Join the Future of WordPress Themes Conversation: Theme Review Team to Hold Biweekly Discussions

In collaboration with the core design and editor teams, the WordPress theme review team will begin hosting biweekly (fortnightly) meetings on the future of themes. The meetings will be held every other Wednesday on the #themereview WordPress Slack channel at 16:00 UTC. The first meeting is on February 5.

Phase 2 of the Gutenberg project is about tackling site customization. This covers everything from turning sidebars into block containers to redefining how themes will work in a block-based system in the coming years. The latter is a huge unanswered question. There are several ideas on how themes should be handled.

Kjell Reigstad, a design director for Automattic, proposed the meeting as a step toward answering the future-of-themes question. “The main thing I’d like to accomplish is to build up regular cross-team communication around the theme plus full-site editing work,” he said. “There are so many potential changes on the horizon, and we really need perspective from both the Gutenberg folks and theme authors. I know it’s difficult to keep up with all the development happening, and I thought this dedicated meeting would be a great place to stay up to date and share ideas on a regular basis.”

Currently, the agenda for the first meeting is still open but should be posted next week. Anyone who wants to participate or make sure an idea sees discussion, should let the team know in the announcement post’s comments.

“I’d initially like to try and get everyone on the same page in terms of what’s happening already on the Gutenberg front,” said Reigstad. “So for instance, the experimental block-based themes implementation and the global styles work. We’ll likely go over those a little bit, share links and updates, and then pivot into some discussion questions.”

Bringing in the theme review team is imperative for a smooth transition into whatever themes eventually become. “There’s already a lot of full-site editing work going on, and there are already experimental reference documents for block-based themes,” said Reigstad earlier this week in the team’s regular meeting. “It’s important for the TRT and the theme community to keep up to date on this work, and to develop a clear communication loop with the Gutenberg teams.”

There is some concern that the concept of full, block-based themes will simply be railroaded into core WordPress, regardless of feedback. Not all members of the theme review team or theme authors are supportive of the idea.

Theme reviewer Joy Reynolds pointed out in the announcement’s comments that using the phrase “block-based themes” in the meeting title shows bias in favor of themes made of blocks. “Why is the current Full Site Editing code outside the scope of the Customizer?” she asked. “What is the goal? Is it even something that makes sense for themes? Don’t we need a merge proposal? Or even a consensus on design before forcing these changes into core and having meetings about using experimental code as if it’s the only choice?”

These are questions that will certainly come up in the meeting.

Block-based themes already feel like a foregone conclusion. The initial code is currently in the Gutenberg plugin, albeit as an experimental feature. There is already documentation for building such themes. There is a core theme experiments repository Everything seems to be moving full-steam ahead in that direction.

Whatever direction themes end up going, the meeting will at least offer an opportunity for the community to add their input. For success, the editor, design, and theme review team members will need to find some common ground to begin their discussions.

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7 responses to “Join the Future of WordPress Themes Conversation: Theme Review Team to Hold Biweekly Discussions”

  1. Steve Pheriche says:

    I decided to try and make a layout with Gutenberg 7.3.
    I’ve used Gutenberg for simple tasks on simple sites many times. I am an experienced WP user and developer. I have used other page layout tools like Elementor, Divi, Beaver, Visual composer, etc.

    I aimed to recreate something I’d done in Elementor. Nothing too complex. A hero block with head and subhead text on one side, an image on the other. A background image for the row. A graphic overlay which partially occludes the bottom of the row contents.
    Beneath that – a banner row, then finally a row divided in 3rds holding buttons. A very typical layout. Simple. Easy?

    I’ll spare you the play by play but within 5 minutes I was unable to move the rows due to selection issues, tools were contextually baffling due to lack of clarity about what was selected, handles being off the sides of the editor. The layout was really difficult to select parent and child elements (group, row, column, image) …I never knew what was selected. It was always something I didn’t expect (selected a child rather than the parent) The select tool never stayed active so invariably a wrong move was made, tool unselected itself, I have to undo, visit the menu try again. Over and over. Never getting what I wanted.

    I tried switching to html mode to make sense of what I was editing and despite not altering anything Gutenberg told me the block was not valid , could not be rendered and I could convert it to html . No way back via undo.

    I got to this same place 3 times after starting over fresh. A difficult to use frustrating experience.
    I’ve been using WP for many many years, created themes and plugins. I know my way around.

    Gutenberg has improved but
    The Gutenberg team haven’t solved the simple problems yet. The interface is horrible for selecting and moving nested elements. The navigator for elements is not at all robust. The Gutenberg inserter /object pane is tiny and the entire experience is incredibly frustrating if doing anything beyond “insert image”.

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    • Roman says:

      You said everything!
      When I saw Guteberg editor for first time I thought it’s the begining, it can’t be so wrong. Now I wonder how is it possible so terrible design and functionality. I tried many times after big updates, in the end I’ve hidden everything with custom css so I will never lose my time again.
      Even Microsoft gave up on internet explorer!

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    • Bastian says:

      Agreed. I’m building a site for a client right now and this time I decided to use Gutenberg cause the project is small and not too complex. Once I started to nest blocks, the weaknesses of Gutenberg began to show their ugly head. One of its main faults is the lack of visual clues that help you differentiate where one block begins and the other ends, so the task of selecting a specific column or a block inside a container becomes a challenge. This has been brought up many times on their GitHub with no positive outcome.

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    • Johannes Grießhammer says:

      This. Exactly this. I tried to recreate a site with a very basic layout after WordCamp Europe 2019. There was no use. I couldn’t get the styling like I wanted with the so praised ease by the WordPress team. I really welcome a change in WordPress, but Gutenberg is still not viable to me. The Gutenberg Blocks with ACF are interesting, but at the moment I still create my Themes with Tailwind.css, Timber/Twig and just hand coded stuff. Still more efficient for me, and I have all the power there.

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  2. Scott says:

    I think Gutenberg is the Google Glasses of WordPress personally. Being on the front lines of building sites for small business, I can’t see a receptionist getting doing updates with Gutenberg even before wondering about real technical problems.

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  3. Jaclyn says:

    I have tried incorporating Gutenberg in my custom site builds several times in the past year but I just haven’t found a way to do it successfully and reliably. If WP are focusing on block based themes now, they should just ditch the customizer entirely and focus on improving block customization (the customizer is a nice idea but it’s time to let it go- it isn’t very well implemented or useful today).

    The code and methods of Gutenberg keep changing and it’s hard to commit to using Gutenberg for a custom site when so many important things required for customization are not prioritized (such as wrapper blocks which only came out a few months ago).

    Creating a custom Gutenberg block is extremely time consuming compared to flexible content blocks using acf and the time investment isn’t worth it at the moment. Ideally, I’d love to be able to quickly wire up some custom blocks and build entire sites using these templates and I assume this is what the WP team are going for, if I had a say.

    Lastly but most importantly simply using Gutenberg is hard for both writers and developers. I don’t agree with splitting paragraphs into separate blocks and it’s cumbersome to have to hover, drag, and rearrange a page with a lot of content. Honestly the UX is unpleasant and feels unnatural- the reliance on hover states is bad and everything feels too floaty. Imo WP should take a page out of Notion’s UI because if they don’t improve GB soon I do believe Notion has the potential to take a significant chunk of WPs share if it can be successfully integrated with jamstack powered sites in the future.

    Anyway that’s my two cents, I do think GB has potential and block based themes sounds like a neat idea but rn the idea and execution needs A LOT of work.

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    • As someone who writes almost daily in the block editor, I disagree that it is hard for writers, at least in comparison to the classic editor. I prefer plain Markdown over both, but the block editor is leaps and bounds ahead for me.

      I talk with other writers and developers all the time. You can’t really group them together and say it’s hard for all. Different people have different preferences.

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