57 Comments


  1. Jeff, I fully agree with you on this. When we set out to reinvent ourselves last year, we decided not to get into the page builder market and instead focus on beautifully simple themes that serve a niche well. I think there are some page builder products that work well but they are usually small in scope and don’t offer 90 million ways to tweak styles on just one element. Products like Make Plus and Basis from Theme Foundry seem to hit the mark pretty well when it comes to page layout management.

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    1. I was recently introduced to another page building type product in the form of a plugin and one of the questions I asked them is “at what point do you stop adding things users can toy with or manipulate”? With a new page builder product, scope creep is easy and I imagine it would take a lot of discipline not to put the kitchen sink in the product. At least with UpThemes, you can create beautiful sites and if folks want page builders, there’s a plethora of choices, most are plugins.

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  2. You may be absolutely right in the general sense, Jeff.

    But you should also keep in mind that, in between the greatest designer in the world and the worst amateur who was not gifted for design at all, there are millions of different individual cases.

    And it could be that many people in that range were just lacking the right tools to do great jobs with them.

    Think for example about someone with just the right taste for design but who does not have enough technical skills to achieve the desired results. Such results could be accomplished with an appropriate page builder in many cases.

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    1. Excellent points. The post was nothing more than my observations and conclusions after dealing with these for the past four years. I requested them, and I can’t use them because I lack the skills necessary to leverage the power these types of builders offer. But for the design centric without the technical know how, I can see how they would be an asset.

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      1. Jeff, I have to agree with your original assessment, even though Luis Alejandre’s point can’t be dismissed outright, because it does take a designer’s eye to really make websites look pretty.

        However, without the technical know-how, those with a designer’s eye are still going to miss the mark when using many of these page-building tools, because page builders are limited to subsets of this or that. You can put a slider here or a tabbed widget there or an accordion over there, but will they “fit” within the theme you’ve chosen?

        Page builders are for structure, but you still need to know CSS, and then which version of CSS, or LESS to integrate these building blocks into the appearance of whatever theme you’re using. That’s where development comes in. It’s not enough just to be able to design.

        I’ve been doing web design/development since 1999, so I started out 100% hand-coding websites. Then I went from FirstPage to FrontPage to Dreamweaver. I now teach Dreamweaver classes (yes, people still want to know how to use it) and WordPress classes, and I have tons of out-of-work graphic designers who take my classes because they need to know how to create websites. What’s sad is that many of them are under the impression that they can skip the web languages prerequisites (XHTML/CSS/JavaScript/jQuery/AJAX/PHP/etc.) because Dreamweaver or WordPress does it all for you.

        Just as Dreamweaver and/or WordPress don’t do it all for you when it comes to getting the exact look and feel you want for your site, the building-block tools don’t do it all for you, either.

        It appears that the bottom line for many developers/companies selling these building-block tools is to give people the perception that they can have it all for almost nothing, and it’s the creators of the page builders or site builders or drag-and-drop builders who are making big money off the ignorance (ignorant doesn’t mean stupid/dumb; it just means you don’t know any better) of people who think professional web designers/developers are just trying to rip them off.

        Last point, if buying a theme or using a building-block solution was all it took to make the WordPress site you want with just a few clicks, there’d be no need for codexes, support forums, documentation, how-to sites or anything else that fills in the gaps between buying and activating. People won’t hesitate to hire an electrician or plumber when the wiring goes bad or the toilets back up in their homes, but they don’t see the benefit of hiring a web design/developer to create their “home on the web” because of all the “you can do it yourself” ersatz-tools that exist.

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        1. It appears that the bottom line for many developers/companies selling these building-block tools is to give people the perception that they can have it all for almost nothing, and it’s the creators of the page builders or site builders or drag-and-drop builders who are making big money off the ignorance (ignorant doesn’t mean stupid/dumb; it just means you don’t know any better) of people who think professional web designers/developers are just trying to rip them off.

          Great point! That’s one of the big things I’m seeing and one of the reasons for this post. I wonder how many people have purchased a page builder only to be disappointed with the results.

          People won’t hesitate to hire an electrician or plumber when the wiring goes bad or the toilets back up in their homes, but they don’t see the benefit of hiring a web design/developer to create their “home on the web” because of all the “you can do it yourself” ersatz-tools that exist.

          Well, it took a few years and playing around with all these tools for me to realize the benefits of going with a good web designer outright.

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  3. I think if a designer were to use these tools, then amazing things would come out of it. The problem though, is that designers want complete control over everything and so migrate towards using raw instead.

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    1. Not necessarily true. Designers that can’t let go of their egos are the ones that want complete control. Those in touch with reality are willing to do what works best for their clients.

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      1. Chris English

        The balancing act is doing what’s best for clients in spite of them. I always use the analogy that you can go to a mechanic and say that you want the brake moved to the passenger side of the car and tell all the reasons you shouldn’t do it.. and more than likely, not do it.

        As designers we get stuck with requests that we know that are just wrong, goes against best practices and will more than likely cost them money,,, but if they’re adamant about what they want then we weigh the options of just doing it or losing the business.

        As a freelancer, I have no problem with losing business as opposed to “just doing it” but I’ve also been employed by various agencies and for them, the bottom line is everything.

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  4. Indeed. I better go for visual “content” builder, not a whole page builder. But I’m sure that it would be useful for non-code people so they can build their very own taste easier.

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    1. I’d like to see more tools experiment with this idea. Not so much building entire pages but rearranging existing content so that it doesn’t stray too much from the visual aesthetics of the design.

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      1. I’ve used the Visual Composer plugin quite a bit, and in my opinion it’s an excellent tool to provide easy-to-use drag-and-drop tools to build out the content of pages in unique ways, without compromising design-standards. . .however, that’s not the case straight out of the box.

        I’m a developer at an agency where we have 3 designers. The designers have pretty high standards, but also want to be able to build out the content of pages without having to write code or ask one of the developers to write code.

        So, using Visual Composer’s API, I can work with a designer to easily build elements with our own custom markup and detailed styles and can easily make the element something they can use whenever they want through the Visual Composer drag & drop tool.

        By using Visual Composer, it saves on the dev time and saves time for whoever is populating content, because they have the proper elements needed to maintain design integrity available to them as they build pages.

        When used straight out of the box, Visual Composer has a lot of things that are ok, but they’re so generic that it’s hard to fit any specific design of any specific site. But with some tweaking (the API is pretty easy to work with) the tool can be incredibly powerful and can provide limitless elements that can be easily implemented via drag & drop without degrading the overall design.

        To any designer / developer who knows enough code to hook into the Visual Composer API to create custom elements with specific markup / specific styles, the tool can be a huge value-add to any project.

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  5. I agree with you Jeff. I’ve developed on Canvas for a long time, inherited sites with Headway and have tried about everything as broken things find their way here. I’ve never liked the page builders.

    I will say I like the new page builder by Elegant (it’s only on their Divi theme), it’s Uber flexible. It’s the only one I’ve used that I like and find flexible. From my perspective, it’s good for clients that change up what they want. Nothing sucks more than building all kinds of custom columns and such, getting them all playing nice responsive…then the client wants to start moving things or changing column setups entirely. It’s like starting again sometimes.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think you can just snap in and build a site in a lightning fast period without doing CSS, but something that you can switch up columns on easily that supports widgets to me is nice, even if we have to do additional CSS or media queries for mobile.

    Not sure what you think about Elegant Themes, but check out there last update to their Divi Theme with the new builder, it’s much better than the others I’ve tried. I actually like it. I think they released it May 2014. It’s only on that one theme, not all of them. They have a previous addition on the other themes which for me falls into the category of this post.

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    1. I agree with you, Tom. And that´s why I even created a dedicated site, Divi4u, where you can see live examples of sites using Divi and find other nice resources, like a free child theme creation plugin specifically developed for Divi. The next version of this plugin will create child themes that will make use of the Theme Customizer to further extend the customization capabilities of Divi.

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  6. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for using my video, but sorry to hear you think it is “dreadful work resulting in endless bouts of trial and error” ; )

    In fairness I am not a designer (and the video only took less than an hour including editing & prep) but I actually agree with you that Page Builder’s don’t (by themselves) improve design. But then they never promised to, did they? For me they help you get the design you are capable of, quicker and easier, and therefore give time and space for more creativity. But they can’t make someone a better designer. True.

    What we have done with our new Canvas Page Builder is take one of the most flexible premium themes out there (WooThemes Canvas) and add on the ability to build page layouts easier. We (like Tom above) really liked the page builder functionality in the Divi theme, so with our Canvas Extension series of add-ons for Canvas, we thought – why not add this simple page building functionality? We forked an already great Page Builder from Site Origin and have been working really hard at moving it forward and making it work perfectly with every feature of Canvas.

    I am still not 100% comfortable with calling Canvas Page Builder a WYSIWYG editor. It’s not really. It’s just a better way to build pages. It’s not Visual Composer or Velocity Page. It’s much more like WordPress than that. This closeness to WordPress is what I really like about it. It’s not a step too far. It’s just the next step. It’s really just breaking down the WordPress page structure, making it easier to create and maintain pages.

    What this means for Canvas users is that instead of having to install endless add on plugins for content (WooThemes have a plugin for projects, testimonials, team members, features etc) and having one page full of short-codes that is very confusing to edit, they can now break this down into smaller panels on the page and edit each panel in either a Tiny MCE visual editor or HTML, making it much easier to edit. Because it is widget based you can also have all the flexibility that comes with the widgets Woo give to Canvas. You may still have to use Woo shortcodes in each panel, but it becomes much easier to create pages. Especially long scrolling pages, which are very much in at the moment.

    To test this out what a real designer could do we did an experiment with our designer friend Dave Gillet you can read about here: http://www.pootlepress.com/2014/06/dave-incredibly-talented-designer-met-canvas-page-builder/. I think the results would have been near on impossible in Canvas before our Page Builder…

    In answer to your question at the end of your post: “Has anyone else used a visual page or site builder only to be frustrated by the results?” The overall feedback we’ve had even took us by surprise. Customers have been saying that they tried using other WYSIWYG page composers and ours has been the one to literally change their lives. Maybe they are just flattering us, but we have built 100s of Canvas sites for the Xpress Days we do and we have seen first hand the difference it has made to the average punter.

    Does it make them better designers? I don’t think so no… Does it allow them to be more creative within the design capability they already have? I THINK SO. Does it reduce time? DEFINITELY

    Thoughts?

    Nick
    Product guy @PootlePress

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      1. Hi acosmin, Yep – that’s right (I mentioned this in my comments). We forked Site Origin’s Panels and have been developing it to work perfectly with Canvas. We have put quite a bit into it now, although the basic look and feel is the same because we really liked it.

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          1. Hi Peter,

            Before you judge us, please hear me out. Then if you still think we did something wrong, we can agree to disagree ; )

            Before I go into the details, I agree with you that taking someone’s work exactly how it is and then selling it just as it is (although with GPL licence totally legal), not a cool thing to do.

            Here is my thinking:

            – We took Site Origin as the basis but then added a lot of our own thinking around Canvas into it. Some of this is available in the beta release. Some has already been developed and some is in development. We have spent many years training over 2,000 people and building 100s of Canvas site and this is our expertise we have built up. Our intellectual property. Canvas Page Builder is not what you can download from Site Origin. We have big plans and more and more ideas around Canvas we are going to out in it. But we needed a place to start with our Canvas Page Builder. We know that because we are in a niche of a niche (only Canvas users will be our target market) that it wouldn’t generate enough sales at a the right price in order for us to build ours from scratch.

            – We offer premium support with Canvas Page Builder. The current free Site Origin plugin does not offer any premium support. With Canvas Page Builder you get 12 months of email support and upgrades of new features and bug fixes. Canvas changes a lot and so it is necessary to offer this support. Premium support is email support (not just a forum). This takes up significant company resources (I can tell you because I do a lot of it!)

            – We need a sustainable model. We are a business. We need to feed our families (Jamie and I have four kids between us). More than this though our customers need a sustainable business they can trust. They are using our plugins for sites that are important to them, so they need plugins that are invested in over the long term. This makes them feel more comfortable.

            – We are not stopping anyone from taking the Site Origin free version and trying to make it work with Canvas themselves. They will not get any of our developments and not get any of our support, but what we are doing is not stopping them.

            – Our version of Page Builder is GPL too. Which means anyone can take the code and do what they want with it, without our permission and without any commercial offer to us. We are fine with this because we love the way that the WordPress economy works. This is the power of WordPress. Great software built on top of great software, with the freedom to innovate. This is why the GPL licence is so great. We should be loving it when companies do this in a responsible way!

            – Finally, we made an initial donation to the plugin developer when we started development (who was asking for donations on their site). The sum was linked to a reasonable % of the amount of initial profit we thought we’d make (we know how many customers we have already) and we calculated this optimistically. As Canvas Page Builder moves forward we may make more donations, especially if we take improvements in Site Origin’s Page Builder across into ours that result in significant sales.

            We are trying to be nice guys, because well we are nice guys ; )

            Maybe you still disagree?

            Nick


          2. @Nick
            In principle I don’t disagree with any of that. And I don’t think you’re not-nice guys either. And I wouldn’t say it’s about the $ either. Heck, you serve a pretty limited market by focusing just on Canvas users.

            I’ve used Site Origin’s plugin and I know it’s a free plugin and I know it’s a single dev who’s poured in what must be 1000+ hours into that particular plugin. And I know it would benefit from having more developers contributing to it, because building a page builder is really hard to do right. It just feels weird to sell a page builder created by someone else, as a page builder.

            I get that you are creating real value in extending and optimizing it for canvas, and adding the services. The price is completely justified. But when you advertise its ease of use and the core of the page building experience, you can’t really own that it was your own work, that you developed this experience. All the iteration that went the core of it was done by Site Origin. And if you guys make useful improvements to the codebase, Site Origin’s version doesn’t really benefit, as, I presume, both products now go in two directions. To me it would make more sense if a) it was marketed as an addon of Site Origin’s version, b) you built a better page builder c) you partnered up with Site Origin.


          3. Just wondering if you felt the same way when Jigoshop was forked and then turned into WooCommerce? Both were e-commerce plugins and in some ways, if you look back at how WooCommerce was created, it’s more questionable than what took place here. I find it admirable they at least gave them a cut of their initial revenue as a donation. As long as they maintain the copyright of the original code, I don’t see what the big problem is with what they’re doing. Should they put a big banner on their site or at least their about page explaining the history of the plugin?


          4. I thought the Jigoshop fork was a shrewd move and unpleasing. But here I am using Woocommerce as my go-to ecommerce solution. Got to admit, they read the market right by investing heavily into ecommerce/plugins and forking gaving them a big advantage.

            The pagebuilder market is really booming, so seeing groups fork some of the solutions and go from there is probably to be expected and may even turn out to create even better stuff.

            I’d just find it tough to be able to fully own a product I’m selling when a large piece of it was by pioneered by a single other person. I never used Jigoshop but I have used SiteOrigin’s plugin and trawled through the code to get some incompatibilities fixed, so I’m more aware about how much work went into it. I’m sure the WooThemes group have become more proud of WooCommerce the more lines of code they wrote or rewrote as time has gone on.


  7. I think Page Builder devs will always struggle with the design part because it’s hard to accomplish that with so many different components and themes. The more control you give the user, the more you can confuse them. I think one of the strengths of, say, the Theme Foundry’s approach is that they do apply more integration over their themes so you can, in theory, get a more consistent visual appearance in an easier ways.

    But actually it’s not a bad thing that you need actual professionals/talent to achieve results that really look good. Creating a website is not just about putting blocks together or applying a paint job. You can make a case that to create a stellar site, maybe you need someone who’s good at content architecture, a good copy editor, a UIX specialist, a designer who also understands branding, a great engineer who understands how to get a site to load fast and reliably, an analytics person who can identify opportunities to improve pages/traffic/conversion, or a business consultant who can help you fine tune your entire business model.

    It doesn’t really matter how capable the tools are, you still can’t outsource experience and expertise to just the tools and make ‘m easy enough for anyone to use with the same precision and results.

    And then on the other end of the spectrum, it also has to be said that most sites don’t need to be anywhere close to visually stellar. Ugly sites can get the job done, which is a sobering, slightly depressing thought.

    The other issue is that some people find reason to underestimate website work because they make the argument “Oh that can be done with tool easily” or “that should only take 10 minutes”.

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    1. The other issue is that some people find reason to underestimate website work because they make the argument “Oh that can be done with tool easily” or “that should only take 10 minutes”.

      I wonder if this has happened to you or anyone else. A client explains they want pages a certain way, you tell them a price and they balk at it because they know of plugins or tools that can build pages to their liking and thus, the price should be lower, not understanding it’s more than just moving blocks of data around.

      And then on the other end of the spectrum, it also has to be said that most sites don’t need to be anywhere close to visually stellar. Ugly sites can get the job done, which is a sobering, slightly depressing thought.

      Shhhh, don’t say that too loud.

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  8. Totally agree Jeff. I am not a coder and will never admit to being one. I am a designer. If you want a site designed, go to a designer. If you want a site coded go to a coder. Sure a site built by a coder will look good, but is it designed? No. It’s built and probably works really well. I think the best sites happen when you put a kick ass designer and an equally kick ass developer together. I never argue with someone that says they can build their site with a tool. “Go ahead… you know where to find me.” The most frustrating thing is when people don’t appreciate the value of good design and try to argue that value. Do you argue with your auto mechanic when he’s fixing your car? It’s the exact same thing. He’s offering a service that you can’t do. Same holds true with a designer.

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    1. As some folks have already mentioned above, has the proliferation of all these “build it yourself” tools devalued the actual work involved? As a developer, you probably understand the time and work savings some of these tools provide. But from a smart client perspective, when they see tools and videos of how quick and “easy” it is to build sites or pages, they figure it should be cheap and piece of cake.

      How have you combated the problem? Do you find yourself constantly having to explain the value to clients?

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  9. I’m not a huge fan of complete site builders. However, I do think it’s possible to give non-design savvy users the ability to make design choices without handing over so much rope that they hang themselves. It’s a delicate balance between staying true to the original design’s intent and allowing for personalization for the user, but it’s something I’m trying to pursue with the themes I’m working on.

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    1. Agreed. I think there’s a middle ground that exists somewhere, but nobody has quite found it yet. Giving people complete control over the visual aspects of their site without any restrictions will always lead to… strange… results. Just ask MySpace.

      I’ve made quite a few custom sites for people using tools like ACF which allow for flexibility in content layout, structure, and other aspects of a design. I built them in a way that doesn’t afford so much freedom that the users are able to totally destroy how the site is meant to look and function.

      It’s pretty easy to do something like that when you know how the site is intended to be used. When you’re trying to create something that will work for a wide range of sites, it’s a lot more difficult. I’m really interested to see what you come up with. All your stuff is killer. :)

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      1. Totally agree, @rob_neu. Implementing layout modifications with something like ACF that keeps the focus on content is much preferable in my mind.

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    2. I enjoy being able to tweak things such as font size, header images, and colors but as far as putting the entire puzzle together, that’s something I can’t do. I think the WordPress Theme Customizer is a great middle ground between page and site builders. But like a lot of other people, I don’t want to see the customizer abused to the point of not being a good middle ground.

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  10. I am really convinced that you do not need a Page Builder to create an ugly site. To do that you just need not to know about Principles and Elements of Design. Whatever page Builder you use is just a tool as it is whatever tool you use to write your codes. Ugly sites are not created by Page Builder whether they are good or bad, but for Bad Designers. For those who prefer codes can take a look at Intense Shortcodes, 94 Incredible Shortcodes from the most basic to advanced ones.

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    1. I agree. It’s not the tool’s fault the site is ugly, it’s my fault. It’s just that instead of learning how to code to make the ugly site, all I needed to do was add a column here, a sidebar there, and widgets everywhere just by clicking the mouse.

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  11. atcdomainsolutions

    A great article and a lot of good comments. As a designer, I started out building sites in WordPress from scratch and taking existing templates and stripping them apart. I have also built sites with builders like these and like someone else mentioned, those with huge egos will refuse to work with them but I have built great sites using different ones and it helps save some times for your basic, professional looking site. Bottom line is that some of these companies advertise that “no code experience necessary”, etc and in my experience, if you don’t know even your basic CSS/HTML, your site will look pretty basic or “just like the demo” no matter how intuitive the builder is. Clients will try to use and build things and then come to me with basic questions that simple CSS will solve. They are sometimes amazed when shown the Custom CSS area and all the code I have added to truly customize and build a unique site. For your average client who wants a no frills site up and quickly, some of the builders work great but I believe none of them will replace the need for a true designer who knows code and has an eye for great design and visuals and putting it all together.

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  12. Hey Jeff,

    I’ve also wanted a page builder for years but for a different reason than yours. The reason? I wanted to design page layouts that my clients could edit themselves.

    In the past, I worked with some marketing teams that would have loved the power some of the newer page builders bring to WordPress. They wouldn’t necessarily be building the pages, but they sure would be tweaking the copy, images and possibly reordering sections on the page or duplicating them to add new ones, without having to wait on me to do it.

    You’re absolutely right that page builders aren’t for everyone, but they do offer more value than I think they are getting credit for these days.

    Justin

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    1. Well in that case, editing pages already created is a great reason to use one of these tools. Building them and editing them are two very different use cases. I’d prefer editing versus creating :)

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      1. Good point, there is a clear distinction between the two for sure. I think part of the problem with page builders might be how they are marketed. Instead of saying, “Hey you can build a website without coding!”, they should be marketed to those who can actually leverage their full power and pass the benefits off to someone like a client that wants editing control. Time to rework my marketing plan :)

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  13. “I wanted a visual page and site builder because I thought I could do what web designers do without having to pay them money. In reality, when I use these tools, it’s an endless amount of frustration as I try to figure out how to create something that looks nice.”

    Prior to such tools you probably experienced similar endless frustration if you tried to use the default design tools (css, child themes, etc). They have just allowed you to fail faster and (unfortunately) re-enforce your belief that you can’t do design.

    The points that Ryan and Joe make above are spot on! I can work in the depths of design just as comfortably as I can with a page builder. I also could work without a CSS framework (Bootstrap for Foundation 5) or jQuery, but do I? Not if I can help it. The benefits that come along with using such plugins / tools that are designed to reduce the friction in achieving results that come from “focusing on the plumbing” generally outweigh the tradeoffs that come from using them. Especially since the majority still provide sufficient markup / css that I can extend if I truly feel the need.

    What bothers me more about all the page builder implementations at the moment is that they are all different. Some are themes, some are plugins, some use widgets, some use shortcodes, some let you extend them, some don’t. The notion of maintaining content portability between each is a LONG way off.

    In many ways, it reminds me of the pre-WP 3.0 days when every theme was advertising a drag & drop menus as one of the primary selling points. Does anyone feel that we are worse off for having menu management as a part of core WP?

    Does anyone else feel like the time has come to put some “drag & drop page building plumbing” into core?

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    1. Going back in time, I used to find a WordPress theme with a layout I liked and then hack away at the various template files and the CSS. That’s how I learned how themes work and yes, I created ugly, broken sites that way as well, lol. It will be interesting to see a few years from now how it all shakes out. Will there be one or two primary plugins that handle page/site building or will there continue to be a mishmash of options, including themes with build in page builders like Make.

      I’m not sure about the idea of drag and drop page building into the core of WordPress. However, the old way of selecting a layout for a page is Page Templates and selecting one from a drop down menu in a meta box. Could it be possible that one day, if WordPress adds this functionality, maybe users could create their own pages and layouts, save them as page templates so they can be reused. If saved in the DB, those layouts could be transferred to other themes.

      Do you think it’s possible for long term content portability if this functionality is not eventually added to WordPress core? Seems like the best possible scenario would be basic core functionality and then everyone else builds and adds on top of it. At least things may be a little more standardized.

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      1. Re: save, share, re-use of templates…Of the page builders I’ve tried, Divi has the best functionality – but the lack of ability to add in other modules is underwhelming. In order to improve the “drag & drop” scenario, we need to also work on integration questions for shortcodes, widgets, “content blocks”, etc.

        I think the attempt to bring all of this out of the theme code and into config / content is a positive direction for the general usability of WordPress, but without more core support will struggle to find an optimal solution. Look at Custom Post Types…They have solid core functions which have helped a series of great plugins like WCK, ACF, CPT UI take shape. That model works, but is becoming a victim of its’ own success as typed meta fields and theme functions to output them are now being actively considered in http://make.wordpress.org/meta/.

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  14. There is much more to being a dentist than just owning a bunch of dental tools.

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  15. Ken Davies

    Page builders are just a tool. InDesign is just a tool that can create amazing page layouts and designs in the hands of a talented designer. Sit a non-designer in front of it and they will most likely turn out rubbish. Page builders have made the designers life a bit easier by making the creation of columns etc much simpler. They are also great when you have to hand a site over to a client as it makes it much easier for them to edit a section of text without the fear of deleting a < or " that will destroy the page.

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  16. David T. LeBlanc

    Jeff,

    I really enjoyed this article, because graphic design is my weak point. This is also why I use a page building tool. My choice is Site Origin’s Page Builder.

    The reason is that I can copy ideas that inspired me on other sites quickly using a page building tool.

    I don’t call it plagiarizing, but research. I always take from at least two other sites. In college we called that research.

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  17. This is some great conversation going on here and I see a lot of what I have experienced having taught average users and beginners for several years now.

    As with some comments, I agree, page builders in the right hands can be perfect, or a freaking nightmare. When Headway first came out I did my own site using it. Also, I know several beginners who gave it a whirl. For most it didn’t work, for some it was a dream come true. But who really took it and ran with it was the designers, and I see that happening with other page builders.

    Is this the perfect answer for everyone? No. Is it for the average user who wants more control over their design? No, not in all cases. Is is the perfect tool for designers who don’t want to learn code? Yes, in some cases.

    As with anything there are just so many variables. And I think as designers, or even just average users, all need to weigh the options. And to be honest, I have found that page builders, especially the ones that are more heavy weight with options and controls are overwhelming and a large learning curve for the beginner DIY’er or typical user. Out-of-the-box usually works best in those situations.

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  18. I’ve been most concerned about this from a “mis-guiding of the user” standpoint. People still need to understand good user experience and design principles. Great post!

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  19. I’m so glad I read this article because I was watching a commercial last night and wondered about this exact thing. I’ve been so happy with WordPress and any questions I’ve had, I’ve been able to look up and figure out myself. I didn’t want to have to spend a ton of money for a marketable theme/product/design, but it isn’t really that big of a deal in the end. I think I also lack the graphic design skills to make something look visually stunning.

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  20. Jeff,

    You’ve made some great points and too agree that page builders and other visual design tools can cause more harm than good. I think the way that WordPress.com handles allowing customization by letting users choose a color scheme (giving the theme control of everything else) is a great example of a useful visual customizer. However, the users also relinquish a ton of control by using WordPress.com in the first place.

    The only thing visual builders have done for me is make it easy to create ugly looking sites. They’re great products, I just don’t have the skills to leverage their power.

    In my experience, I’ve found this to be the case as well. Those that use the tools do not have the skills to truly create a visually appealing site and those that have that ability don’t use the tools.

    On the other hand, I feel that giving those without design skills a way to make the site “their own” is something that we should build towards. By allowing some customizations, color modifications and other minor changes, we can find that balance.

    All of these can be kept in the Customizer (but that’s a discussion for another day).

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    1. Give me a hammer and I bet i hit my thumb while building you a deck that will fall apart. That’s my analogy of tools :) After all of this conversation, I do like the idea of handing sites off to clients who then have the ability to easily change and edit the content or layout of existing pages. That is a great idea. It’s the creating of the page that is the tough part.

      As I mentioned in a different comment, I think I see where the Theme Customizer can be an excellent middle ground between the various page/site builders. As long as the kitchen sink isn’t added.

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  21. Hey, Jeff.

    Thanks for sharing this. A very good write up of the issues with Wesbite Builders.

    My take on this is that website builders are just a first stepping stone in the process of developing a good looking website. At first, you pick up bits from this and that website and create a Frankenstein’s monster of a sort. As you spend more time with the tool and learn to pay attention to specific details on other sites, your website quality will improve too.

    Most probably with time you’ll have a design that’s completely different from the one you had in mind originally, but that’s ok. And this does not mean that you can’t get help from designers at some point, for some bits like logo at least. In my experience at least, done is better than perfect.

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    1. Hah, this pretty much explains every site I tried to design for myself. A Frankenstein monster of sorts lol. Was pretty proud of some of the monsters I created :) but with each theme I manipulated, I was able to take skills I learned from the previous theme so that the next iteration was better.

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  22. Agree with the post and most points in the comments. One other issue I haven’t seen mentioned though is what the existence of these tools can do to users. As many have said, the tools make it seem like anyone can build beautiful things starting from a blank slate which is not true.

    But I also think these tools encourage people to think like print designers and design websites with a multitude of layouts—sometimes almost one design/layout per page. These tools make it easy to forget that consistency and simplicity are two of the most important parts of good user experience. If every page uses a different layout, websites become labyrinthine monstrosities…or at least a little harder to use :)

    It’s still pretty hard to beat this:

    Header
    Nav
    Title
    Body | Sidebar
    Footer

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    1. I did not agree with you. Consider portal sites like Google and other meaning sites, do all the pages look alike? Page creation depends on the page functionality though consistency will not be rule out. The actual content position and even sidebar widget might not conform to other pages provided the header and footer conforms.

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  23. Intuitive post Jeff. Page builder has their place and its meant for people who doesn’t want to be a core front-end developer or who doesn’t have the time to sit down to spend many months learning the ropes in hmtl/css and jquery cum php. However, it has its place and designer with minimal coding skills can use page-builders to produce beautiful website but not for WordPress beginners or those who doesn’t have traits to design…we all have Achilles hills! But then, they can as well use it if they have enough support and know what they want. But WordPress has evolved and still evolving and theme and plugin developers are changing their game daily. The #1 page builder I can vouch for to produce a beautiful website is Divi produced by Elegantthemes (not a separate but reside in the theme plugin) because no matter how you use it, your site will still look appealing though the layout may be a little off but with their responsive, you can be a professional gangling knight designer. I keep studying the css code in Divi I found out that Nick and his team took time to style every div class you could think in the theme and leave option to produce your style, that’s intuitiveness and I bet you Jeff that even though you don’t have a designing traits as you let us know, using Divi will eliminate that and you can produce some sterling designs you’ve imagined. Note, I’m no paid to do this, just sharing a solution to WP users who doesn’t have eye for design. Would this make front-end developer out of job? No! Front-end developers will perpetually have job so long as website are being build daily and if they aligned themselves with WordPress, then they will be well off to make good money. A lot of experts have shared their view on the post and I respected them. Cheers

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  24. I feel like if someone built a crappy website with a page builder, then they likely would have built a crappy site with traditional tools unless you stick to page templates provided by the theme which are limited in the design category. I’ve used shortcodes for layouts and they are too cumbersome for both me and my clients.

    I’ve tried out Elegant Themes builder, but I’m using Visual Composer exclusively now. Theme integration is very important – I worked with a theme that bundled VC but it was inconsistent with layouts. I am using a multi-purpose theme with the latest VC with good results.

    I also have an art director that comes from a print background so this helps tremendously. My sites are all responsive so there is a little give and take but so far so good.

    This is just my opinion – I welcome comments. Thanks to you guys at WP Tavern for great articles.

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