WordPress 5 – Gutenberg update review

November 15, 2018

In the next couple of weeks, WordPress 5 will be released. It includes a major rollout of a new page editor called Gutenberg. WordPress has posted the notice across all dashboards:

 

First impressions

The update completely changes the WYSIWYG into a ‘block’ editor. We first trialled Gutenberg when it was initially released a couple of months back and found it to be still half-baked and buggy.

For example, pasting several paragraphs at once will convert them to several blocks, one block per paragraph, and pressing enter also creates a new block.

Items such as list items are also blocks, and so you need to convert from one block to the other which is tedious. It also allows the creation of rudimentary tables and columns, and control over things like the colours of text etc. But these are also fiddly to use.

The overall user interface doesn’t seem too intuitive as a lot of icons/buttons don’t show the description until you hover over elements. In addition, not enough of the screen real estate is used, so more complex block editing needs to be done in a small space which we found to be cumbersome.

For development

We use a lot of ACF (Advanced Custom Fields) in our WordPress development. With Gutenberg on the horizon they’ve made some updates to keep up and enhance the ability of the custom blocks that can be created.

In the coming months we’ll be gradually moving to the new ACF + Gutenberg combination, and we’ll learn how much it will impact our overall development time to deliver a project.
Initially we’d expect it to take longer as this style of populating the blocks is slower, more arduous. We also need to ensure the new blocks provided by Gutenberg are styled in accordance with the design.

Alternatively, if it’s too much work for little gain, we may actively seek appropriate plugins to replace some of the default block functionality. Over time it’ll become clearer what new methods and tools to adopt, and which ones to avoid. Watch this space!

For clients

If you service WordPress websites for clients it’s a significant interface change so some extra training might be required. If you want to avoid clients calling up, wondering why their admin experience changed suddenly, the classic editor plugin is still available to keep the WYSIWYG experience alive for a little longer.

The Classic Editor will be supported at least until Dec 31, 2021 at which point it will be re-evaluated. So there’s plenty of time to control this release and make it a positive experience for your clients.

Summary

Doubtless the aim of Gutenberg is to improve usability/simplicity by keeping all page editing ability in one place. After looking at it again this week (mid-Nov 2018) the experience has improved tenfold, thanks to the WordPress community keeping busy with supplying improvements.

Despite the rapid bug fixes and functionality improvements we don’t feel Gutenberg is ready for prime time (yet). But given enough time it’s inevitable this block editor will be the default editor on all WordPress installs. But for the time being we’ll be making good friends with the Classic Editor plugin.

How does your first look at Gutenberg compare? Agree/disagree? Feel free to compare notes with us!

Izumi Izumi Mitsui
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