The Future of WordPress Widgets: A Better UI With Real-Time Previews

Widgets make WordPress stand out as one of the most user-friendly CMS options available. The ability to easily place content blocks and features into a widgetized area has made website customization possible for millions of people who don’t know how to code. As mobile browsing has increased over the past few years, widget design is now moving to accommodate use on mobile devices. Due to the popularity of widgets in general, new designs must also accommodate users who have dozens of available widgets.

Better Widgets

Shaun Andrews’ Widgets Area Chooser plugin is on its way into the core for WordPress 3.8, but he’s not done improving widgets. Andrews is on a quest to make WordPress widgets better. To that end he has a couple of plugins that are currently in development. Better Widgets is one that he created in order to add more incremental updates.

Right now, if you check out the plugin’s page, all you will see is a vague description: “This makes widgets better. Trust me. Or don’t.” Since this is a plugin for continuing improvements to widgets, you’ll just have to install it and check it out.

Better Widgets offers a new layout, which briefly made an appearance in MP6 and includes separate scrollable areas for available widgets. It also provides better feedback when saving widgets.


Andrews may add a search filter to the plugin somewhere down the road, which would help users to quickly filter when searching a large number of widgets. He is also looking at adding the ability to drag widgets over closed sides, which would then automatically open so you could drop them in, similar to how dragging files around works in OS X. This is one plugin to watch for future updates if you want to be on the cutting edge of WordPress widget development.

Widgets in the WordPress Customizer

The widgets team is also working on an experimental plugin that allows users to edit and preview widgets in the WordPress Theme Customizer. The Widget Customizer plugin is being developed as part of the ongoing Widgets UI Refresh effort and the team hopes to have it ready to present for consideration in WordPress 3.9.


Widget Customizer gives you real-time previews of the edits you make to a widget before making them live. With this plugin turned on, no changes are live until the Save & Publish button is clicked. All widget-related actions are previewable before publishing, including:

  • Adding a new widget
  • Editing existing widgets
  • Reordering widgets
  • Dragging widgets to other sidebars
  • Removing widgets from the sidebars

If you want to test it out, install Widget Customizer on a test site. The plugin’s description advocates the new feature by stating, “No longer do you have to edit your widgets blind!” Editing a widget and then having to navigate to the front-end to see what you did is in essence blind editing. Once you try the Widget Customizer, you may never go back to the old way of editing widgets.

The Better Widgets and Widget Customizer plugins are paving the way for the future of WordPress widgets. If you’ve ever been frustrated with widget management, you can breathe a sigh of relief, because some very nice updates are underway. Would you like to see real-time previews added to the core? What do you wish you could change about widget management?

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