The Theme Buyers Guide to WordPress Gutenberg

7th December. Posted in Guides.

As someone interested in WordPress, there are some important changes coming your way. Whether you already own one or more WordPress themes or if you are thinking of buying a theme to power your website, you should be aware of changes in the form of WordPress Gutenberg in the near future.

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a radically different version of WordPress than the one you may be used to. The WordPress team have quite rightly decided that the time has come to completely rework their post editor and improve it, but the way they have done it is very controversial. The Gutenberg project has had lots of negative feedback from WordPress users but the project is not yet finished and we don’t know exactly what the end result will look like.

Here is a peak of what the new editor will look like when Gutenberg is introduced:

As you can see, this looks very different to the current editor used in WordPress which is powered by TinyMCE.

Why is the change happening?

WordPress is constantly evolving and improving and the WordPress team work very hard to make it the best platform available for powering your website. However, one part of WordPress that has not changed much over the years is the content editor – a key part of the content creation process.

WordPress now has lots of competitors too such as Squarespace and Medium. They both offer easy to use, powerful content creation tools and the WordPress team believe that now is the time to make changes to their own editor.

WordPress want to make their system as easy to use as possible which will help them reach an even wider range of users. Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic (the company that runs WordPress) said this:

The editor will endeavour to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has ‘blocks’ to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or ‘mystery meat’ embed discovery.

Matt also summed up just how import he sees Gutenberg being with this quote:

It’s time for WordPress’ next big thing, the thing that helps us deal with our challenges and opportunities. The thing that changes the world. Gutenberg.

That doesn’t sound so bad! Why all the hate?

Well, one of the things that makes WordPress so amazingly popular is it’s flexibility. There are hundreds of awesome plugins available that make editing and creating amazing content easy. You can use page builders or custom fields to create websites with endless layout possibilities without being an expert in web design.

With the introduction of Gutenberg, it is unclear how the same level of flexibility will be achieved. The Gutenberg editor looks like it would be useful for creating fairly simple blog posts, but nobody yet knows how current page builders and custom fields will fit in to the overall picture. Gutenberg does have support for metaboxes planned for a future release but plugin and theme developers are nervous about how this will affect their products and it looks like many of them will need to make major changes to their products.

Some of the most popular plugins available for WordPress such as Yoast SEO and Advanced Custom Fields are used on millions of websites and there is currently no way to integrate them into Gutenberg.

If you test Gutenberg right now, you’ll see that Yoast SEO is not on the page, anywhere. Nor, for that matter, are all the other plugins you might use like Advanced Custom Fields or CMB2. All of these plugins use so-called meta boxes, the boxes below and to the side of the current editor…The fact that the Gutenberg team is considering changing meta boxes is, in our eyes, a big mistake. Joost de Valk – Yoast SEO

There are also concerns from some Gutenberg testers about the ease of use of the new interface and the accessibility of the system. Gutenberg is currently available as a plugin for WordPress and the reviews so far have not been good. Here are just a few examples:

“Clients like WP because of its simple UI. Force this on people and you may as well use Drupal”.

“Sorry, but this looks and feels bad, and is a productivity drain. Hiding UI elements until you click on things is terribly confusing for some new people (the opposite of your goal.) You’ve just doubled the number of clicks I need to accomplish the exact same thing”.

Why is it called Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is named after Johannes Gutenberg, who invented a printing press with movable type more than 500 years ago. This invention changed the world and now the WordPress team are aiming to do something similar by innovating the way people are able publish content online.

How will it affect my theme?

We don’t know exactly how your existing theme will be affected yet. If you are currently using plugins on your website that use custom meta boxes or page builders then you should hold back before updating. Check with plugins and page builders you have installed and visit their websites or contact their developers to see if Gutenberg is supported. For now at least, they wont be but hopefully WordPress will address the issues the community have and existing themes wont be too badly effected.

If you are thinking of buying a theme then you can check with the developers to see if it will be Gutenberg compatible before you buy.

My thoughts

I think there are a lot of positives to Gutenberg. The new interface looks nice to me and seems like a big step up from the current editor. I like how much space the Gutenberg editor provides and there are lots of nice features such as being able to re-order blocks of content. The Gutenberg editor does have some issues and usability problems but I hope WordPress will address these issues soon.

However, like other developers, I am worried about the support for custom fields. It seems like it will be much harder to create flexible, easy to use themes for clients after using tools such as Advanced Custom Fields for many years. I also think that incorporating Gutenberg into WordPress core should be held off for a while yet.

Having said that, I’m interested to see where this will go and I do think the great team at WordPress are going to pull this off.

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