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To Gutenberg or Not to Gutenberg, Is That Still a Question?

March 3rd, 2022

The Gutenberg editor rolled out in WordPress 5.0 which was released in December of 2018. With Gutenberg having now been out for more than three years, are people really still debating whether to utilize it in projects? In my opinion, they should be.

As a developer who works with many agencies across the U.S., I’ve seen firsthand the varying approaches to dealing with Gutenberg. Some agencies fully embrace it, others completely avoid it and my favorite are those who understand that it just isn’t a one size fits all solution.

But if Gutenberg isn’t the best solution for every WordPress project, what kind of questions should be asked to determine if using it does make sense?

Here are my personal top three:

1) How much control does the client need?

Gutenberg offers a lot of options and a lot of flexibility for a WordPress site owner. This aspect is a huge pro for many in deciding to leverage a block-based development approach for a client.

For some clients though, blank canvases are overwhelming. It’s too many choices, too many options to consider, just too much that could go wrong. To these clients, having a ton of flexibility is a burden, not an asset.

If your client just needs the simplest way possible to make content edits to their current site, a more traditional approach using custom fields via Advanced Custom Fields is likely a far better fit than Gutenberg. This provides a less overwhelming interface for the client to navigate. They’re no longer faced with a ton of options, they’re simply given straightforward fields to modify their content. It greatly reduces the room for error and cuts straight to the chase of providing a simple route to edit content.

This poor guy just wanted to quickly modify some website content, not configure a bunch of block settings.

2) How much control do you want the client to have?

Going hand in hand with the question of how much control a client needs is how much control you want the client to have. Most designers or developers have experienced handing off a project to a client and checking in on it a short time later to see some… creative choices that have been made, if the door is left open.

With some effort, you can lock Gutenberg down to follow some carefully structured templates and patterns to prevent too much from going awry. In its default state, however, there’s nothing stopping a client from stacking 4 carousel blocks on top of each other and putting a hero block as the last block on the page, for example.

Boundaries have to be very clearly defined in Gutenberg projects. Even with those lines clearly drawn, there’s simply more opportunity for trouble when using a block-based editor.

If you’re not comfortable extending that deeper level of aesthetic flexibility over to a client, then you’d likely be better off avoiding a block-based approach for development and nail down the templates a bit more strictly.

3) Is the project’s design a good fit?

For projects designed with modular design systems, Gutenberg is a home run. If you’re not familiar with modular design, modular web design results in a design system with reusable components. These components can be turned into individual blocks within Gutenberg and then can be combined in various ways across website pages.

Modular design systems use repeating components so your page building process resembles stacking Lego blocks.

If instead of a modular approach to the design, each layout is its own unique snowflake without much repeating structure, using a block-based approach with Gutenberg likely doesn’t make sense. After all, what is the point of building a site full of only blocks used in one location? You can do it, but I’m not sure that approach is best.

Personally, if every page template of a project had its own unique flavor, I’d recommend it be built with traditional custom fields versus Gutenberg blocks.

Gutenberg is not a one size fits all solution.

There is no denying Gutenberg will continue to be the direction WordPress moves in, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an approach you have to force on every WordPress project. You are ultimately out to build a solution that best fits the project and client. If the conditions are right, Gutenberg is truly a joy to work with. If you’ve been completely avoiding Gutenberg, I will always recommend giving it a shot on any WordPress project where the conditions are right. However, if you don’t make the appropriate project considerations before heading down that path, you and your client may end up incorrectly concluding Gutenberg sucks, when it just ultimately wasn’t the right fit for your particular project.

Do you have an upcoming WordPress website project and you’re unsure if utilizing Gutenberg makes the most sense? Reach out and I’d love to help you implement the right choice for your next custom WordPress build.

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