Support » Plugin: Gutenberg » Not everyone needs everything to be blocks. Gutenberg must focus on writers

  • TLDR: I think Gutenberg, as it is now, is made for web developers, and not so much writers. I want Gutenberg’s many improvements to also benefit those writers, therefore I suggest making blocks implicit for simple text markup, so the writer can think of their text as a text, not as a series of blocks.


    I’ve tried out Gutenberg a little bit, and wanted to chime in some thoughts. Especially because of the high number of unsubstantiated negative reviews. I haven’t been able to test out Gutenberg on any non-web-developer myself, so this is based on my thoughts after trying the editor, thinking it was passable (though a bit weird), then being surprised by the reviews. So please take this with a grain of salt.

    I have worked with HTML and CSS for the majority of my life at this point. I also find the concept of the Gutenberg editor easy to grasp, and I understand how to get the desired result. One of the stated goals of the editor is to make it effortless to write rich posts, and for me, Gutenberg delivers on that goal.
    I realize, however, that I’m no ordinary user. Through my knowledge and familiarity with HTML and CSS, I know the HTML box model very well. Gutenberg’s mental model – considering everything as a box/block – maps almost one-to-one to the mental model of HTML. As a web designer, I can feel right at home in the Gutenberg editor.

    Ordinary users are not web designers. They are writers, focusing on creating engaging content, conveyed primarily through text. They are, in their mind, writing one long text, not a series of “blocks” each containing some text or an image. They do not care about the technical details of HTML – and they shouldn’t need to either. (I’m not saying that you cannot be both a web designer and a writer. Just that the Gutenberg editor should target also those who are not a web designer.)

    The Gutenberg editor, in my opinion, forces writers to learn the mental model of HTML, essentially moving the job of converting text into HTML tags from WordPress to the user. They shouldn’t need to care about how each paragraph is a block of its own, yet they are presented with controls aligned inside each paragraph, controls split between the paragraph and the header, and a border around each paragraph as they hover over it. They shouldn’t need to care about where one block ends and another one starts, yet they cannot select the last sentence of one paragraph and the first sentence of the next. They also cannot drag and drop the resulting selection, instead they’ll be making a new selection. Writers essentially have to learn a new way of writing text on a computer, one radically different from the one they are used to from working with Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Writer, Google Drive and almost any other WYSIWYG text editor out there. And I don’t see how that is necessary.

    Gutenberg does solve a lot of problems, though. Replacing short-codes and many other mechanisms with blocks is great. Just like writers shouldn’t need to think of their text in terms of blocks, they shouldn’t need to learn short-code markup. Granting the writer more flexibility without needing to dive into the theme’s HTML and CSS is also great. I like how the block model makes (image) placement easier, since they are stopped from being placed in the middle of a paragraph. And being able to preview and edit the non-text blocks without needing to bring up a modal is super-cool, and grants Gutenberg an edge over many other editors. The block mental model is great for designing rich posts, where the writer may be expected to be tech-savvy and have some familiarity with HTML.

    I think it is possible to reconcile Gutenberg’s improvements with the traditional way of writing on a computer. It does require moving away from the mental model of “everything is a block”, so I don’t expect this to be an easy decision to make. Either way, my suggestion is to introduce an option, enabled by default, that makes text blocks implicit rather than explicit. By that, I mean that the fact that the text is organized into blocks should not affect, nor need to concern, the user. The only exception would be the constraints placed on block placement, so you wouldn’t be able to place e.g. an image in the middle of a paragraph (except for any inline image blocks, of course). This also only needs to apply to text blocks in the same container. Some examples of concrete changes this would require:

    • Text formatting controls (like making text bold, italic, text size, changing between paragraph and headings and so on) are docked to the top of the document, not the active block
    • No border or any other visual indication of blocks are shown when hovering over implicit text blocks
    • When you select text, you do not start to select entire blocks when crossing a block border. It should basically function like any other editor
    • You should be able to drag and drop your text selection to move it
    • The explicit blocks (like images, embeds, galleries) need not be changed, and can keep their block behaviour. They are already special in the user’s mind, I think, and they act like blocks in other editors too. Clicking the arrows to move them will still move them one block at a time

    This way, I think the user can still focus on their writing without the block borders getting in their way, while enjoying the benefits of WYSIWYG special (explicit) blocks replacing the short-code mechanism. Though, it’s hard to say without trying and comparing it. It would be interesting to try this out and compare between explicit and implicit text blocks.

    I think the Confluence editor is a good example of combining special blocks with text, though the Gutenberg WYSIWYG blocks are a clear improvement over Confluence’s, the latter using modals to configure blocks (widgets) which are represented with placeholders in the editor itself. The Medium editor also comes to mind as an example.

    There are many other things that needs addressing, this is just the biggest one in my opinion. I also agree 100% with @matthewhollett’s review, which touches on some of the same points.

    I hope this can be of some help.

    • This topic was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by tobinus. Reason: @ tag interferred with link tag
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  • Plugin Author Tammie Lister


    Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thorough a review @tobinus. I’m going to try and go through your points in reply, it’s really appreciate you took the time to respond.

    It’s really interesting to see you going through these user types. I absolutely agree that ordinary users aren’t web designers and we shouldn’t make that assumption. The comments you make on flow are good consideration points, particularly around copying text. I think there maybe are some visual compensations and balancing that we can do to make it be ‘less blocky’. Perhaps that’s where the balance comes in. I agree that having the ability to copy and paste as people want is important.

    Whilst this doesn’t bring everything you are suggesting in, there is a suggestion today of a ‘Focus Mode’ that I think responds to some of your points around the toolbar. You can follow that here: It doesn’t do everything but I would love your insights on that.

    Thanks again for your help and considered insights.

    Sorry for the late reply! And thank you for your kind words.

    The different features linked to in that issue put quite a few of my fears at ease. I also see some of them have made it into the plugin already, so I look forward to testing them out some time. At that point, I think it might be better to test the editor with writers without web design experience.

    On another note, I think it would be wise to revisit the defaults later (specifically for the “toolbar at top”, “focus mode” or whatever they end up being called ++), and consider what most people would want, since most will just use the defaults and not bother to check what they can customize. If the first impression is overwhelming and negative, they may give up before getting that far 🙂

    Excellent points! I’m not a coder. I’m a writer, author of 8 fiction and nonfiction books, recipient of 5 awards for my writing. At this point I actively resent having to retool my approach to writing my blog.
    Paragraphs make sense to me.
    Blocks do not make sense.
    So because of this revision of WordPress I am forced to waste valuable time learning how to write with blocks, which I should spend paying attention to and focusing on the main event in my career, which is writing the next book.
    Carol Buchanan

Viewing 3 replies - 1 through 3 (of 3 total)
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