Episode 11: Site Building with Gutenberg – Live Q & A w/ Sarah Semark, Mark Uraine, & Sarah James

  • Sarah Semark (@sarahsemark), product designer for Automattic and Contributor on a few teams WordPress Teams.
  • Sarah James (@apollo_ux), Lead UX Designer at 10up and also a researcher for page building
  • Mark Uraine (@Mapk), designer at Automattic and contributor to WordPress Core, Meta and Documentation Team

Scroll down to the Transcript, provided by Pauli Systems, Naples, Florida



Birgit Pauli-Haack: And, yes. Welcome to … I’m fiddling still with the computer because trying to figure all that out. Now we have a YouTube link, and I’m going to Tweet that out. All right. Whoops. Yes, all right.

So, Hi there, everybody. Welcome to the 11th episode of Gutenberg Times Live Q&A. My name is Birgit Pauli-Haack, I’m the host and the curator of Gutenberg Times. Thank you all for watching. It’s great to have you. Today it’s all about page building and Gutenberg Phase 2, and we have three phenomenal people for you who are working on the cutting edge of it. With me is Sarah Semack, product design of Automattic and contributor on a few WordPress themes. Sarah James, UX designer at Tap, and also researcher for page building or site building, and Mark Uraine, designer in Automattic and contributor to WordPress Core.

We do some proper introduction in less than a minute. But a little bit about the format today. Thank you for attending the show on Zoom and on YouTube. Please use the chat window to tell us where you’re listening from. Where is everybody located? We’re using the Zoom Q&A feature. And you can access this on the bottom of the screen. Also, you’ll see a chat bubble if you have a comment or something that you want to share with us, feel free to use it. We might not get over there right away but we are watching this. We’re also watching the YouTube chat section, where you can post your questions. So where are you all from? Which part of the world are you?

All over. Okay. We have the chat window here. I’m kind of trying to figure this all out on my section here. Okay. So … whoops. Too many screens. All right, well welcome from Petaluma, California. Montana, USA. Hi, Kristin. Michelle is from Michigan, USA. Sacramento. Hi, Jackie. Well, howdy, Zac. Meg and Ben … they are a lot of Californians here. Zac is watching from Washington, and then from Oregon. So cold. Yes. I can see that.

Mark Uraine, Design Team

All right. Let’s get started with the speaker introduction. Start with Mark. Besides being a plugin and theme developer, you have been active to the core team. Core team, meta team, documentation team, wow seriously. Tell us about yourself. Where do you live? What do you do for fun? And what’s your day job like these days?

Mark Uraine: Yeah, I’m in Southern California. So hi, all you Californians and others. You know, for fun I have a wife and three kids all under the age of seven … or under the age of 11 actually, is my oldest. And they keep me very busy. The exploring the world through their eyes is fantastic. My day to day job is I’m a designer with Automattic and right now my focus is Gutenberg Phase 2.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Okay. Not many people know this, but one of your annual tasks is working with Matt Mullenweg on the side tech for the State of the Word. I use it regularly for inspiration for my own slide decks.

Mark Uraine: Thank you.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Thank you.

Mark Uraine: That is a fun project. I look at it as an opportunity to work closer with Matt on something, which I really appreciate. And yeah, I’ve been involved with that since 2016, 2017 I just took a supporting role and someone else lead the design on that. And last year I lead it again. It’s an intense project. There’s a whole group of people that really contribute to pulling that altogether.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, that’s interesting. And it takes a lot of work. Even if it seems effortless when Matt then finally produces it onstage.

Mark Uraine: He’s good at that, right?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah.

Sarah Semark, Research Team

So Sarah Semark, you have been in the WordPress community for a few years now, and consulted on a few teams. Currently you’re working on the user research for page building in the Gutenberg Phase 2. And before we head first into that topic, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What do you do for fun? And what’s your day job?

Sarah Semark: So I live in Edinburgh in Scotland.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Wow.

Sarah Semark: And what do I do for fun? I travel a lot. I like making stuff, so like physical things that do not involve me staring at a computer. I ride a motorcycle. I probably do other things. My day job is I work for Automattic. I do product design stuff. And right now I’m mostly focused on the Phase 2 of Gutenberg.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: As well. So is there a research project that you do? Is that part of the contribution from Automattic to … or your time for it to the project? How do we understand this? Or is it something that you do on top of your work?

Sarah Semark: No no no no. It’s part of it. That would have been … I am not that giving of a person, that I would be willing to do that much in my spare time.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, you don’t have spare time now.

Sarah Semark: Well. I find day jobs tend to bleed into your spare time as it is. So this is a nice sort of confluence thing.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So but it’s a very big research project or research team. It’s a very young team. How can people get involved in the research efforts around the WordPress and especially Gutenberg Phase 2.

How to get involved on the Research Team?

Sarah Semark: So that’s a great question that I don’t have 100 percent concrete answer to. The research efforts are sort of something new that’s kicking off. There’s not really a team so much as it is a group of people who are interested in research. And we’d like to be able to facilitate more people doing research studies. So as we worked on the study that we’ve just sort of finished, that site building study, we’ve been working on developing a tool kit of basically things that’ll help make it easier to run your own research study. So checklists, guides for how to create a research plan. I have a flow chart idea in my head for how to choose methodology, that is not finished.

But basically right now what I’d really like to do is encourage more people to do research studies. Whether that’s usability testing or the sort of exploratory study that we did. And there’s a Slack channel, it’s called research. So if anybody is interested in talking about research or doing their own study or even looking into the data that we have, ’cause we have a big database full of all the insights that we collected from the site building study. The best way to get involved is just pop in there and say, “Hello.”

Birgit Pauli-Haack: All right. Well thank you. And I know you’re very welcome for any opinions there. At least you treat people very nicely. So it’s a joy to join.

Sarah James, 10Up, Research Team

So Sarah James, you’re passion is user-centric design. And you’re also leading the research time with Sarah Semark. And to avoid confusion you let me call you by your nickname, Sam. So Sam, tell us about yourself. Where do you live? What do you do for fun? And what are you working on in your day job?

Sarah James: Great, yeah. I’m Sarah James. She/her pronouns. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. So in the United States. Nice weather here today. So I see Mark, I don’t know if the panelists can see everyone but Mark’s nodding his head. He knows that this area of the US is really nice this time of year. I also have kiddos. I have a four year old son and two 11 month old twin boys. So when I am not working I’m usually playing lots of Lego or other types of more kid-friendly toys. And just as Mark said it’s super fun to watch this age, and see them learning.

When I’m not doing that I’m usually found brewing beer, reading a lot. Really huge fan of Harry Potter, might be kind of a typical thing to say but I am a Potter nerd. And yeah, I work for 10up. We are a web shop that does everything. We do strategy, engineering, user-centric design, user experience design. Creating top class experiences all over the world.

One of the core values of 10up is being involved in the community, whether that is … we have a couple, dedicated employees is that’s 100 percent what they do. They’re working on WordPress core. And they’re making it better. We have lots of plugins that we put out to the community because we really believe in that open-sourceness. And as a user experience designer I was lucky enough to get more into how do we use user-centered design, user research, those kinds of things to make WordPress even better.

And the way I originally got into that is I did unmoderated user testing of Gutenberg when it was a plugin to see what people who have maybe never seen the interface would think and do and say what they experience. And that has cascaded into getting more time with the community and really working closely with Sarah and Mark on this project. So it’s been really fun to be able to have that day job where I’m doing user experience design with 10up, but also being able to dedicate some time to the core team and core community at Automattic to really push forward user centered design with Phase 2.

Progress on Gutenberg Phase 2

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Wonderful. Yeah. Well let’s dive into the first part of it. Like everyday, Mark, you publish and update about the progress of Gutenberg Phase 2 on the Design Make blog. Can you walk us through the total scope of Gutenberg Phase 2, just to kind of see the whole picture?

Mark Uraine: You bet. So Phase 2 was really outlined by Matt in his Nine Projects for 2019 post. An a handful of those pertain to Gutenberg specifically. And so we’ve kind of been working within those focus areas we’re calling them, to push Gutenberg forward. And those focus areas are widgets to blocks, which we’re creating all core widgets and converting them into blocks right now. This will include using these blocks within the widgets screen in the wp admin and also the customizer currently.

And the other focus area is a navigation block. So creating a navigation block is very complex. There’s a lot people could possibly do there, or may not want to consider doing and have something a little bit easier. So that’s being thought through a lot by Sarah Semark right now and Mel Choyce and others that are contributing there.

The other focus area is themes registering content areas in Gutenberg. So this will start replacing the current page templates basically, with like block-based page templates. And that is gonna go a little bit later, happen a little bit later, as more discussions keep happening on GitHub around that issue.

The fourth focus area is tightening up, which we heard Matt mention in State of the Word. We really want to make Gutenberg shine. We wanna polish it up, and just make it an enjoyment and a delight to use. And that includes block interaction consistencies, micro-interactions like animations, and even really get accessibility inclusion in there. We’re forming a great relationship right now with the accessibility team. And it’s really bringing us forward, which I love.

So feeding, also, feeding into all that, is the research, which is why we’re here today. This research, if everyone can please read it because these things are driving a lot of our decisions forward. And it’d be great if everyone’s on board and understands the reasons behind a lot of the choices we’re making. So, you’re on mute.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: I wanted to kind of share some of the links, but I’ll do it in a minute. So before we head into the research and have the Sarahs kind of take over this a little bit more, can you kind of … what are the early … after months and a week into Gutenberg Phase 2, what are the early successes that you see and that you’re excited about?

Mark Uraine: Yeah, there’s been some great successes. Right now, research. To have this generative or exploratory research to help feed into some of this kind of stuff is fantastic. The second one I’d say is collaboration, like I mentioned with the accessibility team, API team. I know there’s a lot of cross-communication right now happening. And it’s fantastic to see how well the core editor Slack channel is doing right now. All those conversations are so productive that it’s great to watch. Plus communication consistency I’d add to that is a great success. As long as we’re maintaining a consistent communication platform where things are being shared among the community and the community knows what’s happening and can contribute back to it, that’s a success.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Awesome, and I’m gonna share your latest update on the Gutenberg Phase 2, which has a lot of links in there and touches on most of those topics that you just mentioned. On the YouTube channel as well as here on our chat, so people can go and read a lot about it. Well, thank you.

I also know that Gutenberg 5.0 was released this week, and it has a few widgets already in there, like the RSS feed that seems to be everybody … a lot of people are excited about that. And some other great stuff, but you need to make sure, for those who are listening, so Gutenberg was developed in a plugin first and then was integrated into core. Also released is the WordPress 5.1 release candidate 1. But when that version comes out finally on February 21st, it will have Gutenberg 4.8 with it. And not 5.0. So if you wanna have the 5.0 goodies and shiny new objects, you need to kind of download the Gutenberg plugin and install it on your site. Just make sure you’re already on a WordPress 5 version. That’s just kind of a PSA that I just figured out myself that that’s, “Oh, there can be some confusion there.”

User Research

So Sarah and Sam, you both are leading the research. And how you use this to page building, or better ways site building. Why did you start this research project and why is it so important to be part of that process? What are the different pieces? Can you walk us through it for the various stages, Sarah?

Sarah Semark: Sure.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: There were a lot of questions, I know. Take it from the top.

Sarah Semark: My brain can only retain three things at a time, so you’re okay. I think that was three.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Okay. You’re really good. I only can retain two. Or one.

Sarah Semark: So a lot of the rationale behind doing this was to better understand our users. The best way to understand your users is to talk to them. And as an introvert, I hate that. I would love if there were a way to understand users without talking to them, but there aren’t really great ways. So talking to users is the best way to do it. And grounding the project in an understanding of end users, and end users aren’t necessarily the people that you talk to in the community, because the community represents a very, very small slice of the 30 odd percent of the Internet that uses WordPress.

The vast majority of people who use WordPress don’t really know or care that it’s an open source project, or what that means. They just think of it as something to build a website. And so when we don’t talk to them, we end up sort of assuming that everybody thinks the way we do, which is often wildly inaccurate. Because we have a very privileged understanding of understanding of technology because we are building it all the time.

So I would say that would be sort of the primary reason for undertaking this kind of thing. To sort of gain an understanding of some of the end users who will actually be able … who will be using the product in the end. So we can empathize with them, and think through product decisions from their perspective. I definitely forgot the second question, sorry.

I think you mentioned sort of the different pieces. It took a while, because exploratory research can be kind of complicated because you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. And we also had a lot of people involved. But we started by planning it out, which meant lots of Word documents back and forth, and comments back and forth. There are definitely two or three versions of the research plan that we did. So a lot of planning, and then we did some stakeholder chats, which is crazy because the stakeholders for an open source project like this are the entire community. And Sarah can speak more to some sort of collecting feedback from the community.

And then we talked to people, we wrote scripts, and we talked to 17 different people over the course of about a week and half, I think. And then we crunched all the data, which was also a lengthy process. So basically taking all the notes and coding it and classifying it and there are multiple giant databases full of bits of information. And then we just tried to make sense of it, which is just the five posts that are going out in the Make Design blog now.

Sarah James: And, Sarah, to add to that, part of the reason we started with learning more about the general way people look at websites, their vocabulary, we internally have a lot of jargon, right? We say, “A widget or a page builder or a blog.” We wanted to see how other people think of it, so we could then apply that to design decisions and ideas.

One other thing, just to real quick step back, we talk about user research here. Some people think when you hear that word you might think user testing or UAT or quality assurance testing. This wasn’t us going and saying, “Here’s the interface. Does it succeed or fail in these tests?” Instead it was a broader study of understanding behaviors and the way people view and use WordPress or any kind of content management system. And that’s really a huge foundational piece to now what next and what to do.

So I just wanted to add that little bit that when we think of user research this was, as Sarah said, talking to people. And it wasn’t, “Here’s task a, b, c. Does this succeed or fail?” Which gives us some info but doesn’t give us the information of well why? Or what are your thoughts? Or why did you choose the path that you did in this? So that was obviously fascinating for all of us to learn. To go into is thinking one thing, and then people start talking and you’re like, “Oh, wow, that’s totally different than anything I would have thought of.” And I see everyone smiling so there’s kind of agreement there.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, do you have an example for that? From your own experience right now? So do you say-

Sarah James: The user testing we just did?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: What this applies to or …

Sarah James: I think one person in particular that we talking to that was in the blogosphere. So really focused on their own blog. They actually had five different blogs. He, and three co writers, almost used WordPress as their draft. They created a draft and would, I think, Sarah, if you remember, would save it. So it wasn’t just a preview or whatnot. But it was like they were writing a post back and forth. And instead of it being like a Word document or a Google share document or a DropBox paper, they were actually using the WordPress interface to save and add comments and write this collaboratively. And I hadn’t seen that workflow before and that was fascinating to me.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Very interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, I can see that. Yeah. Mark, do you wanna add something to it?

Mark Uraine: You know, it was a very good experience. To see the people, in their environment, oftentimes we’d get to talk to them over video. And just watching them in their environment and how they talk about WordPress and their lives. Like WordPress is a big part of their life in many cases. And so recognizing that, as Sam had mentioned, they all kind of use it differently. Or they have their own processes. And WordPress right now, we’re going through some growing pains, we’re evolving it a little bit.

And we need to recognize that people have very stable processes on how they use it, and what they use it for. So this research helps me personally understand that we need to communicate these changes. Because eventually, these changes will affect them. And we wanna make sure that that is a positive experience for them.

Sarah James: And that’s a great point, Mark. We did hear, all of us, when people would start talking about Gutenberg, their various different opinions. Especially I really focused on that blogger. That people were really set in their ways. And they were so nervous to install 5.0, or even install the Gutenberg plugin, because they were like, “I already know this. I don’t wanna relearn something.” And that was kind of a pain point but also a theme that we heard. I think, Sarah, you may have heard some of those types of comments too. We kind of all knew. Like, “Okay, someone’s gonna say Gutenberg. Get ready to play the drinking game.”

Sarah Semark: One participant heard about the Gutenberg drinking game, and then when I made a weird face she was like, “Yeah, no. I know you have a game with this.” ‘Cause you could tell when it was coming.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah so, you were not the only ones working on it. And on the face of it, the number 17 seems to be very low considering that there are millions, and hundreds of millions, not millions, using WordPress. And exploratory … but there’s a lot of work involved. So there were these … you had … I didn’t count them, but there were a large amount of contributors doing the interviews, reviewing the videos, putting the data together. And then … and you published quite a bit about the project. So do you have some results and recommendations that you wanna … or key takeaways, Sarah, that you wanna share with us here?

Sarah Semark: So in terms of sort of findings from the actual talking to people part, I will be publishing today sort of the final last part of our report, which includes findings, recommendations, and sort of a analysis of some of the themes that showed up. That is 90 percent ready to go. The biggest takeaways for me, I think, were that change is hard for people. As Mark and Sam mentioned. Adapting to change is very difficult for people who have very ingrained ways of doing something and aren’t interested in learning something new. So they really need to be … they need to have a good reason for learning something new. It needs to offer them something. Rather than just this is going to be a better experience. They need a reason to invest the time in learning that. Because they don’t care about building a site.

And they think, when you work with technology for a living you think, or you tend to think, that people enjoy the process. But the vast majority of people, they want to hire somebody to do it, but they can’t afford to hire somebody to do it. So they’re going to do it, but they’re not going to enjoy it, and they want it to be over as quickly as possible.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: And that’s … I think you … so I shared on the chat the first post about the research, site building research with the background. And also the preliminary key findings and recommendations. And I also shared it on YouTube. But you had some recommendations early in the process. Who should actually read those? Who was the target audience for, just taking one of that from the post, kind of split themes into styles and templates. Provide different paths for power users or beginners. All these recommendations. Who were the people to … the target audience for that?

Sarah Semark: Is everybody a cop-out answer?

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Nope.

Sarah Semark: It absolutely is a cop-out answer. The recommendations are sort of purposely high level. They’re based solely on things that we sort of noticed in people. And things that we would suggest considering. And obviously if any of those are things that people want to turn into product decisions, that is a much larger conversation that would probably merit more research and more understanding of sort of the problem spaces. The recommendations are intended to sort of act as guidelines for making product decisions, things to keep in mind as those decisions are happening, as we’re working on sort of smaller components that make up the overall whole.

Mark Uraine: I’ll even add to that that not just core designers, developers, contributors should be reading this. If you’re a plugin developer, this is great information for you.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: I agree. I agree. But it’s also probably a good idea to think who’s reading it and then for whom. Who are you building your product? And what I saw on your research on the following reports that you divided up the user that you encountered into some groups. Like the bloggers, the small business owner who builds … the DIY business owner who builds your own site kind of thing. And then site builders, those who started as a blogger but then build websites for other people. What are the main differences that you saw in those categories?

Sarah James: One was, I’ll just in real quick and Sarah can add some, a big one that I found is the way people discussed, their vocabulary around it. But also the way they go about writing. So writing a post or doing a post. So for example, a lot of the bloggers would say, “If I don’t know how to do this, I’m gonna google it. Or I’m gonna look it up. Or I have this ability to do it myself.” Versus the site builders have a different type or set of resources, or a different way that they’re viewing kind of technical problem statements and as such.

Sarah, I believe you can speak to this, that we didn’t originally have this audience group. It happened to be that this is what shook out, is that after looking through it we realized, “Oh we’re really talking to these segments of folks and they have so many different aspects and personality traits and characteristics to the way they view this that we wanna separate them out to make sure no one’s sort of missed.”

Sarah Semark: Yeah. There was a great question on one of the posts. I think it was four or three, I can’t remember anymore, about how did we do the segmentation, earlier today. Which is a great question and the answer is like, “Kinda guessed.” Which is not the most sciencey method. But segmenting people into sort of behavioral categories like that helps you to make generalizations about that group based on their sort of behaviors and how they use the product.

One of the challenges with WordPress and with feeling like we know the users of WordPress is that there are so many of them. And so not everybody is going to have the same set of needs, and a lot of those needs are going to conflict directly with one another. A small business is likely has very different needs, and even ways of thinking about how they build the site, than a blogger or an agency or a big publisher or something like that. So those categories sort of help us to make more generalizations. And from a small group of people extrapolate an understanding of a bigger group of people. So we can build something that meets their needs or is tailored to them.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: That you might have a comment, Mark?

Mark Uraine: I’m just in agreement with all those statements right there. It’s some of the differences between the categories of, or the segmentation of users that we talked with, are evident that definitely … like small businesses were very time concerned, right? They don’t have very much time to do things. Just getting through a website. One person I talked to, not in an interview study group, but elsewhere mentioned that WordPress is almost a barrier to getting your website out there. Any CMS is really a barrier that you kind of have to struggle through to get that website up. And when you think of it that … I never thought of it that way, that it could be a barrier … here I’m thinking, “Oh, WordPress, we’re giving you all these tools.” But it could be a barrier and a struggle for people. And that’s interesting.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, I see this when I work with a few non-profits. One non-profit even said, “You gotta have a PhD to work with WordPress.” I didn’t think it was that hard but she was very excited when I showed her Gutenberg and how easy it is to actually get some things done. But I wanted to go back to those generalizations. I think attempting generalizations. So a German writer says, “Generalizations are always important and never right.” But I think what it helps is that you actually identify the edges. That you say, “Okay, this is the ball that we know we have to deal with, but now let’s look at the edges of things. And how can we make this also work for either edge cases or populations that don’t use it that much.” Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that as well? Or how do you feel about that?

Sarah Semark: One of-

Sarah James: Go ahead, Sarah.

Sarah Semark: I’m gonna be really quick. I was just gonna say, that sounds a lot like … I’ve heard it referred to as the mainstreams and the extremes, which I love ’cause it rhymes. And we know that things are true when they rhyme. You sort of … you want to design for the majority, but you also want to consider the edge cases. There’s a great thing about when they designed, I think it was crash test dummies, and they designed for average height people. But nobody’s of average height, right? And if you’re very tall it’s not gonna work for you, if you’re very tall or very short. A combination of sort of those extremes helps a lot. So you sort of want a combination of both. Go ahead.

Sarah James: Yeah, I mean mine was kind of a philosophical level too, which is as humans we like to categorize. We like to understand what things are and put them in certain buckets. So it’s an interesting researcher bias to both want to make sense of data in a way that you’re organizing by patterns you see and different types of categories that you’re looking at, without at the same (broadcast freezes) one’s fitting into a certain-

Birgit Pauli-Haack: You just froze.

Sarah James: Sorry. Someone sitting in a certain mold. I hope I was making a good hand gesture.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Very expressive, yes.

Sarah James: And so it is interesting from a research bias, is that you don’t wanna go in with assumptions, but then coming out of it the purpose of categorizing is so you can make sense of all this information that you’ve just discovered.

Mark Uraine: Totally. One of my favorite things through this is my expectations just being blown out of the water by some user who is just talking about this differently than I would have thought.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah it’s a very interesting to talk to some of the users. So what I really love about your publications was the two graphics that come with it when you talk about the different segments, like the blogger and the small business owner and the agency. No, not the agency. The site builder, so the speak. The site implementer. You have first a journey and identify different roads, or different stages on the journey, and then you have four categories. And then you have the pain points in a love it, hate it kind of diagram going through. Can you explain this a little bit more, when people kind of read this, how to read those?

Sarah James: So first of all, I wanted to say Sarah and I had probably … it was a morning for me and an evening for her, ’cause we’re about eight hours difference, where we were sending graphic after graphic after image to say, “Should we think of it this way? Or this way? Or what about this? What about that?” And what we ultimately realized is one thing that helped, again, organize the information in a way that helped sort of enlighten and consolidate what we studied is this task-based approach where people are thinking about things in certain tasks. They do this, then this, then this, and then next. And granted, the tasks can be sort of all over the place, of course. But what we saw was a pattern emerge that’s linear.

So when you’re looking at something. When you’re looking at that graphic and the link that was in there, for example just dropped in there, you’re reading it left to right. You’re looking at the tasks for that high level category, and then one, two, three, four underneath. And then the graph underneath is showing … when we would hear different levels of pain points, or delight, when people were really excited or into it, so you’ll see on some of them right away at the beginning. They’re starting their website, they’re really excited, but then they need to find a theme and it just tanks down.

So being able to empathize with our users and create this user journey also allows us to find areas of friction where we can then design towards, or make recommendations toward … we can say, “Oh, look at this little point.” And to Sarah’s point earlier, whether that becomes a product decision that’s a core product decision, or maybe someone who creates plugins or does themes or does something else in the community says, “Oh, here’s an opportunity that I can make this better. And make an experience be better, rather than guessing at it.”

And yeah, I kind of think of the sort of graphic graveyard that we had of all these different ones. And Sarah, big props to her, to saying, “No, this one makes sense. Let’s kinda combine these and do it that way.” And once we saw it, it just clicked. And we said, “Yeah, this makes sense.”

Sarah Semark: It’s really helpful to have visuals as well. The sort of tricky thing about that is we want the reports to be as accessible as possible and putting text and images looks per here, but it’s not very accessible, so I’d actually like to go through those posts and put really long alt text on them. So they’re a bit more accessible. But being able to see somebody’s path through building a site and refer back to it in a visualization like that, can really help. Especially if you happen to be visually minded, which I am. Like an image is easier to understand than this much text.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Right right right right yeah.

Sarah James: Or a spreadsheet of two or three thousand rows of data. You don’t wanna look … you guys, the people on the call, you didn’t wanna look at that, trust me. I mean, maybe you’re really into it like we are, but that visual is a lot.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah, when I was looking at those graphics what really jumped out at me is when different people think about content. So the blogger talks about, very early with content, and then over the course of the journey they try out different themes, how they fit their content. And a small business UI owner has the content also up front, but they go right away into the tool selection and then the theme and then kind of building that out. It was very interesting to see. So props to your graphical design there. And selecting the right graphics, yeah.

So I’m looking at our Zoom Q&A, and it seems that nobody has questions. What is it? You’re normally not that shy, people. Normally we’ll have quite a few questions. So use the Q&A section there. I’m also looking over to the YouTube channel, and even there. Well, hi, Kevin. Hi, Felicia. Yeah, no question there.

Panel is very informative, yeah? I think so. Yes, it’s a great conversation. I know that … so when you’re a patron on Patreon, a patron of Gutenberg Times, you actually get first dibs on a question. So I notice that Gordon sent me a question for Mark. It’s kind of gets a little bit off the topic, but what are the design best practices for Gutenberg plugin using the sidebar API? So how to design in a way that looks Gutenberg like? So can you also do it custom, or is it just keeping vanilla and default WordPress looking? And he is here, so he might be able to elaborate a little bit or have a follow up question.

Mark Uraine: Sure, I can speak to that a little bit. The plugin sidebar is … so first, Gutenberg has a handbook and design principles on the wordpress.org website, which are really helpful for guiding people or developing or designing these things within Gutenberg. But the plugin sidebar essentially is a place where plugins can add some setting that aren’t necessarily … or non-block-related settings for the most part. So if you have some settings that affect the page as a whole or something like that, that’s basically where those would go. Otherwise a lot of the settings are very block-based and would go inside the block inspector sidebar. But I hope that’s helpful.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So in the pre-Gutenberg world, there was this … every plugin kind of put their own settings in and had a different style and things kinda. So this is not happening on Gutenberg right now, because it’s the accordion and whatever’s in there follows the form of the Gutenberg team kind of laid out as a default. Are there ways to customize that? Or I think that was the question. Maybe.

Mark Uraine: So definitely there’s different things that can be done to customize. I think essentially the interface elements are really … like it’s important to follow the patterns that are being set forward by Gutenberg, especially in those sidebars and things. So I think that’s important to do, so that way users have a consistent interface that they can work with. And then however the block pans out, however that affects the content on the page, I think is up to the plugin developers. Ultimately when you preview a block, and you see it in the editor, it’s gonna be styled differently however the developer, or the theme, might dictate that.

Sarah James: And, Mark, to jump in and do a little jump of user testing and user experience and research. That’s something that if you have a couple of different ideas, there’s a lot of ways that you can quickly test that to see that’s moving more into the success or fail? Does this work here? Do people understand it? Et cetera. So keep that in mind. We can help.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Alright, yeah.

Mark Uraine: Awesome.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So we have three questions, and we’ll do them in order as they come in. So it’s Taylor first, Ben, and then Felicia. So Taylor asks, “Has there been any consideration of longitudinal studies to see how new users progress to more experienced users?” That’s about the user research. Who wants to take it?

Sarah James: We have discussed … thanks for you question, Taylor … we have discussed having sort of more of the longitudinal studies. Sarah and Mark and I are sort of drinking from a fire hose right now as far as getting research and deciding what’s kind of right now for Phase 2 that’s happening fast and furiously versus kind of longer studies. Sarah, I can’t recall if we’ve specifically discussed that versus it came up more secondarily or not, but I think it’s an excellent idea of course.

Sarah Semark: So yeah. It would be great to do a lot of different studies, and that’s a great idea. And if that’s something you’re interested in doing, we have all these resources to help you.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Nice segue. Yeah, so-

Sarah Semark: Part of what we want to encourage is for everybody to be doing research, right? It’s not just the design thing, it’s really an everybody thing. And it would be lovely if that happened more regularly across the project. And there’s so much to explore that we haven’t explored that picking something to dive into is sort of tricky. So it would definitely be great to see that happen.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So Ben Grace asks, “Is there anything that came out of your research that made you want to change how Gutenberg currently works? Or was there something that really surprised you that you didn’t expect?”

Sarah James: So thanks for the question, Ben. I did a lot of … so separate from this broader moderated user research that we did and spoke to 17 people, I have done a few other more usability kind of tests and studies. One was a quantitative survey that we sent out to, there was about 160 people who responded … but another thing I did was the usability of the publish button to see if people understand this is where you publish, would you expect a second screen? ‘Cause as you know, you click, it says here some other options et cetera.

And interestingly enough, everyone who was either intermediate or advanced in technology totally understood it, which is what I expected. When I went to beginners, the people who said that they have beginning technical proficiency, they just didn’t understand. I don’t know if that was because they didn’t know what a kind of CMS interface logged in state is. A WordPress interface logged in state. But most of the people, when we showed them a picture of the article, they clicked the image in the article or the body copy and then assumed the article was published. So that was really … that was very surprising.

And a little plug I’m doing a write up right now where I’m gonna publish some of those findings, but that was just, “Why do you not know where publish is? It’s a big button that says publish? Why would you click on someone’s image?” So that was one, in particular, for me that was a very specific example that kind of surprised me. Sarah and Mark, did you have any things in the moderated, etc that sort of were surprising or make you wanna change Gutenberg?

Sarah Semark: I think the big thing that I may have changed is how we rolled it out? Because I think the thing that really came up … again, we weren’t evaluating the current state of Gutenberg. We didn’t mention Gutenberg when we interviewed people. Most people did mention it, which is why it became a drinking game.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: It’s cool.

Sarah Semark: It wasn’t actually a drinking game. Anyway, I think a lot of what we heard from people was, “I don’t want to learn something new. I don’t know why I should learn something new. I don’t know why we changed it. And people who were newer to WordPress were like, “Oh no. Gutenberg’s great. Of course that’s the way I’d want to do it.”

So I think the big sort of finding there, if we could apply it sort of retroactively would be to sort of roll it out in a more incremental or more reversible kind of way. And to really explain to people what the value of upgrading would be.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So we have one question, so we have four more questions. And Felicia Betancourt asked on YouTube, “Will there be a Gutenberg block that creates a loop? For example, a block for the ten most recent posts in category X?” And I think there’s something like that already in there. Mark?

Mark Uraine: We do have some blocks that display recent posts or latest posts. But if you’re looking to try to grab some posts that target a specific category or tag, I don’t believe that’s part of the block right now. But that is a great extension. I know there are some other block developers that have built things like that, so …

Sarah James: Yeah, at 10up we’ve had a lot of our clients request something very similar. So we know that that is a feature request that a lot of people are looking into. So certainly, we’ve heard that comment.

Mark Uraine: Sounds like a good tightening up option for that blog.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: I know that there are plugins out there like the Atomic Blocks, who actually have quite a nice post grid that you can plug into your posts, or pages, as a blog. And I think there are some suite, block suites, or collection of blocks out there that actually pick up on that missing category. And then also the missing featured image, to kind of pull that into the loop, yeah? Atomic Block is available on the repository for free. So that is certainly a way for you to go, Felicia. Thank you for the question.

Fabian from Germany, “I was wondering whether the studies only cover the experience using, for example, the editor, or also the development of stuff for it as well?” Thank you. I think what you’re trying to say is it just a page editor or is it also site building? And I think, yeah, that was actually the more the focus, right?

Sarah Semark: Yeah, we weren’t actually evaluating Gutenberg. We actually talked to people who ran websites that were on Squarespace mostly as well. Because we didn’t want to just talk to WordPress users. So we didn’t really evaluate the editor at all. We did a little bit of sort of looking over people’s shoulders while they walked us through some stuff they did on their sites. But it was intended to be at a more high level where it was more about sort of how they customized their site, how they think about it, what the regular tasks they do in their site are, and sort of what their flows for doing and accomplishing the task are.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Well, thank you. And we have a few more questions. So one from Anne, and then actually two from Marcus. Anne, “Do you think blocks will eventually make custom fields deprecated?” Thanks, Anne. Mark, do you have an idea about that?

Mark Uraine: Thanks, Anne. That’s a good question. You know, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. The blocks are very robust, or they can be very robust. You can do a lot there. One of the principles is that that block is the interface and allows the user to really customize and set up a block for the need that they’re looking for. So how that exactly integrates with custom fields, I’m not sure. I don’t have a great answer for that one.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: I think we will just see how far people can take it. So Marcus more has, I don’t see a question mark in there but I’m kind of … we’ll just read his comments. So Marcus hates tool tips. They seem to pop up all the time, even though I’m constantly exiting them. So it might be something to do with the cookies, if I’m not wrong about that. And then … go ahead, Mark.

Mark Uraine: I was just gonna say, I feel that pain. I experience it often.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah.

Mark Uraine: Part of tightening up for Phase 2 is to really kind of look at those tips again and to revamp them in a way that maybe is more in line with what the user is actually doing, and is helpful for when the user performs an action, that that tip might come up during that flow to better inform the user. Rather than just saying, “Here’s all the tips up front.” And as they cover interface elements.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Okay, well thank you. And the tool tips are also were thought about that maybe that the plugin also could have into that. I’m not so quite sure if that’s a really good idea. But we will see how that comes out. So Marcus also said, “As a site builder, I’m really, really concerned about block locking. So we tried to not use third party blocks at this time, although they’re really nice.” So if it’s the old idea, if I install a plugin and the plugin goes away, what happens with my content?

Mark Uraine: So we’re trying to work with that. So with blocks, you get the HTML version of that block then. If it’s a dynamic block, that is if the plugins no longer there, right? If it’s a dynamic block and it’s really relying on some dynamic elements, that could be a problem there.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Okay. So we have in the chat, I didn’t look at that, but a few. How’s your time? Should we wrap it up or do we have time for two more questions?

Mark Uraine: I’m okay.

Sarah James: Okay.

Sarah Semark: I’m good.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So Jamie asks, “What do you all see as the future for themes and template files in WordPress?” I think that also goes back to your recommendation to separate the styles from the templates? Yeah, Sam, what do you think?

Sarah James: I was gonna say, I wish I had a crystal ball to be able to know. I think there’s so many iterations and this is gonna be, as Sarah said, kind of a cop-out, but there’s so many iterations happening right now, and we’re learning so much, and we’re seeing how it’s being used that I think it’s gonna evolve in a way that whatever I predict right now is gonna be totally different in a year from now when we’re looking back. So we should have this QA exactly a year from now to see what has changed and what is different. I think it’s hard to say.

But I can say that what we did with the moderated user testing is a lot of people don’t think of templates really that way? That wasn’t in their vocabulary. We often heard unless it was the site builder’s. ‘Cause again, that’s the jargon. But the business and the bloggers really don’t think of their site that way.

Sarah Semark: There’s a lot of sort of conflict around themes as well. Not that the themes themselves aren’t great, but perhaps the architecture that we have for them isn’t matching the way that users think about building a site. So we saw a lot of people who said they spend tons of time trying to find a theme that works, and they never could get it quite right. Or they struggle to get it to look like the demo. And it’s possible that some of that is because they like the styling of the theme but they don’t like sort of layout and structure. Or they like the structure or some of the functionalities even that are baked into themes, but they don’t like the style. I think there’s some sort of unnecessarily conflict there that maybe be solvable.

Sarah James: Yeah and one of the biggest things that was sort of my mind blowing moment is that this is sort of a duh statement, like I knew this, but to hear it was … people already know their content. They know what they wanna write. They know the types of things that they want on their site. So now they’re trying to kind of square peg, round hole. Look for these themes. It’s not like they look for the theme they’re like, “Oh, this is cool. Now I’m gonna write a blog about recipes and cooking.” No, they have their content, so now they’re trying to … if they don’t have the agency or someone that can build something customizable for them, they’re trying to plug and play with whatever they have. So that was a pain point that we heard.

Mark Uraine: And with-

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So, Mark, your production for future themes.

Mark Uraine: I was gonna comment that while people have that content in mind, right? And with the classic editor you were there, and you were just gonna write some content, and add some images and photos. But now with Gutenberg it’s like, you no longer are just doing content, you’re doing layout with these pages. These blocks are about layout, oftentimes. And so we’ve introduced something new, and in that way we need to reevaluate how the whole system is working. We have blocks. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were … themes were providing these page block templates? And maybe that got surfaced in a way, because I would agree with Sam that these users may not think in template form, right? But they see a demo page, and they kinda want it to look like the demo page, so maybe that theme provides a block template so that it’s just plugged like, one click, bam now I have a bunch of placeholders and blocks that are ready to go and I just need to fill them in with content. So in a way there is that separation, and I think that separation is going to be happening more.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: And more like a layout builder rather than a theme kind of thing, yeah. I get it. So Ben has a comment thought. “What do you think should happen with the post title block? Will that be filterable or changeable or removable for themes and plugins?”

Mark Uraine: Yeah, great question, Ben. This is definitely something that we’re looking at with Phase 2 is how some of those blocks work better as far as … oftentimes people have a title … you have that title, right? For your page, but you may not want that title to be displayed on your home page. So how do you remove it right now? It’s very interconnected with the post content screen. So we’re looking at ways as we extend Gutenberg outside of the post content area, how we can pull that title block out, or change it up so that it can be removed, or hidden, or we’ll see. There’s a lot of discussion. There’s discussion on GitHub for sure, regarding that very fact.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So Doug had another suggestion for Felicia for the loop block. The Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg plugin in the repository also has some solutions for that. So you get plenty of choices now. Anne also comments that the additional CSS field, under the advanced tab, is really, really helping her and she likes it very much.

So yeah, so I think that’s all the time we have. We should … this is fabulous. Thank you so much, it was great fun and I learned a ton about research and how to approach it and how much work is actually behind all the reports that came out, Sarah and Sam. And the whole team there and with Mark. So if people want to get in touch with you, what would be the best way to reach you? And do you have any announcements that you want our viewers and listeners to see … to know about? Sorry. Who wants to start? Sarah?

Sarah Semark: If people are interested in talking about research, there is a research channel in Slack. Does what it says on the tin. It’s really quiet, we’re very friendly, most of us. I was referring to myself in terms of being the unfriendly one. We really want to encourage more people to get involved in research, whether that’s participating in existing research studies or running something of your own. Or even just discussing it. Again, if you want to dive into the data that we have, it would be great having more people looking into that. You may well find things that we haven’t seen. We’re trying to make as much of the process and the results public as possible, while still sort of considering privacy concerns obviously. We don’t want to reveal private user data. But we figured out a way around that. So if you want to talk about research, you want to run a research study, or if you just want to look at the stuff we’ve already done, come and join us in Slack.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: And how can people reach you? There? Obviously you are on Twitter?

Sarah Semark: I knew there was a second part of the question that I’d forgotten.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Well it’s been a long time.

Sarah Semark: There would be great. I’m in Slack as Sarahmonster, I’m fairly certain. Feel free to ping me, you could try. Mention me on Twitter but I don’t check it very often. So I would go with Slack.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Okay. How about you, Mark?

Mark Uraine: Yeah so, you can chat with me on Slack. My username is Mapk. It’s the Russian spelling of my name. Same thing on Twitter is @Mapk. So I do check Twitter and Slack often. I’m always there. Please drop me a line.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Well, thank you. And Sam?

Sarah James: Yeah, I’m available on Slack. My 10up work email is just my name with a period in the middle. So Sarah.james@10up.com. I am also available via Twitter @apollo_ux, so any of those. And my one little plug is some of the conversations we were having about the quantitative data and surveys that we were doing, that’s gonna be published. I’m gonna publish on the make WordPress design side, but also at 10up.com, so there’ll be both that publishing and also a lot of the information that people said when we asked what were lessons from Phase 1, what do you wanna refine in Phase 2, what were some pain points of Phase 2. There’s so much information that I’m gonna publish probably next week. So be on the lookout for that.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: So it will help to subscribe to the make.WordPress.org/design blog, because not only to you get all the information from those wonderful women leading that project, and reporting on it, on the research, but also where Mark publishes his updates to the Gutenberg Phase 2. I’m so glad that you were able to come on a Friday into our show. Thank you so much. And I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And thank you to our viewers and listeners for your great questions. If you have more questions, you can always send them to me via email pauli@gutenbergtimes.com. The recording is available in a few minutes on the YouTube channel. It just needs to render. And then we’ll publish a transcript and the audio for the podcast later this month on the Gutenberg Times.

The next Gutenberg Times live Q&A will be on March 8th. It will be something very special and close to my heart. I’m thrilled to have as guests Josepha Haden, freshly appointed executive director of The WordPress Project. We have Daniel Bachhuber, longtime contributor to WordPress core and release focus lead for the Rest API in WordPress 5.0. And Jonathan Desrosiers, who’s also core commenter and web developer at Bluehost. We will be talking about leading through change. Of Gutenberg, of course. Hope to see you all there. And bring a friend. You can already sign up for it, and I will put the link in the YouTube channel because the Zoom thing will go away after the meeting.

The show is sponsored by Pauli Systems and our generous patrons of Patreon. If you find our work valuable, you can become a patron too. Thanks again to Sarah, Mark, and Sam. It’s been great fun, folks. You all stay warm. Be well. Goodbye and good luck. Bye bye.

Mark Uraine: Thank you so much for having us.

Sarah James: Thanks.Sarah Semark: Thanks.