Building a Site That’s Right for You

Note: this post was originally published on our new Automattic design blog. Check it out!

Hello everyone! 👋 I’m Mel Choyce, a product designer on the Apollo team here at Automattic. Apollo is comprised of the Automatticians who contribute full-time to the open source side of WordPress over at WordPress.org. I’m the design co-lead of WordPress’ customization focus for 2017. Prior to joining Apollo to work on this focus, I was on another team at Automattic that whose mission was making site building and customization easier on WordPress.com.

Customization has been a pretty big pain point in WordPress for a number of years. With the emergence of easy to customize, drag-and-drop website builders like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, WordPress’ minimal customization tools have been falling further and further behind. To make sweeping changes to your WordPress website, you still mostly need to know PHP. This is totally unrealistic in 2017! In the case of WordPress.com, where we don’t let people edit their website templates, this means you can’t make any big changes to your site (like easily adding recent posts to your homepage or swapping the position of your logo or your navigation menu).

This is painful. There are so many “why can’t I just…” situations that really trip people up when setting up their sites on WordPress, myself included! For someone like a business owner with no time, that kind of barrier means they’re going to give up and try somewhere else. The platform they move to will likely be closed and proprietary. If their business grows and they need to scale up their website, being on a closed platform like Squarespace will make that even more difficult.

We want the web to remain open. To ensure it stays that way, WordPress needs to step up its game and make it easier for everyone to make websites, from bloggers, to business owners, to web designers and developers. As a platform, we need to embrace all of these use cases.

Enter this year’s customization focus. For the first half of this year, I’ve been collaborating with my development co-lead, Weston Ruter, and a couple other key contributors to fix some low-hanging fruit. We’ve identified these small but impactful updates a couple ways:

  • Looking through existing Trac tickets that feel like they would be small projects, but would make a big impact.
  • Building lots of test sites in WordPress, using “real” scenarios so we’re not just aimlessly putting dummy content into a site.
  • Reviewing previous usability tests that touched on site building and customization.
  • Chatting with folks who help support bloggers and business users who are building their own websites to find out what problems people encounter most frequently.

Using this, we’ve come up with a list of projects that we’ve been slowly working our way through the past couple months, like adding a new image widget, and adding formatting options to the text widget.

The four widget updates coming to WordPress soon: Image, Video, Audio, and Rich Text.

The second half of the year is about tackling some of the bigger issues. While we’ve been hard at work on smaller fixes, the editor focus has been building a new paradigm for content creation in WordPress. You can check out their progress on their GitHub project, Gutenberg.

After the new editor launches, the customization focus will start looking at how we can expand on the patterns Gutenberg has established. We have a number of problems we’ll need to address: how do you tell if you’re editing content on one page, or on all of your pages? What if I want to show my latest news on my homepage, in addition to a welcome message and some information about the services my company offers? What if I want my phone number higher up on the page? How can I edit my website without knowing any code? What if I’m a developer building websites for others — how can I make it easier for my media clients to act on breaking news or updates and edit their sites on-the-fly as their situation dictates?

All of these are problems people struggle with when building websites on WordPress today. We hope that with Gutenberg’s design patterns as a base, we can start tackling these thorny problems and help empower people to build websites to help promote themselves, their passions, and their work.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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