Initial Customizer Survey Results Reveal Majority of Respondents Don’t Use It

In January 2017, WordPress core design contributors posted a survey titled What are you using the Customizer for? The link was published on the Make WordPress Design blog and wasn’t widely shared, so it only received 50 replies. Responses were anonymous, but most seem to have come from the WordPress developer community.

Despite the small sample number, the design team deemed the initial results important enough to share with the community. Responses on the first question show that 53% never or rarely use the Customizer and 7.8% tend to only use it when setting up a site for the first time. Those who do use it (39.3%) range in frequency from monthly, weekly, and daily.

More than half of respondents (53.6%) do not add plugins to extend the Customizer. Those who do are adding plugins for theme options (12.5%), colors (5.4%), layout (7.1%), and other (21.4%). The majority of respondents indicated they use themes that add new functionality to the Customizer (53.9%) and those specified include colors, layout, typography, theme options, and design features.

When asked if is there anything in the Customizer they cannot live without, 53.2% of respondents said no. This isn’t surprising given that most of them seem to be developers who are likely familiar with adding custom CSS or making edits to a child theme. Only 6.4% said they could not live without live previews. When asked if there was anything in the Customizer they never use, 31.3% of respondents said “Everything,” 20.8% said “No,” and the others identified specific features.

The negative comments on the questions are a general indicator of the lingering dissatisfaction with the Customizer. For those who use the feature regularly, one strong theme in their comments is that the separation between what settings are available in the Customizer versus the backend is confusing:

Setting up theme styling, redesigning, setting up sites, etc. Very useful for quick changes like a new header image to change up the look. Wish you could edit everything there instead of going elsewhere to edit content too.

I don’t like it and wish that I didn’t have to use it. Most often if there is a setting I had to use the customizer for, I will either forget that something was set in the customizer and end up hunting around for it for a long time before remembering that’s where it was. More often than not the “preview” functionality doesn’t work and you have to save the settings anyway. Also there doesn’t seem to be any consistent logic as to what features should be in the customizer, and theme authors just put whatever they feel like putting in there.

What would be great, it is to incorporate more settings in the Customizer in order to avoid the back and forth to set up the site (date format, title, tagline, posts per page, …).

Many users don’t understand the separation between content and presentation and don’t approach the Customizer with this mindset. Therefore, the Customizer’s omissions create a disjointed experience for users who are new to WordPress.

Absolutely! Most of my clients complain about the footer and why is it so difficult to modify something so basic as this sentence: “Proudly powered by WordPress”… It is really nonsense having so many options in customizer and still having to create a child theme only to be able to edit the standard footer sentence… That doesn’t make any sense, really!”

These kinds of frustrations are likely to continue until the Customizer can unify the content and theme editing experience. Currently, the bulk of content editing happens in the admin, but Customizer contributors are working towards adding frontend editing powered by the Customizer.

It is difficult to know how to place this data, since the survey didn’t ask for any information about the respondents’ WordPress background. However, the large number of negative responses underscore the importance of having the Customizer as one of the three focuses for WordPress core development in 2017.

Customizer component co-maintainer Weston Ruter said he’s “not really surprised” by the negative feedback in the survey, as there are lots of passionate opinions about the Customizer.

“Everyone should agree that the Customizer isn’t a finished product, but the answer to that is to make it a focus and make it the live preview interface that WP needs, not rip it out,” Ruter said. “And that focus is what 2017 includes.”

The survey is still open, if you want to contribute more data for the design team to consider.

33 Comments


  1. I think you should remember that many people didn’t even realize that there was a survey.

    So I do believe lots of people use the customizer, but not all of them are reading WordPress blogs or following what’s happening at Automattic

    :)

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  2. While I disagree with the prioritization of the Customizer in the first place on many levels, I don’t think that the survey has been prepared properly either.

    Q1: “How often do you use the Customizer on your existing sites?”

    That’s an extremely vague question. I understand where it comes from, but I can certainly see how it would be something that many people never use, or only use it for a couple of days while setting up a website or utilize it for a specific purpose (previews being mentioned in the post).

    The remaining questions can also use a hint or two in the form of radio buttons or checkboxes, with the option for an additional note.

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  3. 50 or so respondents is a very small sample size but the negative comments and complaints have merit. I personally am hoping to see a radical improvement in speed where the customizer becomes instant or close to it so switching to Customize mode isn’t something I have to wait on and load a new interface. I sure hope that the customizer is something to behold when it’s released with WordPress after being a core focus or I’m going to be left scratching my head.

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  4. The survey was targeted to the wrong crowd…it should have been pushed to the “end-users”, not developers; perhaps a small set of questions or a separate survey just for developers.

    The negative comments on the questions are a general indicator of the lingering dissatisfaction with the Customizer.

    I’ve said this repeatedly, the customizer should only be used for themes. Quite awhile back, it was being pushed to stop and replace theme option pages that theme authors were using, so to keep consistency and to use the API, the customizer was to be used for themes. Somewhere along the lines, piece-by-piece, the admin area was slowly finding it’s way into the customizer like a virus.

    I’ve had many customers complain about how difficult it was to use it with menus, widgets, theme switcher/previews, etc. I’ve had many even ask why all that is mixed in with theme options.

    Again, the customizer should have only been kept for the active theme for its options. WP has gone the wrong direction with this, and to say it’s a work in progress means it will only get more messy and tick off a lot of end-users.

    For the surveys, if WP did it properly, they would seek out the end-user market due to the fact they are the ones who use WP…and to get enough of them to take the survey. I mean there’s millions out there. Perhaps even hiring a professional market research team to do this so that real honest facts are collected.

    I mean only 50 replies and many are developers? Seriously, that is like going around the office to take a survey and not stepping out on to the street to seek out the users.

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  5. I’d really love to see the Customizer relegated to a plugin instead of being part of core. Maybe that initial “Welcome to your WP site” nag in the dashboard could prompt people to either install it or dismiss…. Personally I never use it and I HATE accidentally clicking on a menu option or link that opens it.

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      1. We have had too many experiences with clients who were confused by the customer. As a result, we just disable it for all our clients.

        Move it to a plugin OR make it easy to disable in a manner that removes any overhead.

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  6. If the developers of WordPress take the results of this survey seriously (50 respondents???), it explains a lot about why so many things wrong with WordPress never get fixed, and why so many useless geegaws are added (emojis, anyone?).

    First, almost no one knew about this survey. Fifty people (mostly developers) out of tens of thousands of WordPress users responded? Really? Wow.

    I wish they would ask for opinions from some “designers” rather than developers.

    I’m not a developer – I’m a designer. I set up web sites for customers – and I’ve been doing this since about 2009 when I first discovered WordPress after years of struggling with Dreamweaver and other methods.

    When the Customizer first appeared, I thought it was a waste – a dumb idea.

    But as time has gone by, I’ve changed my mind, and now I love the Customizer. Just because a lot of developers don’t like the Customizer does not mean a lot of other users also feel that way…many people I know use the Customizer same as I do…and love it.

    My bottom line: The Customizer is easily the biggest and best improvement in WordPress since I started with WordPress. Please don’t mess it up.

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    1. out of tens of thousands of WordPress users

      Actually, it’s millions. Anyway, it should be a survey for just end-users, but have a different one for developers and designers.

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    2. The only thing it really explains is how difficult it is to target the different groups of users for feedback. Lets not inflate it to try to explain all our issues with wordpress development.

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  7. I will echo what Christian Nelson, Andrea Whitmer, and G said above. You asked the wrong people. Of course lots of Devs don’t like it. Many of them complain about anything WYSIWYG in general.

    As a designer with a fair amount of front-end skill I prefer writing my own files when doing my own building and customization. However, for out-of-the-box theme use, even I’m starting to appreciate the customizer and those theme companies that use it well.

    I’m not sure about plugin/core and I’m also not sure about how it also includes menus and widgets. However, I could envision it being a place where we could actually use it to more easily restrict what an end-user is allowed to do when you don’t want to give them access to everything.

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    1. I would say most devs have no issue per sé wit wysiwyg. I’d say its awesome since it makes us have to do less work generally. Not having to write everything by hand I think is most devs desire :). Having a front end editor for writing posts, drag drop some wysiwyg etc withing the context of the theme I think would make lots of devs very happy. But woking with Customizer is not fun. Neither with the front end area it self or writing new stuff that goes in to the Customizer.
      The Customizer is a poor mans Wysiwyg. I honestly think a better theme engine and content andling would make things much better and maybe really kick off the competition between various WYSIWYG providers (Divi, Elementor etc).

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      1. That’s why I say “a lot” and not “most,” ;-)

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  8. This result shows really how out of touch the WordPress developers are with the real world. Especially when we realise that (at least) one of the most popular themes ever published on WP – and one which was almost infinitely tuneable, even for the “amateur” – was thrown off, among other relatively minor reasons, for not complying with the WP Customizer…

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    1. You could be referring to Suffusion, one of my favorite themes for it’s customization options. Ironic that it was ejected for not having a “Customizer.”

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  9. Yep, I have to agree with most of the comments regarding the survey being comprised of mostly Developer feedback. I believe most Devs would probably prefer to work directly with files/code instead of using the Customizer >>> https://codex.wordpress.org/Theme_Customization_API#Developing_for_the_Customizer. Seems to me that logically folks who build, modify, customize and create new websites for customers would most likely be the highest percentage of Customizer users.

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    1. Nope. Most of those Developers would prefer a solid working, unified solution. They work for somebody, too. This foggy “somebody” normally is either their boss or a client.

      Do not mistake “developers” being a different species than “folks who build, modify, customize and create new websites for customers”.

      Also, do not make the mistake to generalize based on your own expections: I got lots of those “folks who build … new websites” that never used the customizer, or, when pointed out specifically, prefered visual page editors like Visual Composer or a properly set up combination of custom theme templates + ACF / Custom Fields plugins.

      Now, 50 people certainly doesnt cover much ground. In statistics, this number counts as nearly insignificant. If it was at least a few hundreds, but preferably in the thousands, then one could properly extrapolate based on this data. Here, it clearly doesnt help much, aside of the fact that it might bolster the “us vs them”-developer-vs-designer-vs-enduser-divide.

      cu, w0lf.

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  10. The survey should have been announced here on WP Tavern.
    And ~50 results is less than peanuts.

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      1. The effort is there by Sarah, but I’d be curious to know what percentage of WPTavern’s readership are non-developers, designers, etc., but actual end-users.

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  11. Thanks Sarah. I completed the survey.

    I appreciate that the Customizer devs asked for feedback and that they have thick enough skins that they can handle the sometimes negative feedback. It has come a long way. There are some premium themes that use it extensively to allow the customization of many design elements. It has the advantage of putting all those types of functions in one place, instead of each theme doing it their own way.

    The visual editor/customizer is a challenge because of needing to account for all of the themes and plugins. The way it is developing has allowed them to iterate and make changes in stages. I think the future is front-end editing and that in some ways the Customizer is a proxy. That said, page builders and themes with front-end editing are moving at Internet speeds while the Customizer is moving much slower.

    There are a number of plugins and themes that have features that could just be added to core, rather than build everything from scratch. For example, the Site Origin CSS editor, if they would donate it. I know that there is the conservative and cautious position that things should not be added unless the vast majority of users would use it, but everyone wants to be able to make their site fit their vision, so there is a lot of room to expand in this area.

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  12. I like the customizer but because of its freaking slowness i never use it and began to hate it. Also the fact that you cant get to the front of your website while in the customizer is very annoying. The idea was ok the result is horrible as the slowness kills the fun and useability of it.

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  13. Even if all 50 responders are developers, which we don’t know for sure, that wouldn’t represent the views of most WP devs.

    I, for one, am a WP plugin developer who loves the customizer. Why? Because my main goal with each plugin is “ease of use” for the user. I have leveraged the customizer into a (niche) plugin to allow users to edit colors in a chart image, and they can preview the image colors changing instantly. I couldn’t provide that ease of use in my plugin without the customizer.

    Thanks to developer Weston Ruter for a job well done.

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  14. This is why we need telemetry. Actual use data from actual users (not devs and people heavily involved in core development) is key to developing our platform. Anything else is just opinion.

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  15. One bad survey does not somehow equate with how “out of touch” the developers are. It shows how difficult it is to get information on how “real users”, however you define that, use wordpress.

    I have personally never really used it. It’s consistently felt like a disjointed experance between settings and content editing. But thats just my opinion.

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  16. I see here one issue – managing a website in 3 places soon, backend-settings, front-end editor and something between both – Customizer. Not any of them are fully capable, every part do something extra or just duplicate an existing function.

    Customizer + fully capable front-end editor would be great, if backend will disappear completely.

    What I don’t like on any website or system, is too many clicks (or anything) and Customizer is a click farm where are always some new clicks available.

    Regarding “hot and loved” topic telemetry, I turn off anything I can on any machine I use. Testers should test, users should use.

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  17. I agree with Andrea above, here statement, just like this other one from the telemetry discussion, can be made for just about every core addition / feature for years.

    This is especially bad with the customizer – which I don’t hate – it’s just half baked, and ux clunky at the moment more than anything.

    However the decision to steam roll previous wp setups, removing functionality from themes and dashboards to force this change – is another example of the core devs forcing their future thoughts on millions – like microsoft stuffing telemetry and ads in windows – wordpress core.

    Fact that pushing this in core also removed previously functioning important things – is pathetic – and no explanation either – cost me 4 hours trying to find where I had added custom css – only to find that a wp update had hidden the screen where that custom css was previously added and working – this was just one site. – it took a plugin to re-open the settings that were removed by something that should of been an optional plugin (the customizer)

    I see a lot of potential with it though – there are many things to like and love – for devs, editors, designers, and end users –

    There are many times it sucks to use though – when you have many tabs open and have to open customizer to do something – and the page is heavy – like with gifs or video or something – and it freezes the whole browser.. and when you are not on a 30 inch screen, and have a browser with toolbars – and can’t see half your stuff..

    and the things you need to adjust are 5 levels deep.. and you have to backout..

    worse thing is the X to close at the top when you scroll down, or are a few levels deep – and you want to get back – intuitively you go to top of screen – and there is no arrow – only an x – so you click that to get back and it just closes the whole dang thing.. the ” arrow on the left should be fixed on screen, not hidden when you have a long list that scrolls it off.

    adding more pop up color pickers would likely make it better for most, and a hover click on screen that would pull rules into the custom css box would make it easier for average people to change h2’s and such.

    another cool thing that could of been a plugin –

    it’s not used on the 20+ sites I maintain – it’s actually a hinderance 99% causing extra clicks and costing more time – 1% of the time I enjoy seeing a heading tag change color when I add custom css. however the things I play with need a new window open, it’s usually something specific on a sub page, faster to just have that open, and the inspector in another window – and refresh – as opposed to clicking around the clunky – and smaller instant preview.

    I do like it for a few specific projects though – so I’m glad it’s been created – it could just be removed from 99% of our projects and we would never miss it – and we’d get a few hours of time back in our lives.

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  18. Just took the survey. Survey is poorly constructed. It should ask a few questions up front that segment the responses – end-user vs dev, techie vs non.

    Most of the ~50 sites we manage are small businesses who really do not care about things like the customizer. They only care about running a successful business.

    Sadly, that means one of the first things we do is strip out anything that does not serve that purpose. We then rename (effectively) and adjust many items so that they can be seen by the business staff in business terms. This means using CPT and/or custom taxonomies to make the site “Business Friendly”.

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  19. I hate it too and stunned when I hear Matt talking about it as if it is some kind of holy grail. It reminds me of Ubuntu’s mobile pipe dream now a lot of resources are being wasted as people focus on it instead of other things.

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  20. I like the customizer but because of the current size/layout it has it’s limitations. I need more width.

    And until now certain parts, such as widgets and menu, are loctated at 2 different locations.. doesn’t make sense. Must say, I strongly prefer the “old” widgets and menu page although the ones in the customizer look nice. IMO the “old” pages are more clear and more user-friendly.

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  21. I feel like 50 responses isn’t quite enough to make a judgement call, or even get decent stats. If someone is on WP.com, they’re using Customizer. If they use Storefront or a WooTheme, then they’re likely using Customizer. There’s a lot of different scenarios that I don’t think 50 responses could cover.

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  22. I’m a developer and I do use the Customizer when setting sites up for clients–but mainly for things that have been moved there, like site icon, colors, and header images.

    I don’t do either widget or menu management with the Customizer because it’s too clunky. (Mind you, widget management is clunky regardless and menu management is clunky if you have more than a few menu items–can we PLEASE have a way to collapse submenus?)

    I do use the new Additional CSS to test changes to the CSS, which I move into a proper stylesheet when I’m happy with them.

    I’m not sure most of my clients know the Customizer exists. They’ve generally hired me to do the customizing and most of the questions I get from them are about editing posts, pages, and CPTs.

    Because of the non-representative sample size and the way the survey was written, I’m not sure we can really conclude ANYTHING from the results…except that we need better methods of collecting user data.

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