For the first time ever, WordPress has strong opinions about how your website is designed – making it a bad choice as a generic content management system.

Before Gutenberg (aka the Block Editor), WordPress separated content and appearance. With appearance the core responsibility of whichever 'Theme' was currently active.

Custom theme development felt like working with WordPress. Post-Gutenberg, now you’re forced to work against it.

Conclusion

Because of Gutenberg, WordPress is no longer for me. That's probably by design. It always seemed like a project in the interest of wordpress.com thing and not wordpress.org thing. And .org is the domain of custom WordPress developers.

By me, I mean me as a ~10 year developer of custom WordPress themes.

Your experience with WordPress is like mine if you:

  • Create a design with, or received a design from, the client/agency
  • Develop that specific design into a custom WordPress theme (often with ACF Flexible Content)
  • Handed off the website for the client/agency to maintain content

Background

WordPress is a high maintenance framework. Getting started is easy. But you organise the hosting, deployment, maintenance, plugin updates, backups and more all yourself.

The large base of developers that surround WordPress means there are great tools to handle all of this.

It has always offered a reasonably good developer experience and a reasonably good editing experience for clients. And so in spite of the amount of work it takes to maintain a WordPress website, that balance makes it worth it.

Now layered on top of that is an editing experience that has more options than you’d ever want a client to have (a colour picker, really?).

With its own opinionated, unremovable styles that need to be overwritten. Styles which often require you to build two versions/styles of each block.

An editor which injects markup that can change with each release. Markup which may be saved into the content.

An editing experience whose promise was editing content with the same layout as it appears on the website — but in practice creates an uncanny valley of editing something that looks sort of like your website, but not really.

Gutenberg was made to help someone. But it wasn’t for me. That’s fine.

Discussion

WordPress developers Highrise Digital recently hosted the first of their "WP Café" series: Developing themes with Gutenberg. Which I hoped to watch seeing some of the very best WordPress developers try to convince me on the platform.

Highrise mentioned that they have just launched their first Gutenberg build (which looks great), having decided to try the new editor given that this project's design "looked like a good fit for Gutenberg".

Isn't that entirely backwards?

Choice of content management system should never depend on its compatibility with your finished design.

If Gutenberg is only good – or at best acceptable – for a specific type of design, does this make WordPress exclusionary to all other kinds of design?

Since when did WordPress have such narrow focus? The self-touted CMS of 30% of the web.

WordPress built a legacy on being a great content management system for any kind of website. That's explicitly no longer the case.

If you watched this video having never used WordPress, you would wonder why a group of talented developers would stick with a platform which by design works in opposition to their goals.

Reasons a custom website developer would use WordPress in 2020

  1. The client does not wish to migrate away from their existing WordPress website.

(Installing Classic Editor is not a long-term solution, especially with Gutenberg's planned take over of the entire website, not just pages.)

Dear custom theme developers

Spend half a day looking at any of the new headless content management systems. I have my favourite.

Once you’ve seen live editing previews on a static site, you’ll wonder how building two versions of a Gutenberg block was a serious idea.

You’ll wonder why in WordPress, custom fields and post types are plugins, and not first class features.

You’ll never look at the WordPress dashboard’s mess of notifications, erratic design inconsistency and visual hijacking by plugins the same way again.

However

You’ll also notice a bunch of features missing. These platforms are not nearly as mature as WordPress is. It has a 15 year head start!

But for all its merits, while WordPress in 2020 is a trusty content store, it is shackled to old technology and being force-fed an opinionated content editor.

Notes

  1. Anything you'll miss leaving WordPress will not outweigh the problems you'll continue to face working with it.
  2. Creating custom website designs will become increasingly difficult in proportion to the Block Editor's extended reach in WordPress.

It's time to break up


A final note. Since its announcement Gutenberg launched countless hyperbolic blog posts. I'm aware this is yet another addition to that bloated pile.

Photo by Nicole Y-C on Unsplash