How we've evolved our products for WordPress 5.0

Here at ThemeIsle, we started building themes and plugins six years ago. To be more exact, ThemeIsle’s first theme was published in the WordPress repo in July 2013. Back then, we were on WordPress 3.6 and people were doing the Harlem Shake. A lot of changes have happened in WordPress (and music) since then, and we’ve gotten better at making themes and plugins.

Changes happening with the WordPress CMS are influencing our users, our products, and our business. And the recent release of WordPress 5.0 was no different.

The new block editor pushed us to reconsider our product portfolio and come up with a plan to integrate the new block editor (AKA Gutenberg) into our themes and plugins.

While the block editor was undergoing testing, we watched the community talking about it, bashing the initiative and the adversity it created. But as the release rolled out, developers found that most end-users were quite content with it.

At the time that we’re publishing this post, over 30% of users have updated their sites to 5.0, which is a considerable amount even if some of them are still using the old editor.

So here’s what we did to prepare a smooth transition to the new editor and a few considerations for users who are faced with the challenge of whether or not to use the block editor.

Detailed block editor compatibility for our themes

Hestia, Neve, and ShopIsle are our most popular themes at this moment, so we’ve paid special attention to integrating the themes’ options with the new editor. This results in a better UI and better control over how the changes in the backend translate to the frontend. The editing experience in our themes is more accurate and more similar to how a page actually looks.

Gutenberg demo

Neve has integrated the Gutenberg editor seamlessly into the backend. Now your edits will look almost identical to the frontend.

We’ve also looked at what we can offer within the blocks and how we can bring more of each theme’s flavor into the blocks’ styling. We’ve made sure that all typography, color, and layout options (including both those from the theme or from the new editor) make for a smooth transition between the backend and frontend, alongside default and custom blocks that beautifully match the theme’s styles.

“We’ve made it our primary mission to make sure they have the best user experience possible. This is why, with the WordPress 5 in place, we’ve focused on paying special attention to the new editor and ways of integrating it in the themes.”Rodica Andronache, Theme Lead at ThemeIsle

New block templates for Hestia and Neve, powered by Otter

Both Neve and Hestia recommend our new free plugin called Otter.

With Otter, we’re exploring new uses for blocks and templates (like pricing plans, features, team member showcases, and more) that speed up post creation.

While you can use Otter with any WordPress theme (as long as you’re using the new block editor)we’ve added some special goodies for Neve and Hestia users.

If you have one of our Hestia or Neve themes installed, you will be greeted with a surprise – Otter offers pre-defined block configurations that nicely match the themes’ looks.

New block templates for Hestia and Neve

Styled Hestia templates in Otter’s section block

Block editor compatibility for our plugins, too

For plugins, we needed to decide which of the Gutenberg API’s was better suited for the integration. That is, where would users find the plugin’s options and how would those options be integrated into the editor?

For Feedzy RSS Feeds, we introduced a block that replaced the older shortcode method:
Feedzy and Section blocks in Otter

New blocks created for Feedzy RSS Feeds and Section block (in Otter)

In the case of WP Product review , we decided to use the Plugin API and integrate the WP Product Review options into the sidebar:
WPPR in editor sidebar

For Visualizer: Tables and Charts, the block was a portal to display/edit the existing shortcodes, which were saved as a custom post type.

“Backward compatibility was our main focus so we tried experimenting many ways to make sure we give the seamless experience as before while making sure our products are just as much Gutenberg ready in terms of code, as they’re in their design philosophy.”Hardeep Asrani, Product Manager at ThemeIsle

Are you ready for the block editor?

Going back to the editor adoption by users now and what is the best course of action at this time, I see two scenarios depending on what type of user you are.

Use case #1 – WordPress newbies

People who are joining WordPress for the first time don’t have a real concern for historical facts and what was here before they arrived.

If it works (and it does) why bother to look for options? For people building their first sites, the block editor is the only reality. These new adopters are not challenged by previous habits and they will start using it right off the bat.

If you have a new site and you’ve just joined WordPress, just roll with it and make sure you’re updating to the new versions when they come out. The 5.1 release is coming out on February 21st and brings new site health features and a faster running editor.

Use case #2 – Long-time WordPress’ers

This is where we also belong. Here are people that have at least a live site on WordPress. They built their sites when the classic TinyMCE editor was around and needed to learn all the widgets and plugins that came to help.

If your sites were published before WordPress 5.0, it’s better to wait a couple of months until all theme and plugin developers have made the transition to the new editor. You can still update WordPress, but use the old editor instead (here’s how to keep using the Classic TinyMCE editor for now).

The next steps for us…

Over the next few months, we’re putting more effort into the development of themes, with Neve coming along with a starter sites library built with the new block editor.

Beyond that, we’re going to keep enhancing our Otter blocks plugin to help users get more from the block editor.

Overall, there’s a lot of excitement in the world of WordPress as we watch WordPress’ UI keep evolving. This was a needed challenge to bring more usability to the users and it feels like things are moving in the right direction. In order for us to evolve, we need to change our old ways and rediscover how to be creative, which is best brought by the unknown.

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