What WordPress Developers Think of Gutenberg
Now that a few months have passed since the highly-anticipated launch of WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg, we Namecheap folks were curious. What do the experts—the WordPress developers and designers out there—have to say about it?
As with any major hype, the reception to Gutenberg has been a mixed bag. While some developers see it as a positive step forward to simplify content creation (without needing to know HTML or CSS), others are concerned about the intermingling between design and content. And some are just downright reluctant to change the status quo.
That’s why we turned to two independent and highly-experienced WordPress developers, Bill Erickson and Brett Worth, to get their professional opinions on the Gutenberg craze and what it actually means for industry experts.
The “Blocks” Aren’t Really Roadblocks
As a little refresher, the new WordPress 5.0 (Gutenberg) dashboard editor consists of movable, editable blocks of content. These “drag-and-drop” blocks were ultimately designed to streamline the entire website building process, allowing the user to not only add rich content to his or her website but also to see how it will appear online—no coding skills required.
Erickson, who specializes in crafting custom WordPress websites for his clients (namely attorneys, publishers, and nonprofits), is in clear favor of the new Gutenberg block editor. In 2018, even before WordPress 5.0 was released, he proudly built six websites using Gutenberg and continues to build more.
“I’m excited because I’m able to deliver higher quality, more flexible websites with less effort (and therefore a lower cost),” Erickson says. “Gutenberg is literally cutting my development time by 50-75% on many projects.”
Worth, a WordPress designer
“People who are just getting started with a basic WordPress site are now introduced to content blocks right away, giving them a taste. Eventually, the user may hit a limit to what they can do so when it is time for them to expand their website. That’s when they will find Divi and understand how it works.”
Not a Threat to Other WordPress Themes
Given the introduction of Gutenberg, it’s only a matter of time before Divi or Beaver Builder become obsolete, right?
According to Worth, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Premium WordPress themes aren’t going anywhere and will always be an important part of what makes WordPress, WordPress. I don’t believe that the Gutenberg update intends to disrupt other premium themes because many of them rely on the WordPress editor in some way.”
Given that Worth is responsible for building and maintaining his client’s websites (99% of which are built with Divi), he admits he hasn’t necessarily experienced the same frustrations as those who are relative newcomers to Gutenberg.
Erickson echoes Worth’s sentiment. “There will always be a market for competing page builder themes/plugins. I don’t think WordPress core will ever offer as deep of a page-building experience as Divi.”
Why are page builder plugins like Divi and Beaver Builder so popular, then? Frankly, because they give users a higher level of control over their website. And when WordPress realized they weren’t exactly providing that desired level of control, they decided to do something about it (ahem, the birth of Gutenberg).
But this doesn’t mean competition should exist between Gutenberg and other WordPress themes, either. When we start thinking of Gutenberg as a complement to more fully-fledged themes and page builders (e.g. Divi and Beaver Builder), perhaps the less threatening this new interface will seem to users—the beginners and the more advanced.
There Have Been Some Challenges
Whenever there’s a big software release, chances are things won’t go exactly as planned.
The same could be said for Gutenberg.
Worth experienced this firsthand when WordPress 5.0 was first released to the general public. He recalls testing it out for his clients (coaches, charities and small businesses) on staging sites (an exact copy of a live website) and describes what transpired:
“During testing, I found that even some of the more well-known (and widely-used) plugins were causing issues with the latest update. Thankfully all of the major issues that we experienced have been ironed out, but it just goes to show that just because your theme or plugin is widely used, doesn’t mean that it will be without issue.”
While Gutenberg bugs are decidedly short-term issues and relatively solvable, Erickson feels particularly concerned over another issue, a more long-term one. That is, the intermingling of design and content and the “technical debt” he says Gutenberg may introduce.
“One of WordPress’ biggest advantages has been the separation of content and design. You could change themes without having to rewrite your website’s content. But with Gutenberg, the layout and styling is part of the content. Redesigning a Gutenberg website will require a deep audit of all blocks used (core, third party, and custom), and a plan for either styling them for the new site or rewriting the content to remove the block type.”
What he means is that Gutenberg’s content blocks serve as a double-edged sword. While Gutenberg does give content creators more control over the way their pages or posts look, that convenience may come at a price when it’s time to redesign a website with all of the custom blocks. Already some WordPress themes require you to jump through several hoops to set up your home page or other content to fit within your desired layout. With Gutenberg, these challenges are likely to increase as more web developers build designs with these blocks in mind.
Minimal Impact on Daily Workflow
For Erickson and Worth, both claim the arrival of Gutenberg hasn’t dramatically impacted their workload. Rather, it’s more like business as usual.
Because Erickson already spent quite a bit of time educating his clients on how WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg would work—long before it officially launched—they were more or less prepared about what to expect.
“Many of our clients disabled Gutenberg and are waiting for when we redesign their site to embrace the new editor,” he says.
While for Worth, given his vigorous testing, he anticipates some of his clients who have yet to update their websites may reach out to him for help. “The latest update may come as a shock,” he explains, “and they may need some support which I look forward to providing.”
Worth’s advice for those who’ve already updated their website to WordPress 5.0 and aren’t exactly impressed with the new editor?
“Stick with it, find yourself some good support (either paid assistance or a great community) and don’t give up. You’ve got this!”
As the old saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, Gutenberg seems to be changing all that.
Erickson can certainly attest to this. He recalls, when previously building websites for his clients, using custom meta boxes to make more complex page layouts easier to manage. But with the arrival of Gutenberg, his efforts are now handled directly by the editor itself.
Sure, there may be some naysayers out there, and those who find Gutenberg initially cumbersome, but our experts suggest it’s moving in a positive direction. While it will undoubtedly take some time for WordPress developers to adjust to the new block editor interface and those minor software hiccups, there’s no question Gutenberg is an industry gamechanger.
Perhaps Erickson sums up the consensus best:
“I believe that the latest version of WordPress aims to level the playing field in an area where they had been lacking: easier content creation. And it does, for the most part.”
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