In this interview, we sit down with Rich Tabor, a product manager at Automatic, who works on the Gutenberg project, specifically around site editing and Gutenberg. We discuss three important topics: the lack of responsive controls in Gutenberg, full site editing, and the future of block themes.
The Lack of Responsive Controls in Gutenberg
One of the main issues people have with Gutenberg is the lack of responsive controls in the core blocks. This has led to the development of third-party block libraries. In this section, we discuss the initial decision not to include breakpoint control within Gutenberg and the reasoning behind it.
According to Rich, he leans more towards the idea of intrinsic styling, where things just resize or become stacked on top of each other based on the content, not on an integer value. This creates a simpler editing experience and is more towards the future of publishing. He acknowledges that there are times when using the columns block with a media query that snaps is more helpful than a row, but he believes that eventually, core will add enough control for more flexibility in the rows.
Third-Party Block Libraries
There’s a feeling in the development community that WordPress is trying to become the new Wix and that the lack of responsive controls in core has muddied the water for end users a little bit. Rich believes that these third-party block libraries that label themselves as page builders are meeting the development demand to add extra control. He thinks that they make it harder to edit, but that’s fine for developers who have grown up doing it that way.
Utilizing Intrinsic Design
In this section, Rich talks about how Gutenberg is utilizing intrinsic design, where things happen automatically, and how this plays into theme designing. He explains that there are two main areas: typography and spacing. The theme can opt into setting min/max values for padding, for example. He also mentions that the rows and stacks blocks have more functionality, allowing the child blocks to have fill or fixed width.
The site editing experience is still not as easy to use as a classic theme, and in this section, Rich charts where site editing is today and how it becomes better and easier to use than classic themes. He believes that classic themes open up more avenues for editing, but those avenues still need a lot of work. He says that for really good block themes, the experience is starting to get there, but it still needs some ironing out.
Streamlining the Experience
One of the biggest areas of focus for improving the editing experience in WordPress is streamlining the process of creating a base site when you install a theme. There are early explorations about copying and pasting templates around and reusing existing templates on new templates. The aim is to make this process as simple and intuitive as possible.
One of the ways this can be achieved is by pulling header and footer out from the template part concept and having them as separate editable sections. This would provide users with a more streamlined experience. There are already themes such as Bloxy and Astra that have their own header builders, which are solid and hard to break. This is the kind of experience that the editing of header templates needs to get to without sacrificing the flexibility that users get with WordPress.
Enhancing the Theme Market
Another important aspect of improving the editing experience in WordPress is the theme market. The question of what a pro block theme looks like is still being explored. Some developers believe that having a personality and a brand and a way of doing things that users can latch onto is the key to success. This could be achieved through a membership model where users can access a collection of themes that have been designed by the same developer.
The idea of disposable themes is also being explored, where the focus is on experimenting with design in WordPress and producing themes on a weekly basis. This would provide users with a diverse range of themes to choose from, and would also give theme creators an opportunity to showcase their creativity.
Improving Mobile Menus
One of the areas that still needs improvement in WordPress is the mobile menu. The current mobile menu is functional, but it’s not an impressive or curated experience that users can manage. There are efforts underway to move the mobile menu towards a template part type functionality, where users can drop in blocks and style it however they like. This would make it easier for users to manage their mobile menu, and would also tie into the concepts around making headers and footers simpler.
In conclusion, there are still several areas in WordPress that need improvement in order to enhance the overall editing experience. However, there are already several efforts underway to make this process as simple and intuitive as possible. By focusing on streamlining the experience, enhancing the theme market, and improving mobile menus, WordPress will continue to be one of the most popular website builders in the market.