WordPress’ New Gutenberg Editing Style – hate it or love it?

I manage a lot of WordPress websites. I design WordPress sites and I customize them to fit the needs of the companies and organizations I work for.  I am an expert user of WordPress, and as needed, I can program in the underlying php code that runs it, and design and alter themes that display information from the WordPress database attractively on web sites in many ways.

When I am hired to improve sites I didn’t originally design, I am often called in to fix something that the non-expert staff member who normally maintains the site can’t figure out, or to add a more sophisticated enhancement or feature to an existing site. I provide advice to improve search engine optimization to attract the right vistors, and design the structure of pages to encourage actions like learning about products and contacting companies to buy them.

I like to be able to get under the hood easily, see what is going on quickly and fix it using familiar and reliable tools.

I’m not a fan of Gutenberg, wordpress’ new editing ‘experience’.

What is Gutenberg?

Starting with WordPress version  5.0, the editor used for changing pages and posts on wordpress sites is completely different. Shockingly different, in the ‘where the heck are all my tools to do a simple thing like bolding a word or making a list?’ way.

Going for a more streamlined experience similar to tools like squarespace, WordPress has created an editor that hides everything it thinks you don’t need at the moment. More importantly, it allows you to add blocks of text, images and other objects, and then move them around at will.

This sounds like a great idea.

Until you try and implement it on a site with a theme you like, but which is not optimized for Gutenberg. Creating a new page or post with Gutenberg and trying out some of the new blocks can result in some spectacularly awful layout. And without the ability to just turn on the html tab and fix anything that isn’t working, it can be frustrating to sort out.

What’s good about Gutenberg?

If you have a Gutenberg friendly theme you can try out a bunch of block features that would be more time consuming to program on your own or using a plugin. 

You can drag and drop blocks of text or images to various places on your page. In a what you see is what you get format, you can create text columns and buttons more easily. It might be easier to make complex layouts for a complete novice (while frustrating the heck out of us old hands) with features allowing you to change size of text and colours of buttons without using css or html.

Lastly there is full-width alignment for images, which will stretch an image to fill the whole width of the page. This will look great if you have a template that allows for full width alignment, but be warned, it will look terrible if you don’t.

How do I check Gutenberg out?

For an easy start when getting familiar with the new interface, try using twenty nineteen, a free theme created by wordpress.org . When starting a new site, you can also search for themes that are Gutenberg ready by using the word Gutenberg when searching the theme directory. You can switch themes on an existing low traffic site to check it out, or start a fresh working site to explore the features.

Do you recommend using Gutenberg?

I do not recommend using Gutenberg on an existing site of any complexity.  You will likely already have design and features that are made cumbersome to use by Gutenberg’s interface. You will have staff who are already trained to update the site in a different way, and people hate to change the way they do things when there is negligible value in exchange.

I do not recommend using Gutenberg if you want to prevent staff in large organizations from riding madly off in all directions design-wise. The interface makes it easier for people to override the site-wide design standards that keep pages looking consistent.

You may wish to use Gutenberg if:

  • you have never used WordPress before
  • you are creating a new website and don’t have anything on it yet
  • you like to drag and drop blocks of text or images and move them around.
  • you don’t use html  or css hand coding in your posts
  • you don’t need to enforce design consistency across your site when multiple people are editing.
  • you are using a Gutenberg friendly theme

Aye, there’s the rub

Gutenberg ready themes are already being created and more and more will become available, but some of the most popular themes, or the one you are already happy with, may not be. In that case, you can either chose from the selection of compatable themes, or simply  install  the classic editor plugin.

How do I make Gutenberg go away?

Luckily, you don’t have to use Gutenberg.

If you don’t want to learn a new way to edit your wordpress site or find it cumbersome to accomplish basic tasks in Gutenberg, you don’t have to use it. WordPress has created a plugin you can install that returns everything to the way it was. This plugin is called the classic editor plugin and is available here. Install, activate, and everything returns to the familiar.

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