordPress. The new editor will allow users to add content in the form of “blocks.” The content blocks can be moved and manipulated — giving users a new level of control over their content and layout.
Writing content for the web has become more than an endless stacking of paragraphs. The visual flow of an article or page is important. WordPress recognizes this evolution in online publishing, and Gutenberg is the answer.
If successful, Gutenberg will entirely change the way content is created within WordPress. It’s the evolution WordPress needs to compete with other website builders. However, it’s causing quite an uproar within the WordPress community.
The Controversy Of Gutenberg
Change is scary. You can see the fear Gutenberg is inspiring by taking a moment to read reviews of the plugin. The reviews are polarized. Many positive reviews are from new WordPress users, or professionals that work closely with new users. On the other hand, some WordPress veterans are threatened. They have become accustomed to doing things the old way.
If you were to compare the classic WordPress content editor with Gutenberg for the first time, Gutenberg is unquestionably better. Visually, the experience is much cleaner. The flow of writing with Gutenberg is equally as fluid as the classic editor. Additionally, the control over content appearance and positioning is far superior to the classic version — even with the help of shortcodes and plugins like TinyMCE Advanced.
However, Gutenberg represents a shift in the way users will create content. It will change how themes are designed and developed. Additionally, Gutenberg has the potential to render many WordPress plugins and page builders obsolete.
A Threat To WordPress Page Builders
Page builders are plugins like Beaver Builder and Visual Composer, or themes such as Divi. They provide users with the ability to create dynamic page layouts in the form of custom content sections. Additionally, the content sections can be moved and manipulated — not unlike “blocks” within Gutenberg. In fact, the integration of Gutenberg with the Customizer will bring much of the functionality of page builders into WordPress core. That could spell trouble for some page builders, and their ecosystems of millions of users, agencies, designers and developers.
At Organic Themes, we created a free page builder plugin that works within the WordPress Customizer. The Organic Customizer Widgets plugin provides a collection of custom widgets for displaying a variety content sections on any page. Since widgets are currently being ported to blocks within Gutenberg, the plugin should only benefit from the evolution.
A Threat To WordPress Freelancers
Gutenberg also poses a threat to WordPress freelancers and consultants. Many WordPress professionals make a living from the complexity of the platform. WordPress experts take the complexity of the platform, and lay it out straight for their clients to understand. As WordPress has grown in complexity, so has the demand for freelancers and consultants.
With Gutenberg and the Customizer, content creation and customization will become clear and simple. As a result, the demand for freelancers and consultants may decrease.
There Is No Need To Panic
Once upon a time, I created Flash websites (enter snickering). I had an education in animation and design. It allowed me to build almost anything using the simple “gotoAndPlay()” function within Flash. It paid the bills. Then, Apple waged war against Flash. Apple won, and that industry disappeared.
The changes we’re facing with WordPress won’t be as drastic. However, we should be prepared, and contribute to the future of WordPress now. The Customizer and Gutenberg should be embraced by the community, not feared.
The point is, things change — particularly in our industry. We have to adapt or fade away. The fact that WordPress is still growing after 15 years is nothing short of a miracle in the software industry. The platform has created an amazing ecosystem of businesses, designers, developers, freelancers and users. That ecosystem isn’t going anywhere. It’s just evolving. Gutenberg will inspire new products and businesses around the platform. It’s a necessary evolution for WordPress to continue growing for another 15 years.
Our themes have long supported the WordPress Customizer. We’ve begun testing, and Gutenberg integration as well. Overall, we are very optimistic about the future of WordPress, even if it does look a little different.