WordPress Plans Ambitious Admin UI Revamp with Design System, Galvanizing Broad Support from the Developer Community

WordPress’ admin is on deck for a long-awaited makeover after Gutenberg lead architect Matías Ventura published plans for a revamped admin design as part of the Phase 3: Collaboration road map.

“As WordPress turns twenty years old, the overall aim of this work is to improve upon this experience at a foundational design level, giving plugins and users more control over the navigation while ensuring each WordPress experience is recognizable, intuitive, accessible, and delightful,” Ventura said.

His post is a follow-up to some earlier admin concepts he published a year ago which evolves the admin towards more fluid browsing and editing flows. This is similar to the block editor design that positions the admin frame as a shell that wraps around a canvas that contains the content in a zoomed state. Instead of users clicking back to access navigation tools, the tools remain present but outside of the canvas view.

Although contributors have not yet officially produced any designs for the project, Ventura shared a light version of an admin concept.

One aspect of the proposed plans that has energized the developer community is the prospect of the admin getting rebuilt with an extensible design system.

“This effort is also an opportunity to formalize the design primitives and interaction paradigms that are part of the UI component system begun in wordpress/components,” Ventura said.

“A crucial aspect is to ensure WordPress itself is built with the same pieces and APIs that plugin authors can use. Aside from color themes, our set of primitive components also need to work in dense environments like the editor, as well as environments that need more breathing room and focus like admin sections. Density, clarity, usability, and accessibility are paramount.”

image credit: Matias Ventura – Admin Design

The admin design concepts have renewed developers’ excitement about the future of WordPress, but they are also hoping this revamp will solve several long-standing problems with the interface.

One recurring theme in the feedback was the need to find a way to curb the pollution of top-level menus and the out of control admin notices, which are hijacked by plugin developers in the absence of a standard notification system.

“It’s really about aligning APIs, ensuring we have semantic descriptions of capabilities, and offering the right levels of controls for both plugins and users,” Ventura said.

“I know it’s a fairly limited example, but there’s a nice balance in the ability to pin or unpin plugin sidebars on the editor, from the perspective that plugins can be opinionated, and users can still interact with those opinions.”

Another challenge that concerns developers is ensuring the new design adequately accommodates WordPress sites with large numbers of posts, pages, categories, menus, comments, and other things that can easily overwhelm a UI that was intended to be simplified.

“As part of leveraging the components across the admin interface, we need to address functional gaps (like table and list views, bulk editing operations, etc) and assist plugin needs for anything that might not be already addressed that should be addressed,” Ventura said. “Ultimately, the design library needs to be showcased in the wordpress.org website as a clear resource for people building upon WordPress.”

Developers who participated in the comments were optimistic about the project and reacted positively to the concepts Ventura shared.

“I often say, white space is where the magic happens,” WordPress designer and developer Brian Gardner said.

“The light admin concept is breathtaking and gets me even more excited than I am now about the future of WordPress.”

Several developers commented on how eagerly they are awaiting an update to a modern UI that reduces the number of page refreshes.

“Wow! It’s gonna be amazing!” WPMarmite founder Alex Borto said. “A complete admin fluid browsing experience is much needed. I dream of navigating through the admin area without any page loads!”

For years, WordPress developers have been expected to try to match WordPress’ dated admin UI on their settings pages and the Yoast SEO plugin drew criticism when it released version 20.0 with a new modern interface. Many users are not keen on plugins building their own UI in the admin, as it can make things more confusing. Having a standard set of UI components would make things easier for developers who are extending WordPress.

“This gives me great optimism about securing the next 20 years of WordPress’s success,” WordPress developer Mike McAlister said. “The fact that you can do anything with WordPress is incredible, it’s probably our biggest strength.

“But without standardized design patterns for the admin, we’ve seen that devolve into a UI/UX headache with plugin and theme developers baking their own experiences inside WordPress. Reining this in and creating a unified experience for everyone to buy into will not only make it easier on product creators, it will also be a huge win for users.”

Ventura said this document is just an outline of the admin design project and that it will be followed up with more in-depth design explorations further down the road.


24 responses to “WordPress Plans Ambitious Admin UI Revamp with Design System, Galvanizing Broad Support from the Developer Community”

  1. It’s going to be something like:

    “Oh, you don’t like the block editor’s interface? No problem, we’ll push it even more in-your-face by applying the same treatment to the admin area.”

    If they want to do something to the admin area, let them change some fonts, change some colours, but if it’s not broken, why change it?

  2. This is an exciting perspective. The admin panel looks a bit outdated when compared to some other popular solutions. However, I can only imagine the amount of work that needs to be poured into this modernization to make all the components work together. Looking forward to the changes.

  3. Given as how I’m using Classic Widgets and Classic Editor, I hope there will be a plugin to keep this classic as well. I have to pass the websites I build on to a possibly not tech savvy customer to update content, and I’ve yet to give them anything with Gutenberg features because it is so much more busy and clunky than the original WordPress layout. I can’t just think as a developer when I build a site. I have to think like an end user.

      • I really hope they do not ruin the WordPress experience. I need the robustness of WordPress but with a simple enough interface for my clients. I use Admin Menu Editor to remove things for certain roles, and I hope I will still be able to do that. Sometimes too many bells and whistles are not what are needed. WordPress doesn’t need to be flashy. It needs to be usable. I just think people should have the option of whether to use Gutenburg features or things that divert radically from the classic framework of WordPress.

        • I don’t think this update is just bells and whistles. They are literally discussing a customizable sidebar, which reduces the need to install a plugin just to do just that.
          By the way, Gutenberg is just a name for a project that aims to modernize the WordPress core. In other words, it is the core. If I remember correctly, they don’t want to provide support for “classic features” after 2024.

      • There’s still a lot to account for, but for what it’s worth, the Customizer is still around — even though the Site Editor is a far more capable experience.

        I don’t foresee a future WordPress admin experience that breaks the existing flows, but perhaps provides a more capable and unified approach for those who want to use it.

  4. While I do love the idea of seeing an updated WordPress Admin UI, I am afraid not to see the whole experience get ruined. They need to take their time and make sure they give the option to keep (for whoever wants) the classic UI. Having all options available is what makes WordPress a great platform.

  5. I’m a designer and recently moved back to using WordPress after many years of not using it, the UI being the same was good in a familiar way, but it feels slightly clunky by today’s standards. I’m really excited to use the redesigned interface.

  6. Without any doubt, WordPress Admin UI needs to be redesigned. It would be nice if the option to continue to keep using the older version of the admin panel at least for a limited period of time. Just a thought.

    Good Luck to the team working on the WordPress Admin UI. Looking forward to the changes to WordPress Admin UI.

  7. Yet again, WordPress developers excited to do things that are exciting for developers.

    Meanwhile, WordPress gets worse and worse for end users.
    The only reason I use it is because it’s the incumbent.

    Developers should not be allowed to make decisions without adult supervision.

  8. I just saw a new customer who already had WO installed and was completely puzzled about Editor UI. He literally sighed in relief when I informed him about the Classic Editor plugin.

    Inho the WP dev team has completely lost contact to the average users, ‚just start blogging‘ and simplicity are far from a constantly changing (aka contextual) UI.

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