Gutenberg and The Customizer Are The Future Of WordPress

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.

However, with newer solutions like Squarespace and Wix, users have become accustomed to intuitive interfaces and instant gratification when building a website. WordPress needs to evolve.

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.

The Classic WordPress Editor vs Gutenberg

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.

14 Comments on “Gutenberg and The Customizer Are The Future Of WordPress

  1. Minor point. But, Apple didn’t wage war on Flash. Adobe was unable to make a secure version of it that could run on mobile processors. Adobe tried and then dropped it on Android and has now killed off the old 90’s desktop technology forever.

    • Good point. I did use Flash to animate a show for Nicktoons in 2008, Ape Escape. It was nice to use the animation software for what it was actually meant for — animating.

  2. I have been a full time web developer for over 17 years. Basically when it really became the new media venue. I saw the same thing happen a few years before, with the advent of desktop publishing. All of a sudden the office receptionist was doing graghic design layouts for brochures and magazine ads with horrible graphics and icons (Clipart). Things went south for a while, creative design went down the drain. The big companies decided they could save a lot of money by having unskilled employees in the arena of design and layout doing the jobs of the seasoned professionals.

    This went on for a few years and it showed. Eventually the skilled professional came back but with new digital tools like illustrator, photoshop, indesign, etc….

    The same will happen with this new venue as well. These nonprofit organizations are good at running their organizations, they are not good at being designers or web developers & programmers. Just because they’re nonprofit, does not mean they’re poor. They can and should pay for professional websites. Even the small mom and pop sites can get a decent site developed for about $3k with current WP tools now.

    We will end up with an internet full of more junk code, bad layouts and design, weak security, and bloated code. It took the internet industry about 2 years to recover from the dotcom bubble burst in 2002. That weeded out all the bloat sites and billborad sites that really had no purpose. These sites were developed because the word on the street tell the company owners, they needed to have a website at any cost. My web development company made a killing. We were making $15k on average billboard sites and upwards of $30k- $50k on shopping cart sites. Doing about 3 to 5 new proposal a week. Then in a blink of any eye it all went away, almist overnight.

    If you look at the majority of new startup company websites today and all the new pay for themes, they all look the same. Big hero images on home page, infinite scroll, lots of fluffy useless text, an very little interaction….

    I just don’t see simplicity as being the right direction to go. Where is the creativity and uniqueness of code and design? What’s going to make your site stand out from the others if you’re all using the same 2 tools?

    It’s like 3D printing, you have to be extremely creative and free thinnking in that arena to stand out. Custom 3D printing shops and innocative technology will flourish but yoda heads and phones cases…not so much.

    I am a vetern, I guess, so maybe i should just retire? Well, for now I will continue with my old WordPress and custom code deveopment until I am push out of the industry.

    Regards All

    • I recently retired my “Mom and Pop” counseling business, but I could no more pay $3K for a website designer than I could get it done in 10 minutes myself.

      Not everyone can afford, or even wants, a designer to create the website for their business. So with very little web design experience, I slowly climbed that steep learning curve. It was frustrating and anxiety provoking.

      But months (and months) later I was receiving compliments on my site. A professional I met with late in the process was surprised to find that I had done it myself. And I enjoyed a sense of true ownership of a site that truly reflected me because I made it.

      And every step of the way I was so frustrated with having to go back and forth between the content editing page and the customizer, back and forth, back and forth, between the two. All the time thinking, “What the hell? Why isn’t this all consolidated into one process?”

  3. I’m not sure I’m seeing the argument for Gutenberg so I’d be interested to hear some more detail on it. I took a couple dives into your linked reviews page and it seems like the big argument is that the general user isn’t sure of why the change which I kind of fall under as well.

    It sounds nice, but from what it sounds like with user posts the beta isn’t highly compatible with other plugins. This would make me wonder if it’s more of a complication at it’s current incarnation and would cause a lot of needed updates on client sites to make it work alongside other elements or in place of them.

    I would also wonder what else in terms of clean up that it does in comparison to the ability of the standard WYSIWYG when you can highly limit WordPress standard WYSIWYG options and menu structures on the backend to make sure not all users have to be besieged with the hurricane of options that some sites build out. When looking at it in the abstract of plugins, themes, and the core CMS it to me seems to still fall under a page builder in style.

    Could you talk more about how Gutenburg offers a more streamline publishing experience?

    • I definitely think Gutenberg falls more under the lines of a page builder as you mentioned, which is why I think it could pose a threat to many popular plugins.

      I think the advantage of Gutenberg is the level of control over the organization, formatting and variety of content a user is able to display on any given page — without the need for a bunch of shortcodes and plugins. I think Gutenberg will make WordPress more of a true website CMS, rather than a blogging platform that has been modified to be a CMS through the installation of several plugins. If you’re a blogger, Gutenberg probably isn’t a big deal, and won’t change the publishing experience significantly. However, if you use WordPress to build full websites for yourself and clients, then I think Gutenberg could make the process of creating custom page layouts with different types of content much easier than it currently exists within the platform.

      As you mentioned, it is still a beta, and probably won’t be ready until 2018. So there’s still a lot of time for improvement.

  4. How your page builder with widgets in any better situation than other page builders?
    There is no support for widgets in the Gutenberg. Widgets are thing of past due to their architecture. It’s clear that blocks will eventually replace widgets completely and they will be poorly supported and integrated (see Custom Fields in Gutenberg). If you care about the theme users it’s time to start coding Widget to Block migration for your builder.

  5. “Gutenberg also poses a threat to WordPress freelancers and consultants.” – That’s like saying a simplified version of photoshop would be a threat to designers! Being able to operate the tools doesn’t make you a designer. Buying an electric saw wouldn’t make me a carpenter. And there’s a lot more to creating a good website than being able to create a 2 column layout!

    As an online marketing consultant / web designer, I completely embrace technologies that enable me to do my job faster and more effectively. WYSIWYG front end editors that give us flexibility & rapid page building, make creating landing pages / split tests etc much easier.

    Personally I’m a big fan of Generate Press + Elementor; Lightweight, flexible and easy to use.

    • I agree. The clients that wan to build the site them selves are going to do it them selves one way or the other. Gutenberg will be great for them and I’d be happy to show them how to do it. The clients who are focused on other aspects of their business and see the site as a tool will hire a professional to do it and free up valuable time to focus on their strengths. So I don’t see it as a threat either, I see it as an opportunity.

      I’m on the GeneratePress Premium and Elementor Pro band wagon too and don’t think I’ll be jumping off anytime soon

  6. Hi @David Morgan, hi to all.

    One thing, after some years in WP ‘industry’.

    those page builders and stuff..aren’t -also- SEO Crap ?

    I do mean: mission = better web Vs Reality =3895bn calls for nothing.

    Isn’t a waste? Even from the ‘training/educating/to alphabetize ‘ point of view ?

    Just to make it clear, web it’s already Full of crapish code, and with unyson and web builders sorts,

    WP too it’s fast aproaching ‘the crapest- aka unclean, aka Wrong, aka Bad’ way.

    WP has Grown over years for it’s ( mostly) learning curve, have all the ‘new web fellas’ gone idiotic

    so them can’t get around WP anymore or are we going to offer a monkey proof tools?

    Are we doing it for profit ( yea man anyone has to scrap a living ) or because it is so neccessary?

    I have my own Ideas about it, and it’s : To Fork. fork , fork, fork.

    WP was the Simplest Vs Easier winning equation’s, that was the Only point .

    Are we going to destroy this just because we want more ( sorry) *monkeys* as customers?

    More people whom can’t get any at all of what the web is nor do Want to get any because with a lazy flick

    of a finger can change bg-color-global, and this will make them feel self righteous hacker?

    -you know what I mean? ( sure you do )-

    I really have big respect for the works dne by Organic Themes, and for WP and Automattic.

    same size of respect goes to my customers, if this is where WP goes I will not follow WP in this thing.

    Thanks to have written this post and made clear to the wide audience your view btw. 🙂

  7. If there is one golden rule I have found over the years, it’s that simplicity = lack of versatility. I have worked with many themes over the years, and never once was I able to leave the code as it was when I installed the theme. I have to agree with those who say this will result in a lot of crappy web content because the average bear will choose from the available options rather than digging deeper, which takes time and effort even if it’s possible. And I’m not coming from a position of being threatened. I don’t make a living doing web design, I just manage my own site. I looked at Squaresoace and didn’t like it at all. Any vendor that allows you to put up a website “in no time at all” is offering you a lousy website.

    • It seems to me that having a very streamlined, simplified process for making a site, for those that can’t afford a designer, provides designers with the opportunity to use their talent, skill and expertise on the “the fun stuff” that will make their customer’s sites stand out, as well as showcasing the designer’s abilities.

  8. I totally agree with the OP (David Morgan I presume). You expressed my view and option in this post.
    We all should get use to the fact that Gutenberg is the future.

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