Preface: While this may seem like I’m fishing for product feedback (which is part of it) I’m generally concerned about the user experience as it relates to core WordPress and privately developed plugins.
Because I swim in the uber competitive visual builder market space, I test a lot of “visual builder” plugins. I’ve come across great niche solutions, awful kitchen sink plugins and everything inbetween. Some operate in the traditional backend while others are building new experiences in the front-end. I’d like to comment on both, but will focus on the latter.
Here’s the overarching question: Are you generally attracted to new user experiences being developed by private (GPL aside) companies or do you prefer the broader (albeit slower) core user experience rolled out by .org?
What do I mean by attracted?
- Smaller teams means faster innovation and iteration. Cutting-edge products, yay!
- Solving interesting problems for the use case of their product. This (UI/UX) is perfect for my client!
- Generally like bleeding-edge design versus the need for global adoption. Day-um that’s hot!
Good lord, no! Let .org work on the experience.
- Safer and wider adoption. This won’t break.
- Tends to be more scalable with an eye to future growth. I know whatever I do, it will work in the next release.
- I’m just going to do it the WordPress way.
I’m still on the fence about this, personally. I’ll explain my side of it and hopefully you can chime in with your thoughts.
Your Customizer vs. WordPress Customizer
My quick answer: I’m bullish on the .org customizer.
Not only are we (.org) just beginning to make an effort to move to the front-end, a massive majority of users aren’t even thinking about using it yet. I’m not talking about Joe User either, I’m talking the seasoned Power Users as well. This is what represents the biggest challenge & opportunity, for us anyway.
For instance, when we launched Conductor in September of 2014 at WordCamp NYC, I had people scratching their heads while I was demoing in the WordPress customizer.
Oh so you’re building a drag and drop interface?
No, actually, we’re using WordPress widgets and the customizer to demo the product.
That was (and still is) a hurdle for us. Because we’re not building our own “customizer” the experience is stock WordPress. What does that translate to? It means we’re spending time supporting customers to move to the customizer experience to fully use our product. We’re faced with explaining panels, moving widgets around, debugging other widgets all within the core WordPress experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible by any stretch of the imagination – but as a product guy – damn, I’d love to have sexy buttons overlaying on top of the site.
So, excuse me while I wear my heart on my sleeve for a moment – I am envious of these gorgeous experiences from segment competitors. I’ll go out on a limb and say that when I chatted with Matt Mullenweg, he’s a bit envious too. Looking at the platform landscape, apps like Squarepace and Shopify offer up great UX which compels customers to user their product.
What happens when WordPress crosses that chasm?
Dueling Customizer Experiences
Let me hop into the DeLorian and polish off my hoverboard. When the full-customizer experience arrives, are we ready to support multiple experiences?
For instance, if a visual builder is using their own beautiful UI from above and another widget author requires you to use the WordPress customizer we’re fragment the native experience of designing their site.
Do I use the WordPress customizer? Your customizer? Why aren’t they the same?! I give up.
Invest now for a better future
The best I can do is share what we’re doing now to keep these experiences aligned and protect us for future iterations.
When you’re in the core WordPress customizer experience, the previewer simply shows you the website. There’s no indication of the sidebars that make up your content area or your traditional sidebars. In the above screenshot, our blue helper buttons do the following:
- Indicate the sidebar width. You know which sidebar you’re working with and the general layout.
- Helper buttons to add a traditional widget or our widget. Reinforcing that you’re building with widgets.
Additionally, when you hover over any widget an edit icon will appear along with a dotted outline that represents the entire widget. These minor adjustments to the customizer + previewer experience really improve the learning curve for our users. While it might not rack up the highest appeal rating, it’s certainly in line (we hope) with how core WordPress will evolve.
Bonus: If you haven’t noticed, when you hover over a widget in your WordPress install you will see: “Shift-click to edit this widget.” Go ahead and try it, I’ll wait.
First, if you’re a developer and you want to learn how to add helper buttons like us or get a primer on working within the customizer, I invite you to read our developer series:
Now tell me, am I over-engineering this? Perhaps we shouldn’t be concerned about dueling experiences and just see where they chips fall in the end.
The short of it is, I’m interested to know if you think about the overall experience you’re offering up to your client or does none of this matter to you?