Gutenberg Dialogues and Monologues

Tomorrow I’m going head-to-head in a friendly “page building” livestream with Bricks Builder aficionado Kevin Geary (click to get notified here). We’ll take turns building the same landing page, talking the whole time about the tools and workflows and trying to compare apples to apples (Bricks to Gutenberg) as much as possible.

I’ve responded to Kevin’s Gutenberg criticism in the past, and while I don’t always agree with him, I think we both have the same passion for WordPress and it’s importance as a platform.

By coincidence there’s a new “Gutenberg is terrible” diatribe making the rounds this past week and being shared very widely. The title says it all: Modern WordPress – Yikes!

Now as someone who uses the phrase “modern WordPress” pretty heavily, I was probably primed to disagree with the author before it was written, but the truth is, it wasn’t my “modern WordPress developer” side that was bothered but my “former writing instructor” side.

See- the general concept of the article isn’t wrong. The opening states “how radically different modern WordPress themes are”. Because they’re radically different, they require a different set of skills and tactics to build them. It’s hard. There’s a learning curve. If you’re familiar with building classic WordPress themes, it’ll feel like starting over. I’m the first to admit that the User Experience & Developer Experience have a long way to go. Block Themes and Site Editing are still in their “early adopter” era.

But even if the general vibe isn’t wrong, the actual technical arguments are. The article is structured to imply that in order to build a block theme, you need to be writing your CSS in all these different formats – JSON, serialized JSON, inline styles, “front matter” (huh?), and so on.

The thing about a block theme is that you do most of your template design inside the block editor, but then you can use a tool like Create Block Theme to flatten those designs into static files, rather than just leaving it all in the database like a page builder. Most of the author’s examples of CSS and HTML are not anything a theme author would be expected to write or modify, they’re generated by the block editor and its style engine.

At the same time WordPress is still flexible enough to give you a lot of choice, so you can always defer to writing CSS files, for example, and the style engine will handle selectively loading only the CSS that is needed per block.

In the past, I might’ve done a more point-by-point response of the article, but I’ve learned my lesson. You can point out the technical inconsistencies, but this means implying that the issue is the author’s lack of knowledge or experience, and for some reason this never works in WordPress dialogue.

Imagine I wrote an article saying Figma is a bad tool because it doesn’t have some feature. And then someone told me that it does have that feature, I just didn’t know. In the normal world, this would be a normal dialogue, and I wouldn’t be offended because I don’t spend very much time in Figma and would expect that I need to learn some things first.

That’s not what happens in WordPress. To make it worse, there is this flip side where the response “you’re just doing it wrong” can be used dismissively to ignore what are some very clear user experience pain points. There’s often something to be learned from the criticism.

WordPress has this weird double standard where it’s expected to be completely beginner-proof while also completely extensible and powerful. I should be able to do literally everything I can do in HTML, and at the same time the local, non-technical business owner should be able to use the exact same tool to get their website up and running in minutes. I should be able to match a pixel-perfect design, but the user interface shouldn’t be too busy or clunky. Oh and it should be completely free and provide security updates and backwards compatibility for 40% of the web for the next twenty years.

It’s a big task and only time will tell if Gutenberg will last or if it will join the page builder graveyard alongside Cwicly, Oxygen, etc.

So I’m really hoping you’ll join us on this livestream tomorrow- and bring a lot of questions. I’ve never really seen Bricks in action and Kevin is a pro user and pro livestreamer. Matt Eastwood and Mark Szymanski (from last week’s Version Control livestream) are hosting, so there should be plenty of good conversation. This isn’t a competition about speed, but a conversation about personal experience.

Am I walking into a page builder lion’s den? Maybe. Hope you join me!

Brian Coords
Modern WordPress Development

Learn Modern WordPress Development

I’m sharing the best resources and tutorials for developers building in and on the block editor.


4 responses to “Gutenberg Dialogues and Monologues”

  1. Matty Eastwood Avatar

    What a great write-up, thanks Brian! Can’t wait to have you on tomorrow. btw I chuckled when you included Oxygen in the builder graveyard 馃槈

    1. Brian Coords Avatar
      Brian Coords

      Thanks Matty – If I’m being honest I can’t keep track of all the page builders and which ones are still being used so I could be totally wrong there

  2. David Waumsley Avatar

    Hi Brian, I enjoyed the livestream and came away with a greater appreciation for your perspective and the value of Gutenberg (in the right hands).

    Kevin Powell delivered David Bushel’s article to my inbox. I can’t imagine he would have felt the need to write this (and other negative WP posts) if Gutenberg had remained an option. The WC3 might have stayed with WP.

    1. Brian Coords Avatar
      Brian Coords

      Thanks David! Gutenberg is a work in progress and some days I’m more optimistic than others.

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