Rethinking Themes in WordPress

Gutenberg editor was set-out to get rid of the “mystery meat” people had to learn over the years to find the right places to add or change content on their WordPress sites.

Phase 1:  Shortcodes,  Meta-Boxes, Custom Fields, and to some extended Custom Post Types. At least they are much easier to integrate into front-end display. In some ways, it also took care of core widgets, now available from within your post content. In Phase 2, the mystery meat items on the chopping blocks are – Menus/Navigation, Widget areas, Site-Wide settings currently managed via the Customizer..

The full-site-editing won’t make all the previous features obsolete, but bring it all into a single user interface so the site owner, blogger, the end user, don’t need to learn all about the various pieces, and just update their content where they want to.

How is WordPress doing so far?  What does it mean for Themes developers, what do they need to learn?  Are just a few questions we’ll cover.

In November 2019, I had the great pleasure to discuss the Future of WordPress Themes with themes developers in a Live Q & A on our YouTube Channel

Video: Birgit Pauli-Haack, William Patton, Rich Tabor and Ellen Bauer.

Meet Ellen Bauer, Rich Tabor and William Patton

Ellen Bauer runs with her Partner Manuel Esposito the theme shop Elma Studio from New Zealand. She has been a very early adopter of Gutenberg. We follow each other probably now since 2017. Ellen early on created fantastic videos for content creators in English and German.

Rich Tabor is also a very early adopter of Gutenberg, author of the now infamous CoBlocks plugin, giving millions of content creators beautiful blocks and a lot of options to style them. Rich was a theme shop owner until about a year ago, when he sold ThemeBeans and – with Jeffrey Carandang and Alex Denning – sold CoBlocks to GoDaddy earlier this year. Rich is a Senior Product Manager of WordPress Experience at GoDaddy.

William Patton is a WordPress developer and contributor on a few teams, at the moment lead on the Theme Review Team.

On January 23, 2020 we had JavaScript developer and Core contributor, Enrique Piqueras as guest on our Live Q & A and he demonstrated how Theme might work with the Full-Site Editing experience. (all experimental)

Enrique Piqueras demonstrated how Themes could work in a Full-Site-Editing Experience.
Transcript to come. Reading list on YouTube description.

Reading List

WordPress Teams

Community Contributions

If you have any more questions, you can always send them to me via email

Transcript: Rethinking of Themes in WordPress

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  And now we’re on. All right. Let’s see if we can …. Ellen has some difficulties and she’s going to join us in a minute, but we’re going to get started and do some introductions and then can join us.

So, hi there. Welcome to the 20th episode of the Gutenberg Times live Q&A. My name is Birgit Pauli-Haack and I’m your host and the curator of Gutenberg Times. Thank you all for joining us. It’s so great to have you. In today’s show, we’ll discuss the roles of themes and the Gutenberg era and how developers can learn and adjust to the emerging full editing experience in Gutenberg that’s about to come. I have the great pleasure to discuss with you, or to discuss this all with our panel today, and I’m also looking forward to our audiences’ questions. So, where are you from? And use that chat to check in with us.

So we have with us Rich Tabor, an early adopter of Gutenberg and …. Sorry, Rich Tabor, early adopter of Gutenberg and author of the new and infamous CoBlocks plugin, giving millions of content creators, beautiful blocks, and a lot of options to style them. Rich was a theme shop owner until about a year ago when he sold ThemeBeans, and there’s Jeffrey Carandang and Alex Denning sold CoBlocks to GoDaddy earlier this year. Rich is now a senior product manager of the WordPress experience at GoDaddy. Thank you Rich for making the time this afternoon.

Rich Tabor:  Yes, I’m great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  It’s wonderful. Yeah. And we also have Ellen Bauer, she runs with her partner Manuel Esposito the theme shop Elmastudio from New Zealand. She has been a very early adopter of Gutenberg. We follow each other, probably since 2017. And then early on, created fantastic videos for content creators in English and German. Welcome Ellen and good morning. Good morning. You don’t hear us? Oh you still have … Okay. So we do that. Well wave. So, wave.

And we also have with us William Patton, a WordPress developer and contributor on a few teams. At the moment, he’s the leader of the Theme Review Team and raised a little rockers last week when he pressed the Gutenberg developers to be more specific about how they think themes would work in the future. Howdy, good evening to Scotland. Well, we can’t hear you either.

William Patton: Oh, sorry I was on mute. Hey everyone.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  All right. So, yeah. Before we head first into the discussion, I just want to let everybody know that tomorrow we will record the 11th episode of the Gutenberg Changelog podcast. We will cover the Gutenberg releases 7.0 and 7.1, and we will also talk about some community contributions and the latest of what’s discussed and developed on the team. And so, listen to questions. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can find those on every popular podcast app. Just search for Gutenberg Changelog.

Speaking of questions. For those of you watching this on YouTube live stream, use the checkbox, and for those on the Zoom use the Q & A button on the bottom of the screen, and we will interact with you there. Please, be kind even if you disagree. This is a family friend endeavor and also I will be the one who read your questions on air, so make sure that you keep the contextualizing of your question short, so we can get as many questions as possibly answered. So, I’m going to just head in a bit.

With Gutenberg block editor WordPress gets rid of the “mystery meat” of widgets, shortcodes, metaboxes and more

Gutenberg editor is set out to get rid of the mystery meat people had to learn over the years to find the right places to add or change content in WordPress. So in phase one, short codes, mailboxes, custom fields, and to some extent custom post types at least, yeah, we have gone away and were replaced with blocks and also some core widgets that are now available from within your post content. In phase two, the mystery meat items on the chopping block, menus, navigation, widget areas, site-wide settings, and all those settings that are currently managed were customizer.

So, full page editing won’t make all the previous features obsolete, but it will bring it into a single user phase, the user interface, so the site owner, blogger and the end user doesn’t need to learn all about the various pieces and just update their content where they want to. So, how is WordPress doing so far? What does it mean for theme developers? What do you need to learn? And so, these are the few questions I’m going to offer. So, let’s do a round-robin around the same question.

How have the last two years in Gutenberg influenced your work? How did you approach things? What did you learn and what did you stumble on and what were your wins? So, I was wondering if Ellen wants to start, but … Can you hear us now Ellen?

Ellen Bauer: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yes.

Ellen Bauer: Yeah, there was a little bit of a struggling act. Sorry about that.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  No worries. So, how were the last two years for you? The last two years as a theme developer and theme shop? And …

Ellen Bauer: I think probably a few words interesting to say the least. Exciting, we are always up for new things and definitely the last maybe three or five years you could see that theme development from our perspective especially as minimalist was running a little bit from our perspective against the wall. There were things you couldn’t do with themes and it got more and more complicated, and then page builders became more and more popular as, I think, just as a fast solution.

But because it was not in Core of WordPress, everyone did their own approach and it got more complicated from our perspective, and just very confusing to use us. And I think that was a huge problem, and we always try to stay away from this option, because we realize this is just the first approach. There must be something better coming up in Core WordPress. Just something simpler, something that works the same way for every WordPress user. So I think it was very exciting when we heard that there will be this good make thing where you can finally do something, so users can just see what they are doing.

Because shortcodes and widgets, all these words are very confusing for users. So we were excited, but it’s also starting, like you probably said, I did this YouTube videos just for myself to learn what Gutenberg actually going to be, what is that? And yeah, it developed I think over the last year, especially from our perspective into something very much bigger than we first thought it would be. And it still is a little bit confusing I guess for everyone. So, we really love what you are doing, that you just bring all the updates because there are so many things happening.

It’s very overwhelming I think at times, but in general, I’m very excited. I think it will be good, but it’s definitely a work in progress and just a transitioning phase. The whole, I think one year last year, the last one and a half years where it’s a huge transitioning phase and I think it’s not over. I think it’s just starting to … Gutenberg is just starting to become something that people really can use. I think it’s just starting probably with the next year from … like we’re really working with the end users, just bloggers, small website users that use our themes and they are just starting to realize, “Well, I can actually use that.”

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). So how was the situation for you? Thanks Ellen. It was good to hear your input that. Will, how were the last two years for you as a WordPress developer and you also build sites for clients.

William Patton: Yeah. So for me, the whole last few years have been really quite uncertain, and we weren’t sure where things were going to be going, still not 100% sure where three years time, where things are going to be, how different it’s going to be to right now. But, I’ve mostly still build things the same way I build them three years ago or five years ago. Not long a change in terms of development for me as a coder, but in terms of design work, which I don’t do a lot of, designers had a lot of changes especially in the last few years.

And I think in the future as well, it’s going to go a lot more of that direction, where designers are going to have a lot more input into making the themes so that it’s easier for the users to drag and drop content blocks around them and whatnot. And I think that if people are easily able to build their own websites in the way that … I started building them 10 years ago withy Myspace and things like that, that’s going to be good for the internet overall. Just WordPress is 33% of the internet, and if 33% of the internet learns a little bit of HTML, a bit of drag and drop, then that’s going to be good for everyone in general.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  So there’s one, very excited, very uncertain?

William Patton: Excited about the future, but still uncertain where it’s going.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah.

Ellen Bauer: We are uncertain too. So both as well.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  We all are, nobody knows where we’re going. Our crystal ball is in the shop and we’re just going to need to figure it out all together. Yeah? Rich, how would you answer that? The last two years and how did you handle it from a totally different perspective actually?

Rich Tabor:  Yeah. So, early on I knew that Gutenberg would rapidly evolve into an editing experience that WordPress needed to sustain itself in a world where it’s becoming easier and easier to publish websites. I worked at WS 2017. Materials [inaudible 00:11:56] sure gave Gutenberg in though, and that’s what really inspired me to dive in and start experimenting with blocks. Now I’ve always been like a jump-in and learn discipline kind of guy.

So from there I dove in on some React, absorbed as much as I could about user experience and just really started building. In tandem, I was exploring Gutenberg support with one of my themes and essentially, this is a model where I learned as a go, and just shared my findings with the community and tried to encourage [inaudible 00:12:24] for the theme side of things early on. And, it was difficult at first, especially to keep up with the pace with the Gutenberg project because it moves so fast, and that’s rightfully so, because all these improvements that are coming are super good things down the pipeline, but it’s hard to keep up, especially outside of the circle out where I was initially.

 And so, I ended up refactoring blocks over and over and over again. Whereas, I’m sure a lot of folks had to do. But at the end of the day, every time I did that, I learned a whole lot, and that helped me grow to the developer that I am today. And as for wins, we sold CoBlocks and that was a win. Because now, at GoDaddy we have the resources to [inaudible 00:13:06] on CoBlocks and to really supercharged site building for CoBlocks, but more importantly for Gutenberg and encourage, like I said, building an experience that’s meaningful for WordPress across the board. So that’s what I’m excited about.

Birgit Pauli-Haack: Yeah. I imagine how that was, and I saw you very early on, you also contributed to Gutenberg when you found some bugs and because you were trying to figure it out. So sure put to you, it’s jumping in right there. So, I would like to … And thank you Zac for your question there or your suggestion there. There have been voices that see the end of themes near. Well, others embrace the geo cities like times with end users making design decisions again. And others think theme will just be a styles CSS or … And some people think there’s not a whole lot that’s going to change.

 So, let’s break it down a bit. So I will mention the building units and entities like block layouts, page templates and site settings and these kind of things. And that wants you Rich, William, and Ellen to explain how full, as far as you know and understood things, how would things work, what’s unclear and these kinds of things. So, I think blocks will still be plugged plug-in territory. It seems to be still the ongoing idea and themes would provide the styles for custom and native blocks, and it doesn’t seem to be a movement away. What do you think?

Extending Gutenberg Blocks is Plugin Territory to avoid content lock-in

William Patton: I haven’t seen a lot of movement. I tried just a couple of weeks ago to see what people were feeling about pulling blocks into themes. And after some technical discussions, it really does create a lot of lock-in that they’re going to still remain in plugins. Themes can modify them a bit, but blocks are generally going to be plugin. They type AMS I think forever.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. I think the big part, and Ellen talked about this quite a bit, that besides the ’mystery meat’ that with some end users had been caught up in different traps when themes ventured into plugin territory and added functionality, or it didn’t function unless you used a certain page builder, and the site owners were really logged in, and they’re still are. And some theme change would cause the loss of content and they were left with rebuilding the site. It’s often felt like me, that the open system WordPress was moving into a closed system similar Wix and Squarespace, but not in a big way.

Just in a very small way as the theme develop actually would allow. Yeah. So, having the blocks that add functionality to it in a plugin really makes sense to me. So, but there are also block patterns or block layout. They are now also in plugins like Qubely or Atomic Blocks or Kadence, just to name a few plugins. Do you think that it will make it into themes? I would say no, because there’s lots of content lock-in. But I think there, that’s where there’s a little bit divide. What do you think Rich?

Block Patterns in Themes

Rich Tabor:  Yeah. So, I actually don’t think there would be content lock-in if we included these … Well, I don’t want to say, but take a step back. There’s patterns, templates, layouts, areas, and blocks. There’s a bit of confusion around some of those perhaps. Blocks are the smallest unit. Then the step above that is a pattern, which is a collection of blocks, a reasonable component that you can use throughout your site. And then the next step it’s either layouts or templates.

I don’t know if they’re being tossed around at the same level or one’s bigger than the other, but essentially it’s a page of blocks perhaps. So, I think if we did have patterns inside of themes and you added a pattern to a page, that pattern is consisted of blocks two which are abstracted from the styles that are pulled from the patterns. So you’re not actually losing anything except for the ability to add that pattern back into another page, if that is abstracted totally from the stylistic system and just running off of blocks.

So, I think that a theme could perhaps provide unique patterns in itself. Perhaps they’re interchangeable because you’ll be able to export them and import them through our sites. But I think that, that would be an interesting way for themes to leverage Gutenberg and still provide that unique touch and personality that we all love themes for.

Template and Template Parts

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. So I can see that. And I think in one of the technical documentation that Riad put out, he was talking about theme WP templates and WP template parts, and we’ll probably get to that on the page number. But the next thing would be block areas too that are registered following theme to create areas where content is … It’s like a form of widget areas. Yeah? Now called block areas. That is theme territory. Right? Will, what do you think.

William Patton: Yeah. I would say that is theme territory. That’s something that designer is going to pick a space where they want to let people have freedom to put whatever content they want there, and that could well be post content type, but it could also be a header, ad, slot, which traditionally we would throw a widget in there with some text or whatever. But in future, you could have a block of social icons to put in that or anything you want, and I think in a smaller content, it is really well be good for what we use widgets for right now. But it’s going to be a lot of freedom for a designer to decide what … They’re going to give the user a lot of freedom to be able to use things that they can’t do at the moment. Themes tend to be quite locked, so giving them the freedom to be able to use those slots would be nice.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Okay, and then we come to the page templates and I think that is what the second one talks about. The HTML block templates related to and others to the traditional PHP page templates. So, how would they work? Or, how do they work now and how would they work in the future? [crosstalk 00:20:05]. Oh, go ahead Will.

William Patton: Now on you go. I Had the one overstep. It’s step on Ellen.

HTML Block Templates

Ellen Bauer: Oh, that’s okay. I researched a little bit on the HTML block templates, but I haven’t caught up to all of the info. So, maybe better someone else answers.

Rich Tabor:  I guess I’ll take a stab at it. This is still relatively new, the way that these are going to work. But what’s interesting is that you’ll be able to create and add these templates so much more easily than you were trying to write PHP code and add a function for the custom logo or whatnot. Because all of this would be essentially just HTML uploads and comments referencing attributes for a block. So you could say, you want your site title here, and then wrap around the day and then where you’d want your featured image here, and you could build out these really unique templates in the system just using HTML, which is incredible when you think about it. They’re really like cutting the barriers down to building websites in the future, which is pretty awesome.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. And people are still thinking about it. So, on the Github repository as you see quite a few different design approaches on how to have a user interact with blocks and then panels and layouts, and it’s quite interesting to see how that works and to figure out the best way to put this in the interface.

Will Blocks eliminate the need for shortcodes in the future? 

So, Bernhard Kau from Berlin, I think, he has a question for Ellen. “So in the past you have used shortcodes to add some styling lay outing options like buttons, color sizes, colored boxes and column layout. Would you say the introduction of blocks would completely eliminate the need for such short codes?”

Ellen Bauer: Yes. I think definitely yes. What our approach is and I think that’s what I think WordPress needs the most is that it just gets easier to understand for the end user. The people that actually use WordPress. And I think also over time, they became maybe a little bit less tech savvy, at the beginning, as it was just probably people who knew a little bit more about code and stuff. And now, I think more and more there are people that don’t have the knowledge, and I think the cooler thing would be to make it easier. Like we said before, easier to build websites in WordPress for everyone.

So I think blocks, so that you can see what you are doing. That is so cool and you couldn’t do that with short codes. And I think that is the main focus we are as one to approach, that it just gets easier and more user friendly and more intuitive. And I think Gutenberg can definitely do that. And so, I think that’s the main focus. So yeah, I think there are still a few cases definitely with plugins, some forms or something, but I think for design elements like buttons and everything like that, that it should be visual and it’s so much easier with Gutenberg.

How do you see the mobile editing experience for the full site editing?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. And Zac Gordon who has a question? How do you see the mobile editing experience working for the full site editing?

Rich Tabor:  That’s a tough one.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Zac comes with all the tough questions here.

Rich Tabor:  Mobile, that’s important because we need to be able to edit websites wherever we are. Mobile devices are just always going to keep growing in popularity. And so, making sure that we’re taking that step forward to improving the site editing experience. Right now, we’re still trying to improve the straight up Gutenberg page editing within mobile and it’s something that PR has just put in this week, even our major steps’ in that direction. I do think we’ll have to figure some way to have editing stages, where you’re editing a full site instead of just a page or just the header, or maybe perhaps or just the footer. I don’t know. We have to signify where we’re going to be controlling, because you can’t control everything from three inch by four inch phones. Right? So finding some way to do that will be interesting but paramount to the success and the future of Gutenberg.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. And I think mobile experience doesn’t only need the phone size though. They can also do it from a tablet, a surface phone or an iPod or an iPad. And I think those were … I haven’t tried them yet, but they are really, the mobile team is really working on [inaudible 00:24:49] just get the content editor working nicely and I think there’s some changes where the toolbar is a button toolbar, the block toolbar is, if there’s a top or always on the bottom or put it all the way up to the top. Yeah. So …

Ellen Bauer: Can I add something to that?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. Is it the isolator? Is there a new starter theme? Or do you want to do … You have [crosstalk 00:25:14].

Ellen Bauer: I have from the mobile part.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah.

Ellen Bauer: I think it’s also the biggest challenge. And yeah, I definitely think people are just now used to, “Oh, my website is on my phone.” They don’t even think of different sizes as well. Especially end users, they don’t really care like, “Oh, this is just my website.” It doesn’t matter to them if it’s like on a phone or on the desktop. And especially as designers, we always divide these things, but end-users, they don’t divide it. They just assume that it’s just has to work and that’s a huge challenge. And I think with Gutenberg that’s also … Working with blocks now in this year, it’s such a huge challenge to make it easy for the end users.

A lot of things are still pixel based, sizes that’s so difficult to make it customizable for the end users, the blocks, but still have it a nice layout in all devices. So I think that’s a huge challenge. We need to work on that blocks customizable but still automatically responsive, mobile optimized, because that’s not the case at the moment. A lot of phone sizes are pixel logged spacers. It’s a huge challenge for us at the moment, building something beautiful that is just automatically responsive. We don’t want to make it difficult for use.

I think, in some cases it makes sense to make the option. I see it in a lot of blocks, mobile option, tablet option does it. But for user this is like, “Oh my gosh, why do I have to do that?” From my perspective, they shouldn’t need to handle these different stages. It should just be working with one click. I think that’s what you would assume as an end user, but it’s not at the moment. For us as designers like trying to build beautiful, easy to use, responsive websites, there’s a huge challenge at the moment. Phone sizes and spacing, it’s something I’m struggling with at the moment so I wanted to add it.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  I think they are two movements right now. One feature is in Gutenberg now that you can make a style that you selected as a default style. So once you select it, it always will be, if you use a media text with the blow up the pictures or it fills all the space and make it responsive, that’s your default style. You say that’s always want I want to do. I think they do it with the image as well, and that’s one movement. And then there’s another movement on the design make blog. There were quite a few proposals to standardize a few things here, like styling, like spacing, like for the whole WordPress universe I say.

I think, yeah, connecting with the design team there and have your opinion heard and comment on those things is really helpful, especially for female developers. Yeah? So we have another question.

Is there a new starter theme like Underscores?

Is it from L Schnyder: “Is there a new starter theme like Underscore that is block editor friendly and ready? How would you start out with your new Gutenberg theme?”

Rich Tabor:  I haven’t looked at Underscores lately to see if there’s been any PRs or whatnot to add proper optimization for Gutenberg, but at GoDaddy what we built is, I think, a Go and it’s on the GoDaddy WordPress github repo. And then for us, it’s essentially a started a theme that we built with a design centric system both into it where you can pick a different style that you want to apply to your site and then it would basically swap out CSS properties in order to style your site in a certain way, and it’s all Gutenberg first. So, we’re essentially encouraging folks that come to GoDaddy to pick a new starter design and system that we’ve built at blocks in this design style on a Go, to use as a starter point from that point on. But I haven’t looked into any other like Barebones, Gutenberg first themes per se.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. So I saw there is a Gutenberg theme, a Gutenberg starter theme in the GitHub repo, a repository of WordPress. And that is actually also used to test some of the theme and editing pieces with some feature plugin in the experimental areas in Gutenberg that are in the plugin right now. So, navigation has landed in the normal Gutenberg plugin, but there’s some for page editing sections are still experimental and if you want to test them, there is a suggestion to use. So Gutenberg starter theme that’s in the Gutenberg repo currently, yeah.

Rich Tabor:  I was going to say also really Twenty-Twenty is a good place to look, because there’s so many extra pieces integrated inside of the theme there, that the team has really showcased how Gutenberg can be powerful as a site builder, not just a content editor to write out your blog post. So, that’s a good place that I would also start looking.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  So, there’s also another template

William Patton: Andres that build the … he designed the 2020 theme. He has a lot of really good insight into how the nuances of each different block works that I had no clue about when I was working with him that he just knew off the top of his head, and there is still a lot of nuance there when it comes to design. I don’t think there is yet a good starter theme for Gutenberg there. I think the whole point of Gutenberg is that there won’t be a starter thing, everyone will get to make their own from scratch and it will be easy.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, right. We had this before, right? It’s always easy.

William Patton: Fingers crossed. One day.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  So there’s also a question and I think that’s something we could tackle here. It’s the convention of themes. Micah. D emphasized with the growing influence of blogs editor, and was wondering what might happen to existing themes? Will the theme developers give up and pushing updates to the pre block editor themes? Some of my clients still have themes activated from the repo or premium themes. What do you think? What’s going to happen? How would you map out the transition from themes we do now into themes in two years in Gutenberg editing kind of thing?

William Patton: Well, I think a lot of the themes that exist right now aren’t going to necessarily be great for Gutenberg, but they really are trying to make sure that backwards compatibility is considered. And, I’m hoping for a way of enabling full site edit and existing content areas. Sometimes I say soon but in WordPress, that might be five years from now. And, I’m hoping that existing and themes don’t really just go away, because in the vision, they don’t have a lot of places at the moment in the current vision. But I’m hoping that some consideration is made in terms of the code that the developers of Gutenberg are making that will be able to enable an old theme to become Gutenberg ready. And it may not be perfect, but a lot of those other themes that continue existing for a long time

Rich Tabor:  Yeah. I think in just like all the older core default themes now support Gutenberg. I think in the same way in the future, we’re going to have new functionality like the new block-based themes, but we’re going to just … I bet we’re going to try to add those same themes into 2020, 2019, 2017, and try to back fill that functionality in a way that is meaningful and that the folks that are using those themes, that love those themes can still reuse them. And that’s the same for every other theme out there that’s using the standard WordPress way of building the themes. Themes that have their own built in plugins or whatnot are probably going to disregard Gutenberg from that point on, so that’s not a big deal, but in the future themes will be lighter and they’ll be different. But I expect order themes would still fit into that. Just like William said.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ellen, what do you think?

Ellen Bauer: I think it’s definitely a challenge for theme developers to support the new option that coming out, and at the same time really dig deep into new approaches. And I’m always up for new approaches, so I think it makes sense to concentrate there. You can’t please everyone probably, it’s just the way it is that there’s too much development going on, and you have to decide what you do. But, what we did definitely with our current themes, the first thing we did was to support the default blocks and we will continue to do that.

But it’s also, I think, at one point you have to decide how far you want to go with that, with the older themes, because they just were built for a different kind of WordPress. So I think it’s probably smarter to encourage people now to look into the future of what themes can do and encourage them to play around with the new themes and get them as soon as possible, more familiar with new approaches rather than say, we will support this in this forever because it will just keep them away from trying new themes now and getting into the new approach faster.

So, we what I tried to do with the videos and I plan to do lots more. I love to do the YouTube videos because it’s just an easy way to show people like, “Hey, you can do that and that.” I think that’s a great approach for users to show what you can do with Gutenberg. And I think what I love is that a lot of themes will do different … Theme builders will take different approaches, definitely with Gutenberg, but just one way of doing things. There’s not all these different systems. And of course, like Rich said, they will continue to exist

Some people will just ignore Gutenberg approaches, will stay with their own systems, but I think we have to let people know like use this and really give them a chance to see how easy it is and rather now than later. Tell them, use the new themes.

Is it feasible for a Theme Shop to offer migration paths from their old theme to Gutenberg Themes?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  So business wise, I have a question and then we tackle [inaudible 00:36:28]. Sorry. Nandiola’s question. Would you think it will be feasible for you as a theme shop to actually provide migration paths from your old theme to … And this is how it’s going to look new, and if you want to migrate your site over here, a few plugins to, or one plugin to do that, to make the transition for them? Is that something that you would consider or is that not feasible?

Ellen Bauer: Is this a question for me?

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  It’s a question for you Ellen, yeah. Sorry.

Ellen Bauer: I think that’s an option. And I think for some themes, that would definitely make sense. But the way we approach WordPress themes was always not to make such a big deal out of one theme. And of course, I understand that people will try to … some people want to use one theme and stay with it for a longer time. And I think because the Gutenberg is this comfortable, you can still use the classic editor even, and you have the default block support. So, because we build always very simple themes, and I’m very happy for that actually now that we did that, it’s actually easy. They can stay in the current or older themes for a long time.

I think it won’t be a problem. And we will encourage people to try new themes, but I think we probably won’t go all the way to really say, “Oh, you can migrate your site,” this and this. I think, because we have such simple themes, I think it will be easy for people to say-

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  It’s probably better.

Ellen Bauer: … you can actually switch to a new theme if you want. And you don’t have to do it right away. Maybe look at it, maybe think about it in one year or few months or something

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. William, any comment on that? What do you think?

William Patton: I tend to agree. I mean, I was a love of themes that just work forever, but they really aren’t always going to work that way. But I do think a big part of a migration is actually the content that users create, and not necessarily, the theme itself doesn’t need the huge amount to be transitioned, but the content that’s being created within a specific theme is going to be tailor made for that theme. And that migration is going to be a bit difficult to meet with any kind of system. If you say for example, a site that has 10,000 posts, there may be going to have to feign the few thousand of those posts that wouldn’t migrate possibly manually, and that’s really not feasible for a budget sometimes when it comes to the big [inaudible 00:00:39:21].

How do you see the transitioning of themes relying on hooks, like Genesis

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). All right. So, we have another question her. How do you see the transitioning of themes relying on hooks as the Genesis Framework or GeneratePress to hook, unhook web elements with the new block based paradigm? Who wants to tackle that? Rich, do you want to talk [crosstalk 00:39:46]?

Ellen Bauer: No one.

Rich Tabor:  No one. I mean, I don’t have a ton of experience with the Genesis per se, but it’s going to be different. We’re going to have to figure out, those folks are going to have to figure out how they’re going to integrate with the HTML based block themes. So, I don’t know what that would look like or how possible that would be. But realistically, we’re going to have these block-based themes with block templates directory, with index that HTML, single that HTML, archive that HTML. Basically, emulating what we used to do in PHP and pulling in block layouts for those templates.

And right now, they’re sort of editable. You can edit them and copy and paste them into your files. But in the future, we’re going to probably have a way to actually edit those. I’m not sure if Genesis will morph into something where it’s predefined layout perhaps for these templates, and you pick what you want when you’re starting up a site and then you’re done. And it’s like only be like a wizard or something. I’m not sure what happened there, but it’s definitely going to change or it’ll stay not on block-based template or not on block-based a theme. It will stay where it is now.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  I’m glad you mentioned that. We’ll go back to I think a question that Zac had at the beginning and it was a little bit too detailed at the beginning. So, how do the HTML block templates actually work? Yeah. Well, what is a … Because they’re still dynamic. Just because they’re not PHP doesn’t mean they’re not dynamic because you can pull in, but how would they work?

Rich Tabor:  I mean they would essentially, the elements in an index style HTML file perhaps for your blog world wall pull in essentially a blog wall block. It’ll have your images, your content, or your titles, your continue reading link. All of that would be part of it. And if there are variants, if that’s a core block, which would probably be where you could set different styles within the code, like you would say style one or style two or columns or full width, there would be different attributes to where that would be set in your HTML template. And when it’s fired on the front of your site, it’s going to pull in the blocks. Okay.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah, it sounds pretty straightforward, I think.

Rich Tabor:  Right. It kind of. I mean, we’re going to have blocks for post titles, blocks for … We have tags and categories already. We’re going to have blocks for a featured images probably. If we want to do featured images, I’m not sure that’s a totally different piece. We’re going to have blocks for everything. Everything that you see in your page will be a block.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. So what do you see they’ll … some of the legacy themes, they use a customizer, and a lot of theme builders had some strong opinions about the customizer six or seven years ago when he came out, and then the Theme Review Team required everything that comes into the repository to actually not have their own options but now work with a customizer. 

What will change regarding the Customizer and Themes?

Rich Tabor:  I don’t foresee us using a customizer. I don’t think we’ll need it really. I mean, the question was as a very first step into customizing our site and that’s what Gutenberg is building your site, and that includes adding colors and fonts and whatnot. I imagine we’ll have the same sort of tools elsewhere or within Gutenberg, so it’s familiar. So you don’t have to go to a completely separate abstract of location to do little tweaks. That doesn’t make sense. I think in the future of WordPress it’s going to probably be there to support older themes that do have customizer, but I don’t think there’ll be a primary action for editing their site.

William Patton: And I tend to agree with that actually. And I think at the moment, we in Gutenberg, we have the sidebar where you click a block and the sidebar appears. I think the things that are in customizer right now are really much better suited to be in that sidebar. And if you take for example, widget areas, when you move around or say if you have different wedge areas on different pages, that appears in the customizer only when you’re on the right page. Well, it would be much nicer if it only appeared when you were on the right block. It would be much less overwhelming for users. There might be a hundred options on a site, but you only have to see the two typography options. When you’re in a paragraph block you don’t need to know what color your header is. That only matters when you’re editing your header.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rich Tabor:  And realistically, on the setting sidebar we’ve got the document view, which is where you can publish your actual page. We had only a block view which will adapt to whatever selected block you’re using. But what if we had a site, a tab as well up there at the top? So that when you click that, you have your colors, you have your fonts, you have your options, your global options that will control everything on your site. They could all just exist right there in your editing experience all online.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. And with the theme then comes to suggested color palette to say, “Okay, is this something that you would use in the great scheme of things?”

Rich Tabor:  Right.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  So, we have a few more minutes. Yeah. Ellen, do you want to say something?

Ellen Bauer: I think so too. I think the customizer was just as a starter, a great way to give something like a main style options. And what I really like is the approach and a lot of people are talking about it, that a theme will contribute to the about experience just to be the main style guide, and I really like this approach of a design system. And like Rich said, it would be great to have this in the same editing experience just to have a style guide options, main style guide options that you … and then you wouldn’t need the customizer anymore to go to a very different approach.

And I think it’s just the transitioning phase. Again, we will just eventually have these options. They don’t need to be in the customizer, can just be in the same area where all the blog editing is and it’s just another level. And I think also with the themes, I don’t think themes will go away. I think they will just transition and I think their designs, a system approach is great. And then also, I would love to have that blocks have a general … that they would all work the same and themes have it easier to know what they need to design and style, and that it’s all easier to transition between blocks and themes and stuff. So, that would be amazing to have more of a system there.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. Thank you for … Alan just … Was it Alan? Yeah, he just pointed out to Mathias Ventura who was the lead of Gutenberg and he had recently, next sprung up a lot of discussion about the themes, the full editing experience on a core block. And I think I have the link here, so people can follow up on this. And when he was talking about block areas and how that would work. So thank you Alan for participating, and also for pointing us to that. So, I want to briefly ask Peter’s question that said, okay, he gets from his clients always the question. “So, which is the best page builder theme plugin, blah blah blah? So, now there are great block plugins. Do you have any of your favorite block plugin that you would people point to, so they can design their website?”

What Are Your Favorite Block Plugins?

Rich Tabor:  I mean, I always take the route of whatever works best for you is the best one for you. Try them all, try a couple, make sure that it abides by performance requirements. It doesn’t have a bunch of junk to the page. And UX is super important when it comes to blocks. If the blocks are working well and they’re clean and it’s not random much on junk on the page, they’re probably fine. Of course, I’m partial to Coblocks, which is great, and we need help. So if you have any ideas and they didn’t want to repo, but really, there’s a level where they all start approaching the same capabilities and just matters on what works per se for your particular project.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  How about you William? What’s your favorite plug in?

William Patton: I mean, I don’t really use, personally, I don’t use the Gutenberg either of four. A lot of my work, I do a lot of the development side of things, but for clients they’ve actually really enjoyed just the core blocks, and I would really like if the core blocks actually made … I mean, started to say this wrench, but I would like they make as plugin obsolete. I would like the core blocks just to do everything the other block plugins do. And, we can look to what the other plugins are doing. But I don’t have a preference of my own at the moment. I would just like to see the core blocks being improved and added too to make them what people really want.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah.

Rich Tabor:  Yeah. I totally agree William. If core they do all the things that people are asking for, then we wouldn’t need these other plugins per se. They’d be way more specialized, which would also be a good thing. So I think that I’d go for everything generic that … Not generic, but everything simpler that core implements and if I can take it out core blocks then that is a super win. They’ve already done it a couple times and then in that, if we could find a way to migrate one block to another block, which is-

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Transform.

Rich Tabor:  … part of that deprecation process, that would be super key, because then I could turn off things that get added in the future.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. How about you Ellen? Do you have a favorite block plugin that works well with your theme or that you prefer?

Ellen Bauer: I love to play around with all of them. And I as Will said, I think for our users, the fast recommendation is definitely to start with the core blocks and features or style variations get edit all the time. And so, this is definitely the first place to start. And then, what I think is also important to mention here is the development of the block library and the option, I think, that will be the way to go for users. That they’re not locked into one block collection. And what blocks I think are the best one is definitely highly depends on the kind of website you want to build. If you just have a blog or if you want to build a business website or portfolio website, very different user cases, very different blocks make sense there.

Or, if you are just a WordPress beginner, users who want minimal customization options or if you build websites for clients and need all the options, like all the spacing, every petting, you want to adapt. So there are different approaches, but I think the cooler thing will be the block library that you can just pick one block here, one block there, and you don’t need to have a whole collection of blocks. And I think that’s in development, and I think that’s the coolest approach to this question too. So you can just pick one there, pick one there.

But also, it’s a challenge for design. Then definitely a huge challenge that they will all be comfortable in the theme you choose and look the same way. And it’s a challenge for designers again, that you can use different blocks from different system and core blocks and mix them all together.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah. So the Block Directory, I think it’s what you’re talking about. We had in a similar live Q&A, Alex Shiels on the Meta-team and-

Ellen Bauer: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  And CK Lee, and you’ll find it also on YouTube and I think I’ve republished already the transcript on the website. It’s definitely something to look at. 

So, my personal favorite, I haven’t used it completely but I always see that there’s a lot of new things coming up, and some people say that it should be all the things that should be in the core block is the EditorsKit by your former core business owner, Jeffery Carandang. And he has done quite some interesting additional features put in.

When you view the different image styles where the core only have circles, he also has diagonal. So, it has a few more features for core blocks actually, and it’s really cool. And yeah, Peter just mentioned it as well. Yeah, I really like it. So, yeah. I don’t see any additional questions lingering. And it’s also time for us. Oops! There is one common  question: 

“So when do you think accessibility issues will be in place strong enough to be confident with customers who require it” 

Well, nobody knows. And, there has been great progress done out of that accessibility audit that was published in April and I think 80% of the issues have already been resolved in Gutenberg. And what I see is that the accessibility team and the core team, the development team are working very closely now on certain things. So, it definitely is improving. When it will be 100%. Can it always be 100%? I think that’s a discussion for another live Q&A. Otherwise, we are here for another two hours.

Reading List

So if you want to read up on a few things, there’s materials as block areas information. Then Felix Arms had introduced the concept of block templates for full site editing, and I’ll share the link in the chat. That’s a GitHub issue. 

And then Mark Uraine, design leader on the Gutenberg phase and my co host on the Gutenberg Changelog explored and discussed block patterns and the ability to predefined layouts, and how that might look. And there are quite a few chimed in on the different design variations of that. 

And then I have for you the link to Riad’s documentation on block-based themes that’s labeled, Experimental. It’s a discussion theme. 

And so that’s for your reading material. We will certainly put it also into the YouTube video in the description there. 

So it seems all the time we have. Thank you all for coming, and for participating here with all your great questions. I have two more questions for our panel, for our speakers. It is, do you have any announcements or anything that you couldn’t say before and want people to keep in mind? It’s also, shameless plug is allowed kind of sound. And then the second question is, if people want to get in touch with you, what would be the best way? So, who wants to start?

Rich Tabor:  I’m the first. Well, two big things. The first, anyone can get involved. If it’s web design, or the core editor, psych meetings, if it’s contributing to Gutenberg on github, if it’s even just simply providing feedback on issues or ideas that are getting tossed around. More or less, even supporting your favorite block plugins by contributing to those projects, and every little bit is going to help push the WordPress experience in the right direction. And it’s all welcome like every little piece of it. 

So with that saying again, CoBlocks and Go are open source on GitHub. Stop by, chime in, add feedback, fix a bug. We want it all, and you’ll find me in all those places, and on Twitter as well, @richard_tabor, and I wanted to write about WordPress, Gutenberg and themes.

William Patton: Who’s next? I guess I’ll go next.

Rich Tabor:  You did.

William Patton: So I’m Will. You can reach me on Twitter or catch me in the Theme Review select channel for the WordPress Slack. And I mean, I don’t really have any announcements but I do want to ask people just to make sure that you stay keeping involved with the development. 

Make sure you tell people, especially the problems that you’re facing and because if people aren’t told about the problems, they don’t know what they need to fix. And to add to that, something that is lacking quite a lot is documentation. So when you figure out how to do something, write it down and share that with everyone. That would be a big help for everyone on this expedience movement themes from where they are now, to where they need to be sooner rather than later. And the more we know the better.

William Patton: Yeah, I’m done. If someone else wants to jump in.

Ellen Bauer: I have an audio issue. Do you hear me?

William Patton: Yeah, I can’t hear now. Yeah.

Ellen Bauer: I can’t hear Birgit.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah, well, I was muted.

Ellen Bauer: Oh! Okay. I thought it was me again.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  No, it was me. So William, I wanted to ask you. The Theme Review Team has additional meetings or was it just something, an idea in that one meeting was last week?

William Patton: We are between our normal meeting times, we are going to be meeting and doing things, focusing on github issues and stuff like that for Gutenberg. But, it’s almost Christmas time. We’re pretty much weighing them into the new year. So, that won’t really be kicking off till next year, big thing.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Okay. Yeah. All right. And then it’s you know.

Ellen Bauer: So you can definitely find me under my name on Twitter, on YouTube and on Slack. And I always love to hear feedback. Anything theme related, Gutenberg related. Also, suggestions for any videos or anything I can share or show people. I always love to do that and get feedback. And also, yeah, as Will said, I think it’s always a good time, especially in regards to themes. I know a lot of people that are a little bit taken aback, I think, from the … And for a lot of people it’s overwhelming that with Gutenberg will be in the future, how we should approach things.

And I think as Will said, are talking about it, open up discussions for everyone, and be as open as possible, I think is the best thing we can do. And something like you do Birgit, sharing all the different channels and stuff is so amazing because there is a lot of information out there, and everyone is so busy. I think sometimes it’s difficult to take the time to come together and talk about things. And just from our work we are actually working on something very new from what we’ve done in the past. We are building a free theme and blocks to go with it just to take a totally new approach to our work. It will be free themes and blocks, and then we will build up a platform.

We’re planning to build up a platform for end users that they can take this work and then we will support and help them to make it very easy for beginners and end users to build websites in WordPress. That’s what we are working on at the moment, and we’ll roll out over the next year. We’re very slow, but we are coming up with some new ideas, new approaches that we just want to make WordPress easier for end users because we think that WordPress has changed so much, and we think a lot of people are overwhelmed and maybe looking for other options that seemed simpler in the beginning, but are also very locked up.

And, we love that WordPress is so diverse, and so open for everyone and we want to encourage people to continue using WordPress, and don’t think that it’s too difficult.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Well, that sounds awesome. Thank you so much Ellen. And a big thank you for all our viewers and for you. If you have any more questions, you can always send them to me via email And the recording will be available in a few minutes on the YouTube channel, and we’ll publish the transcript in a couple of days on Thanks again to Ellen, Rich, and William. It’s been a privilege, and it was a great-

Ellen Bauer: Thank you.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  … great joy talking to you. So be well. Good bye, and good luck.

William Patton: All right, thanks.

Rich Tabor:  Thanks.

Ellen Bauer: Thank you. Good bye.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Bye.

Ellen Bauer: Good night.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Good night. Oh, yeah. Good morning.

Ellen Bauer: Thanks.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Bye. Thank you. Slightly-

Ellen Bauer: Taking on the Friday already.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:  Yeah.


I really love the idea of editing a website using my favorite phone, this way, I can do it anytime anywhere without any problem.

Thanks for the information team.

Thank you so much for stopping by. yes the mobile team is working really hard getting the block-editor on par with the desktop version. Sometimes it’s quite tricky.

Theme templates in a Full Site Editing experience with Enrique Piqueras in WordPress - Gutenberg Times says:

[…] sure you also check out the earlier Live Q & A “Rethinking Themes in WordPress” with William Patton from the Theme Review Team, Rich Tabor creator of CoBlocks and Ellen Bauer, […]

Theme templates in a Full Site Editing experience with Enrique Piqueras in WordPress | Wordpress Tutorials says:

[…] sure you also check out the earlier Live Q & A “Rethinking Themes in WordPress” with William Patton from the Theme Review Team, Rich Tabor creator of CoBlocks and Ellen Bauer, […]