Project Gutenberg is the landmark effort to make page design easier in WordPress websites. It’s meant for users who are new to the platform, or website creation in general, and is part of WordPress’ ongoing quest to “democratize the web.” Professional web designers, agencies, and software developers who are invested in WordPress debate whether it will put them out of business or open new opportunities.
Gutenberg is a simple drag-and-drop editor. The user assigns areas called “blocks” to a page or blog post, and inserts text, images, and graphics to them. This is similar to the existing category of WordPress plugins called page builders that I’ve written about before. As a freelance web designer, I’ve used commercial page builders for clients and my own projects, When I first heard about Gutenberg, I feared for their viability and wondered if my purchase of their licenses would be justifiable in 2018.
Matt Mullenweg, the cofounder of WordPress and the CEO of its development organization, delivered the keynote at the huge WordCamp convention in Nashville last month. He went a log way in putting many fears to rest. The audience was predominantly made of plugin and theme developers. After reporting on other community and organizational goings-on in the WordPress movement, Mullenweg invited one of the lead Gutenberg developers, named Matias, onstage to demonstrate the tool in its current state.
Here is video of the speech. Skip to 35:00 if you want to see the demo right away:
Matias opened a new blog post in the WordPress backend, inserted blocks by calling them up in a menu, and either pasted text or selected images to display in them. He was able to adjust the size, width, and number of text columns in each block in the settings. One can see what the page would look like as it was being built. Watching the video, I thought Gutenberg looked like a very plain version of the Divi Builder released in the fall of 2016. My immediate next thought was the page builders already on the market are twice as advanced or better. Gutenberg can be considered an entry level builder.
The blocks in Gutenberg are meant to replace age-old features like widget areas and shortcodes. Plugins and themes presently display much of their information in these widget areas, or are embedded into pages using shortcodes that are copied and pasted. The hope is that programmers focus on the block architecture when making plugins. The companies creating page builders can have a layer of design options on top of Gutenberg, or they can specialize in making new and more diverse modules to be used in the blocks.
In the Question and Answer portion of the keynote, the first query was whether Gutenberg would replace page builders. Matt Mullenweg said if anything, it should make the existing builders stronger. He noted that other plugins currently need to be compatible with vastly different builders, but Gutenberg will bring standardization. The different builders have their clannish, almost fanboyish communities of users who eagerly find fault with any builder that’s not their first choice. Standardization should open them up. Mullenweg also mentioned WordPress’ homemade suite of plugins called JetPack and that 3rd party plugins that do the same things are in business despite of it.
Later I listened to commentary by Adam Preiser of the YouTube channel WPCrafter.com. He’s also of the opinion that commercial page builders are more robust than Gutenberg. Then he makes the analogy between Apple and its proprietary cords for devices versus all other brands using USB, and the closed nature of each commercial page builder versus the open source nature of WordPress. Gutenberg should drive, if not force, the different builders to open up and be more compatible with other categories of plugins, like Mullenweg says. Adam mentions closed website platforms like Wix and Squarespace in passing, but I realized that certain WordPress page builders like Divi and Visual Composer are similar. They’re loaded with legacy code and lock their users into continued use.
What I detest about Wix is its users don’t truly own the websites they build on it. They either pay steep subscription fees or endure Wix branding and advertisements on the sites. Even with the subscriptions, the styling and personalization of sites is prohibitively limited compared to the power of popular WordPress themes and page builders. What I love most about WordPress is its open market of themes and plugins. Comparable to Apple’s App Store or Google Play, the WordPress Repository and premium marketplaces are environments where enterprising software developers can create great tools for the public and make reasonable revenue. This is possible because WordPress is open-source, and can be installed on hosted servers that a business or freelancer can own outright. It’s the logical choice for professional services. Premium themes and plugins cost money up front, but the site owner can save money in the long run through careful budgeting and choosing the best valued plugin for the price.
Gutenberg is meant to compete directly with Wix and Squarespace in the do-it-yourself web design arena. WordPress’ default design options are nonexistent and rely on the 3rd party page builders. This has been Wix’s advantage until the Gutenberg announcement. As stated, Gutenberg can’t do everything a commercial page builder can, so those builders will still have a role in professional design and branding. However, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s getting hard to find work as a web designer. Middle America has a bootstrap mentality.
Thanks to page builders, premium themes, and the imminent Gutenberg, the real work of website creation will be in generating engaging content. Professional coders and programmers might find work in making tools rather than the sites themselves. Their aim should be making those tools secure, efficient, and reliable. In my article on the best themes and builders for multiple websites (read it here), I said that Beaver Builder is well respected among coders. Any content you create with it is preserved if you ever turn the app off. This is because Beaver Builder is carefully developed with WordPress’ core architecture in mind. If you choose to purchase and use it as of this writing, in January 2018, I feel it will be the most future-proof builder when Gutenberg is complete, approximately in April. Beaver Builder’s development team is the most open about their plans regarding Gutenberg, as seen in their blog (read it here), making me think they’re the most prepared for it. They’re renowned for taking user feedback and cooperating with the larger WordPress community.
As for web designers, their approach going forward should be strategizing for a client’s website in the business’ overall marketing. This is actually an exciting time when web design can truly be a craft. Consulting and coaching are growing industries in many fields, as seen in my last post. Large internet corporations sell online marketing services in cookie cutter packages, but a freelance web designer or consultant can tailor an individual business’ website. And rather than build the site for a project fee, they can coach the business in making it themselves, recommending just Gutenberg or an additional page builder as suitable for their particular brand. In 2018, there are no more excuses for not having a website.
If you want to buy a Beaver Builder license, follow this link. I’ll get a commission, which supports my work. Buy Beaver Builder