The WP Mayor Podcast

Blocks, Block Themes, Gutenberg, and The Future of WordPress with Rich Tabor

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In this episode, Gaby Galea talks to Rich Tabor, Head of Product at Extendify, about blocks, block themes, Gutenberg, and the future of WordPress. Rich has a knack for designing, building, launching, and scaling WordPress products.

Episode Highlights and Topics

  • Block Editor Backlash: Change is hard, especially when it affects your business/lifestyle.
  • Minimalism: Find balance/happy medium between what you want and need to build.
  • Gallery Block: Start with simple, single block and scale up to discover a whole new world.
  • WordPress Future: WP is leaning into editing entire websites, not one content piece/post.
  • Block Themes: CSS custom properties to match preview and themes you can trust.
  • Too Much Control? Locking things inhibits people, but having guardrails is important.
  • Global Styles: Available within the site editor interface to set look-and-feel standards.
  • Gutenberg: Component that drives the look and feel of websites, room for improvement.

About Rich Tabor

As a WordPress entrepreneur, designer and developer all wrapped up in one, Rich Tabor is recognized as one of the top leaders in this post-Gutenberg era of WordPress. His chops have topped the 2018 Automattic Design Awards and led him to co-found CoBlocks – a top-notch set of page builder blocks and tools for Gutenberg, ThemeBeans – a premier WordPress theme shop and Iceberg – a markdown editor for Gutenberg.

In early 2019, Rich sold CoBlocks, ThemeBeans, and Block Gallery to GoDaddy and joined the team as the Senior Product Manager of WordPress Experience. Day in and day out, he focuses on making a real difference in how millions of folks use WordPress every day on GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress platform and beyond.

Resources/Links

Transcript

Gaby:
This week’s episode is sponsored by Castos. Castos is a podcast hosting platform that helps you grow your audience through public podcasts and offer exclusive content through private ones. The WP Mayor Podcast is actually hosted on Castos, and the whole process has been great from the very start. Check them out at castos.com.

Hi. This is Gaby Galea, and welcome to The WP Mayor Podcast. In this week’s episode, I speak with Rich Tabor. We discuss Blocks, Block Themes, Gutenberg, and the future of WordPress. Hi, Rich. Welcome to the podcast.

Rich:
Hey, Gaby. How’s it going? Glad to be here.

Gaby:
It’s nice to finally meet you because we’ve been talking over email for a while now?

Rich:
That’s right.

Gaby:
It’s nice to put a face to the correspondence. Rich, the way I usually start the podcast is I like to ask my guest a bit of an introduction to who they are within the WordPress community and what they do.

Rich:
I’m Rich Tabor and right now, I’m the Head of Product at Extendify. I just started there a couple of weeks ago, actually. Before that, I was the Senior Product Manager at GoDaddy for WordPress Experience and I was there for a couple of years. Prior to all of that, I launched a couple of products of my own. 

I hit the WordPress entrepreneurial landscape kind of heavily over the last 10 years or so. I started with themes, did a few plugins here and there, and went into blocks when Gutenberg came around pretty early on. It really worked out well and I’m glad I did that. Anyone who hasn’t done that, I encourage you to still do it; there’s plenty of runaways left.

I got my start mostly in design. I was a designer right out of school. I studied marketing in school, but I learned Photoshop in the back of the classroom. Now, I lean on these skills that I developed early on in my career to help you get the polish on the pieces that I have the opportunity to work on. That’s kind of my summary of my WordPress in a minute.

Gaby:
Your name is definitely not new to most of our listeners. I’ve been in your blog a couple of times. It looks great as well which I like.

Rich:
Thank you.

Gaby:
Today, we’ll talk a bit about the block themes that are coming out, and also the way WordPress has been evolving the past couple of years. From my end as a bit of a background, I have started using WordPress (I think) around six years ago, but it was just writing a post here and there for my brother. I do remember the old editor, the original editor, and I recently (around 1½ years ago) started working with WordPress everyday because of the team (my full-time job). When I got the first look of the block editor it was quite refreshing, I would say. I’m quite a visual person as well, so it was much easier to put the content down then for me.

I do know that the original generation—people who started around 10 years ago—there was a lot of pushback when it came to the block editor. It’s quite interesting for me to understand. I don’t know if you had experience with this backlash.

Rich:
I think it comes down to change and processes that folks have been using for 5–10 years prior to even Gutenberg coming on board. A lot of those folks are very vocal, and it’s fine because change is hard. Change, especially when it affects your business, your lifestyle, we’re going to hear that. Gutenberg does change that because you’re going from a text-based, field-based interface to a direct content manipulation–level where you’re manipulating content, like you said. 

The advantage is that we’re empowering everyone, not just the folks who know how to use WordPress. There are still some things to curate and to improve upon today even, but I do think we are in the right direction and those folks are starting to dive into what the possibilities that Gutenberg does open up in this new era of WordPress overall.

Gaby:
One of the things I remember someone telling me is that the blocks add abilities to all the HTML they are not used to as well. Like you said, it was more text-based. I think when their content became littered with all of this HTML, it was huge.

Rich:
That’s always the tough part because I’m more minimalist by nature, so I appreciate clean, very simple markup. At the same time, no one will ever see that in my code except for me and the other engineers looking at it. The people who use the stuff that I write don’t care at all. They just want to work fast, they want to be efficient, and they want to be empowered by whatever we build. 

That’s the hard part. I think there is a happy medium where this is showcased by utilities like Tailwind CSS that has been really popular over the last couple of years. That’s basically not the cleanest markup, but you can learn to understand what’s going on with it and use it to build what you need to build. It’s kind of the same idea. We’re really letting more markup come into the page to enable users to build what they need to build.

Gaby:
It also opened up such a huge niche for new developers to create new products just like you had.

Tell me a bit about what you’ve done from your end when it comes to blocks.

Rich:
I think it was 2018 perhaps or 2017 when Matt gave the whole ‘learn JavaScript deeply’ speech. I went home after that trip on my holiday break. I broke out the computer downstairs, see if I can figure out what all this is, try making a gallery block. Nothing I told this story before. I tried making a gallery block which is not the simplest of blocks to start out on. I had no idea what React was, build tools, none of that. 

I so quickly discovered a whole new world that I needed to take more than a weekend to try to learn. I scaled back a little bit and did some more basic blocks for code blocks, so the first blocks that I released were very simple. I think one was the ability to highlight text in the editor, like just taking a block and making it have a background, basically. Kind of scaling from there to ‘click to tweet more content’–related blocks. Eventually, I did get to do some gallery blocks that worked out. 

From there, I went to GoDaddy and started working more on the overarching experience, not just the singular blocks. Blocks are great, but building with Gutenberg is much more empowering than just building with single pieces of content.

I focused a lot on the over-experience using WordPress and how we can improve that. That’s exactly where WordPress naturally is falling into as well, especially with full site editing. It’s really leaning into how we edit this entire web site and not just the content of this blog post or Gutenberg basically started at.

Gaby:
When it comes to the business of designing blocks, I noticed a lot of times most of them are free. Overwhelmingly, large parts of the block collection are free. How did you find creating blocks and selling them online?

Rich:
With code blocks, we never actually got to the point of selling a block before […] got involved. I knew it would be tough, though. I’ve figured pretty soon that blocks could be commoditized and everybody’s going to have their own set of blocks. 

There’s the whole talk about WordPress being difficult to get into, but at the same time it’s getting easier, basically every Gutenberg release every couple of weeks. Now, spinning up a block can take someone who’s familiar with MPM packages even. That would probably be the main requirement that you could spin something up in a few minutes; that simple.

Building blocks today are very different than they were three or four years ago. I knew the value of a block would be low. I think right now the folks who have an advantage are the ones who are building very, very powerful niche blocks. I can’t remember the name of it, but there’s a group that’s doing blocks to output graphs, charts, pie graphs and whatnot inside the editor. It’s very niche, it probably won’t get super huge, but at the same time they’re probably going to make a good amount of money, maybe even the same that the folks for making 53 blocks that are all generic. I think that’s the direction I would take if I were going to go back in my blocks, but I think there are bigger problems to solve currently.

Gaby:
I think one of the problems for me as a user is I like the way Gutenberg is, but it’s not always the most intuitive. Last time, I was on our website. We’ve got Elementor which, over the past 1½ years, is mostly what I’ve been using, so I’m a bit biased in that sense. I’ve developed a way that I think things work. I was using the columns block in my content because I like to keep everything in WordPress and not in Elementor. Honestly, I could stretch the column one way or another. It seems so simple. There’s the function on the side where you can put in the percentages, but I don’t think it’s reached its full potential yet. I think there is still some growth that needs to have in there.

Rich:
I agree 100%. Back when I had code blocks, Jeffrey and I built the first we called it row block. It’s basically what the comments block is today for the comments block is built way better than we did back then. The idea was that you could be able to take a column and drag it left and right. Eventually, I think we might get to pieces like that.

There’s been a lot of focus on bringing the sidebar components into the direct content manipulation, so inside the toolbar or directly editing the block itself. I think pieces like these are very important to what you expect to do. Highlighting those and knocking them out will be huge wins because Gutenberg really did, they launched quickly and it was rough. What’s that saying? You should be embarrassed at your launch. It was a little embarrassing, just to be honest. 

But it’s come a long way and it has a long way to come yet, even. I think we’re probably maybe 10%–15% of the way where we’re really honing in on the experience. Full site editing helps us. It’s a big chunk of this piece to get there, but it is going to take rapid iteration from now on. 

Gaby:
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to keep going back and forth between the front-end and back-end, just to see how things actually are going to look on my website. Again, I’m used to Elementor, so it’s a bit of a change in your mindset, I guess. I don’t know. Do you think that Gutenberg […] could never be something like a page builder of sorts?

Rich:
Yes. At the risk of sounding like everyone else, it’s like, for the next WordPress release, this will be here. It really is the case where when we look at the future of block themes, we’re starting to pull in theme styling into the editor in an iframe content. Essentially, it is one-to-one. 

When you’re manipulating blocks, they inherit the actual style of the theme. The theme author isn’t responsible for trying to make everything look one-to-one anymore, which we both know is not easily done and it almost never works. You can probably get 80% of the way there. With theme.json, we’re moving towards a model that is driven by CSS custom properties. The editor will load the CSS properties on both ends, so front-end the editor, and then the theme styles will load on both ends. 

Then we have the foundational core styles, what the theme applies, and then also what the user picks with these CSS properties. We’re really moving towards the future where it is one-to-one, but still the trust factor, we’ve had four or five years of Gutenberg not matching the front-end and back-end. There is going to be at the level of, I’m so used to checking the preview because it’s always been busted. 

I think that’s going to be there, but I suspect in a year from now, we’re going to see, I mean before that for sure, but a year from now it’s going to be pretty prevalent. The themes are matching pretty well, if not 100%. From what I’ve experienced with some tests I run, it’s almost 100% without any additional input from the theme author.

Gaby:
I guess the back-end would put in the fonts that you’re using.

Rich:
Exactly.

Gaby:
That’s interesting. We’ve touched upon block themes. I haven’t actually tried one myself; I can only imagine. What would users expect once they install a block theme on their website?

Rich:
At the core of it all is the new site editor experience. A block theme enables you to get full site editing, basically. It enables you to have global styles where you can basically override your theme without having to have a child theme against all. It’s a very interesting dynamic. 

You’re relying on the core to do the foundation, like what a column block looks like structurally-wise. Then you’re allowing the theme to say, I want to make the fonts, colors, and the spacing elements, maybe even some stylistic approaches to how things look initially. Then we have the global styles where you can go in and say, now I want my buttons to not have a border radius, and I want them to be red instead of blue. And now, your preferences receive over the themes and over the course. 

The block theme is the catalyst for all of that for going inside a full site editing, the JSON-driven. I think the best block themes will be almost completely JSON. There would be almost no CSS, if not any. Any CSS that are included in block themes will likely get removed over time as Gutenberg evolves and continues to iterate, to improve, because ultimately, we don’t want to create a system where theme authors have to start replicating each other to do the same things like we have today in the theme market.

If you look at probably in the top 10 themes, and […] the functions of PHP files have probably 50% of the same exact stuff in it. We want to try to mitigate most of that to where we’re actually growing together instead of having to just reiterate and improve upon every single individual theme. 

Block themes kind of enable all of that, and it really is going to be a foundational change for WordPress. It’s probably as big as custom post types were (in my view). This is really going to change how we use WordPress and how we see WordPress moving forward.

Gaby:
Would it be easy to switch between block themes, do you think?

Rich:
Yeah. I’ve also done a lot of experimenting around standardizing these things. If we build a system, if we start today with a system that is standardized with our colors, not like standardizing as in the same colors or the same fonts or even sizes, but the same way that we classify these, that way, when I do switch to another theme, all the colors map, all the fonts map, and what I as a user decided should be, the biggest font size or the gigantic font size should stay whatever the gigantic size is on the new theme.

We’re abstracting content from theme at this point, and they’re also adding a layer of user support. I can make my own templates. Right now, when you create a template it is tied to a theme, but the idea would be like, I can create my own blog layout and maybe carry that with me to another theme. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to apply that there.

Gaby:
Interesting. Since we built our websites in Elementor, you’re sort of tied to that page builder. It will be really interesting that you can easily switch from one to another when the time comes. I don’t know if you’ve actually blocked themes yourself. I know you had some initial products and themes, if I’m not mistaken.

Rich:
I did have themes. I also went to GoDaddy a couple years ago. When I was building the themes way back when, it was before even responsive was a thing. I remember my first thing, I was like, gosh, I gotta learn this whole new thing. Fast forward to seven, eight years, I started learning Gutenberg and I released the tapered theme. That was what I used on my blog. I basically did that so I could learn exactly what needed to be done on the Gutenberg I used to myself. I’m doing that same exact thing today.

My blog is actually running a block theme. It’s called Rich. I’m just using my name for both of them. It’s not public or anything just yet because things are changing quite a bit, and I want to make sure that I kind of nail it a little bit more, but I’m using it to write all my articles. I’m using it to explore how to switch between different themes. Even from my work in US presentation later on, actually tomorrow at the time of this recording.

I’ve used my theme as a guide and to explore with others, like what you can do and what it was powered by exploring this theme. I plan on making it live, eventually, at least on GitHub for folks to tear apart and kind of suggest how we can do things better overall, and also use it if they want.

Gaby:
Nice. If you’re using a block theme, I’m familiar with patterns right now. Would you be able to just go in, search a post, and put in a bunch of blocks that have been designed by someone else? Is that the way it would work?

Rich:
Right now, the pattern directory is on wordpress.org/patterns. You can grab patterns from there and paste them into your editor. It’s not as connected as the block directory. The block directory today, you could go into your editor and search for a block in the library. If you don’t have it, it will suggest some you can install.

I think eventually the plan is to bring patterns into that same kind of flow. I think it’s going to be quite a bit more complicated to get there, but perhaps one day that is the case. Your theme can install or can register its own block patterns. There are also plugins that do register their block patterns as well, or at least send them over an API. 

That’s one of the things we’re working on at Extendify is figuring out a way to provide a collection of patterns based on a site type or vertical, that are very geared towards a specific small business type or professional type, and also serve it over the API. That way, we can continuously update a library behind the scenes, and you can continuously get the best of what’s out there. 

I’m very curious about that. I think there’s a lot of potential and really empowering folks who are building out pages or building on complete websites, not just blog posts. That’s one of the reasons that we talked about. I was like, yeah, this is the team. They have the idea. They know where this is going. Let’s ramp this up. I’m excited about that area.

I think for high-level folks like you and I, probably, we might stick with blocks when we’re building out stuff, but for the vast majority of folks, I suspect that patterns might become the default way they use WordPress. They might not add a group then columns, buttons, and paragraphs in my ad. This is exactly what I want on the page and they had this one click.

Gaby:
I think it gives—like you’re saying—anyone the possibility to create their own pages, which is great. I remember way back when I also tried Squarespace for a while. It was completely different to WordPress. Like I said, it was more fun to use as someone who was more into design and more visual. I’m glad that WordPress is finally moving towards that idea.

Rich:
Exactly.

Gaby:
Do you worry at all that we’re giving users too much authority to change things? Do you think it might easily mess up a website for instance?

Rich:
I’m torn. I think that there are capabilities being built into the block themes, particularly within the JSON file, where you can turn off the ability to use custom colors. Instead, you have to use the color palette, or perhaps turn off colors altogether. You can even drill down saying, I want the button block to only use this red or this yellow, but I want the paragraph to only use black or this gray or color. You can drill it down to customize the experience.

I think that’s fine, but I don’t like the idea of locking things so much, that it inhibits people from wanting to do what they want to do. I do think having guardrails is important. I might go into my website not wanting to break anything, and no one does. I might want to just add a gallery, but if I’m limited to only using a particular layout, then it’s like, well, then I’m going to have to find my developer and hire him to do it. I think this puts us in the same boat that we were in, but keeping it with guardrails, maybe you can use the gallery block, but maybe you can only use this in this one style. Maybe you can’t transform it.

We have limitations. That’s something that things like JSON file and block themes do enable really easily. I suspect that agencies and freelancers will really lean in on those fine-tuned support. They’ll probably even come up with essentially their own framework of what they allow users to do from their point of view. Maybe there should be an easy way for them to opt out for the user to say, no, I want everything. Maybe there should be some setting to Gutenberg that’s like, turn on everything or turn off everything, maybe a simple mode or something.

Gaby:
I think it’s what’s helped both the designer and the user themselves. I didn’t know about these guardrails. When you’re using a particular block theme, I guess you can use any block you want. It’s just like plugins that you can mix and match the way you want. They should all work together, right?

Rich:
For the most part, yeah. I think some folks are building patterns that only work for specific themes. That’s fine, I guess. If they want to go up and plugin, some folks are doing the same thing, like a set of plugins might be 100% supported by the current theme. Maybe not outside of that environment, which I don’t really don’t really vibe too much with. I think it’s not too much work to make it general in a sense, or even have CSS properties, drive the plugin styles so that a theme could say, no, I want this to look black and gray when it first was added to the page.

I think it’s really not that much effort. I’m working on an article about how to extend a theme that uses JSON styling to blocks that aren’t their core blocks. There’s something I’ve been exploring, too. I think it’s important that if you’re building something, and you put it on wordpress.org, that you build it in a way that can work with all the other themes out there, especially in the block themes in the Gutenberg supported themes. Otherwise, folks are going to continue installing blocks and being like, this is busted, and you get frustrated. 

Gaby:
I think that’s a good way to create themes. I think one of my main sort of worries—I know you mentioned before—the style guides. That’s one of the main things I look out for when I look at full size anything or block themes. How does that work right now? Is it in the sidebar that you’ve got all your settings or is it somewhere else?

Rich:
It’s improving, basically every day. […] I looked at it yesterday for the first time in a week. I was like gosh, this is nice. It’s essentially available within the site editor. It’s not available whenever you hit the edit page, only when you hit the edit site button when you’re purposely going to edit your whole site, because it is a global interface where if you change the background color, it’ll change across your whole site and whatnot.

The key advantage of global styles, it basically is a visual interpretation of the theme, that JSON file. The JSON file is what the theme provides, what the developer sets as the default. They are the global styles. It can override all the settings that are available in there. Right now, it’s not as visual—it’s going to be—but it has this cool area at the top where it shows the colors that you’ve registered and the font. Then you can change the typography and whatnot as well.

I don’t know to what extent the theme of the JSON file can opt out of […] interface, but I’m sure that there’s going to be at least a plugin out there that’s like, hey, let’s turn this off for our clients. Let them have this ability. But it is a little bit more. It’s not like in your face to where you can change it on every single page.

Gaby:
I guess then you can override it in specific cases. I’m not sure.

Rich:
Yeah. Global styles will set, like if I want all my buttons to be yellow by default with red or maybe black text or something like that, then you can still go in. When I’m on a page and I want this button to be red instead of yellow, you can still take that. It just sets the global standard, I guess.

Gaby:
The base.

Rich:
Yeah, so from a designer’s perspective, you could almost take the global styles interface and use that to style, what’s the look and feel, what’s the design of your site is going to be. The theme gets a little bit blurry at that point, because you’re not using it as much as you’re using whatever you’ve defined as the style guide for the site. It gets very interesting.

We are moving away from the historical route where the theme does everything. It has page templates, it has its own colors, literally hex values hardcoded. Then maybe, the better things to use customizer values. The next set of themes started just leaning in on Elementor and Beaver Builder, then now we’re taking the opposite approach where the theme can do the very baseline default settings of your site, but you take that, then you can flex in any direction.

Gaby:
Nice. I think you mentioned page builders. I think Gutenberg is taking a lot of inspiration, (I guess) from them. They’ve evolved quite drastically over the past few years. I don’t think Gutenberg is on par with them at the moment. It’s definitely getting updated quite rapidly like you were saying,

Rich:
Yeah. The page builders all had a huge runway ahead of Gutenberg, and they moved fast because they were serving and need that to be met ASAP, and that was great. They did that really well. They still do, obviously, especially around. They’re just killing it. They’re exploring different things. I’m sure many folks from the contributing teams have been very particular on using Elementor. But they’re also using Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, and Webflow. We’re looking at everything out there to see who’s doing this the most intuitive and cleanest method, that is also very accessible and can also support the wide range of usage in WordPress, not just the folks who are trying to build very creative sites like Squarespace, for example.

It’s tough to find that happy balance and a happy medium in the middle of all these, but I think lately, the team have been really hitting it pretty good. Version 5.9 comes out in December. The next release will be the first big full site editing release. There were some pieces that were put out in 5.8. This is the first customer-facing release for full site editing and 5.9. It really is going to show a lot of these explorations and this rapid innovation that the team has been pushing forward on over the last couple months.

Gaby:
We’ve actually just had a speed optimization update on our website. One roadblock that we met was when it came to the page builder, it bloated our website a bit to the point that we couldn’t really do anything about it. Do you think Gutenberg and block themes will have a different outcome to that?

Rich:
Yeah. I’ve done some research in the past and my GoDaddy and stuff, we did see that things were moving in the right direction with Gutenberg, performance-wise. Really, at the end of the day, Gutenberg is the component that drives the look and feel of your site. It’s not trying to add anything to your site, any JavaScript. You could add blocks, of course, but after the years of blocks that have been put out there, really core has adapted most of its blocks to be very almost […] very performant, very great, very coded well, but then also, they cover the basis pretty well.

I can probably build most websites like I needed to build without using any custom blocks. The custom blocks would be if you wanted a very intricate gallery, or very intricate slideshow or something like that, which people don’t even use that much outside of the very basic websites for small businesses, perhaps, who are still asking for sliders on their homepage. I think that over time, it’s going to get better and better.

This method of letting the theme set the base, and then having the CSS properties lay on top of that really is a fast way to not have to duplicate any CSS. We’re having one style sheet. We’re just loading custom properties and blocks now are loading assets only on pages that it’s required on. We really are getting to this environment faster and faster and more. The code might be a little bit messier than what we’re used to, but at the end of the day it’s more performant. That’s what people need.

Gaby:
That’s good. When we talked about full site editing, I guess it’s sort of like block themes, but it’s just enabling anyone to design their website. Am I correct?

Rich:
Yeah. Full site editing encompasses (I think) seven top-level areas. For the most part, it’s browsing and being able to browse between different areas of your website from within the editor. The theme block’s effort, which is a block for your post title, for your navigation, for your pagination on the page, those elements of a theme that used to just be PHP functions that are on our blocks. 

Global style is part of full site editing, creating and editing your theme templates. Also, the navigation and the query loop blocks are very pertinent to full site editing effort, because those basically replicate the site menu that you’re going to have on your page and also what was the WordPress loop is now a block as well. You can pick what post type you want to pull in a post for and reference that within a block, style it, and set your own template with your own featured images. It really opens up a bag of customization. 

Overall, I would say full site editing takes the Gutenberg editor and extends it past the content. It now includes your header, so you can build out headers, and you can build out footers, as well. You can build out any number of headers and even have different headers on different pages.

Now we’re approaching the abilities that Beaver themer and Elementor themer, I think it’s called.  It was starting to do a couple years ago and everyone really loved it. It’s like, of course I see that. Yeah, there’s a need here. Let’s try to build functionality here. They can build data blocks so it’s all the same UI. I find it really interesting, especially when you’re looking at headers and footers.

You can even include, maybe two or three default settings, so you pick header A, B, or C when you’re creating your theme. That’s great because the theme authors are no longer required to build some interface to do that within the customizer, which I’ve done that before. The user just can go through and do the same way on every single theme, like get the other theme as headers as well, or create their own header and put it up there. I think it’s all the same.

Gaby:
So it was just like, we have the regular blog, and then we’ve got the podcast page, which is slightly different. That will be super easy to do with full site editing.

Rich:
Exactly.

Gaby:
In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing that’s going to come up in recent months?

Rich:
Coming from a background of themes for the longest time—even GoDaddy needing the Go theme (that was a huge effort)—a lot of the way we wrote Go is how global styles and CSS properties are being leveraged in core, which is pretty cool. So I’m really, really leaning in on what this block theme is going to be like for the developer, and also for the end-user.

From what I’m seeing, like I said earlier, it’s going to be game-changing, and I want to be part of that change. I’m excited and I have a good idea where it’s going. I’m leaning in and I’m helping to guide and design even a few pieces that need to be done for this next release. I’m very encouraged by where things are going. I wish the block themes would have been around when Gutenberg first first came out, but those things that we just wouldn’t have known how to do at the time, like UI- and UX-wise, and things that we just couldn’t have prepared for. So it’s good that it’s finally here, but it does feel a little late. 

I’m excited because it’s going to be simple enough for most folks to jump onto pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to a whole library of themes that is almost a different class of themes that users can implement on their site, customize how they want, change it to another one, and not bust up their site. We know that in the past, changing the theme meant going back to every single page and post and double-checking everything. It’s a pain in the butt. That’s why no one does it. With this new way, it will enable us to be able to do that with confidence. 

I keep it on my site. I decided a couple weeks ago to change all the color schemes of my site. It was one small little tweak and it was done everywhere. I’ve seen it, and I can’t wait for other people to see this. That’s what’s most exciting thing for me.

Gaby:
Is there any way for people within the WordPress community to help improve Gutenberg?

Rich:
There are a couple of different methods. You don’t have to be a high-level super skilled engineer who knows JavaScript back and forth, because I’m definitely not. I know I’m all right, but I don’t know all the terms. I can’t hang with the best, but it doesn’t take someone to really know all that to really help out. Of course, there’s a Gutenberg GitHub repo to look at issues. Even just reporting and sharing your idea about dragging the columns, how you missed that. The more people who chime in about that stuff, the more important it gives, prioritize the backlog.

Also, there’s the full site editing exploration work that’s been going on. On the WordPress blog, there are a couple of posts. I think we’re on the 10th one right now where they’re asking for feedback. They’re saying, hey, in solid block theme, change the theme and tell us what happens. So I did that the other day. I was just like, I wish that the custom templates that I applied to a page would be carried on, to stay. It doesn’t matter what theme. They should be abstracted from the theme. 

Getting that feedback early helps the folks who are engineering this set of code. Maybe it doesn’t need to be that way, then both take a look and say, oh, yeah, it’s really just a football switch. Let’s do it, or this is a huge effort, let’s reconsider. What are we really trying to do here?

Those have been going on for probably this whole year, but that’s very helpful. Also jumping in on the design meetings within the Make WordPress Slack is really great. They always ask for feedback for folks who are trying to get into where the figma files are. There’s a whole figma library out there for folks to jump into and help improve. 

There’s a lot more to it. There’s your supporting Gutenberg, there’s doing the learn sessions, like the workshops. There’s really everything out there. Those are a couple of things that I’ve done that I found very helpful.

Gaby:
Like you said, getting the base right would help everyone—the end-user, the developer, and the designer. It’s a collective effort, which is pretty cool I think.

Rich:
I agree. It’s not one person’s job or capability to do that.

Gaby:
I think we’re living through quite an interesting time in WordPress. I’m glad I’m here, after so many years of not being around.

Rich:
Me too.

Gaby:
Thanks, Rich. I think we’ve covered a lot about blocks, block themes, and Gutenberg. You’ve given us some great insights into creating your own blocks and your own themes. Also, as the end-user, getting to know exactly what’s happening on your sites really helps you to create better websites. Thanks for that.

Rich:
Welcome. Thanks for having me. It’s been fun. I always like talking about this kind of stuff.

Gaby:
Thank you. See you around.

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About the Show

Join us as we introduce you to some of our friends in the WordPress community.

Learn all about their products and services and discover business techniques to help you enhance your WordPress business.

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Meet your host

Gaby Galea

Gaby is the Content Manager at WP Mayor and your new host on the WP Mayor podcast! She is passionate about learning how to start, maintain and grow a WordPress business. Follow her on Twitter @GabriellaGalea.

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