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FSE Outreach Program coordinator Anne McCarthy facilitated a recent call for responses (a slight change in format from the recurring FSE calls for testing) on the topic of blockBlockBlock is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience. theme switching, which officially kicked off the process of “thinking long term about what folks would want to be able to have across themes.” According to Anne’s follow up summary:
When it came to ideas for how to best manage the switching process, it quickly became clear that there’s a balance to strike between not adding too much friction to the process while also offering users options to pick and choose what can come with them when they switch.
The call for replies resulted in some imaginative descriptions of how this all could work. The responses also raise some important questions: what role should themes play in the world of block themes, especially when users may want to mix & match styles and layouts from different themes? What does switching themes mean in this context, when you might be able to use aspects from several different themes?
I used some of the responses to Anne’s post as a starting point for a blue-sky exploration around what theme switching might look like in a world of highly flexible themes that — in the true spirit of WordPress — can be hacked and cobbled together to your heart’s content.
The flows shown below stem from on an ongoing series of posts by Javier Arce and I that explore the possibility of introducing a GutenbergGutenbergThe Gutenberg project is the new Editor Interface for WordPress. The editor improves the process and experience of creating new content, making writing rich content much simpler. It uses ‘blocks’ to add richness rather than shortcodes, custom HTML etc. https://wordpress.org/gutenberg/-style mosaic interface across WordPress screens — including, for example, on the Appearance/Themes page. This is a thought experiment that we are excited to share more widely — please feel free to leave comments on the blog posts or message us directly in the Making WordPress Slack!
Redesign the current Live Preview theme switching flow to incorporate a process similar to multi-entity saving
Entry point: Appearance/Themes
First, I explored the most literal translation of the current theme switching flow as it exists today while incorporating the top bar and other familiar Gutenberg components.
Just like the Live Preview functionality works now, we could utilize a CustomizerCustomizerTool built into WordPress core that hooks into most modern themes. You can use it to preview and modify many of your site’s appearance settings.-like preview that would allow users to preview and navigate the site before activating the changes. Selections regarding which styles and layouts to activate could be made in a sidebarSidebarA sidebar in WordPress is referred to a widget-ready area used by WordPress themes to display information that is not a part of the main content. It is not always a vertical column on the side. It can be a horizontal rectangle below or above the content area, footer, header, or any where in the theme. panel, similar to the one used for multi-entity saving.
Like the current flow, the default behavior is a one-click activation that would switch styles and layouts to the new theme’s defaults (or to the user’s prior customizations of that theme’s templates, where applicable). This is based on the assumption that the majority of users will want to switch everything to the new theme’s look — but the activation panel also provides an opportunity to offer more granular selections.
We could utilize the thumbnail preview that appears within the Global Styles panel, and there could be a toggle allowing you to switch between the theme being previewed and the active theme on your site.
From there, it would be possible to drill down into more nuanced selections. For example, you might want to keep certain aspects of your active styles (e.g., just the color or typography) and have those be activated rather than the new theme’s defaults. Similar selections could be made for the layout by picking and choosing which Templates and Template parts to keep active on your site when switching.
A fun variation on this idea is to utilize a slider for comparing the before and after layouts (similar to an Image Compare block):
Make Theme management accessible directly from the Site Editor
Entry point: Global Styles panel
What if block theme switching could be integrated directly within the site editing flow? For example, a modal containing the Appearance/Themes page could be directly accessible from the Global Styles sidebar. This would allow theme switching to happen more seamlessly without ever leaving the site editor, and hopefully turn the sometimes stressful moment of theme switching into something more akin to changing settings — it’s a low effort modal to close, reopen, and keep tinkering with.
Reconceptualize themes to emphasize styles (with optional or de-emphasized Templates)
Entry point: Global Styles panel
The last idea takes inspiration from a super interesting alternate range of color schemes shipping with the upcoming Twenty Twenty-Two theme. What if changing themes was about swapping styles, withtemplate changes becoming something more seamlessly intertwined with existing editing flows? For example, maybe you could browse Template parts from other themes via the inserter or an in-canvas selector.
In this case, navigation between theme styles could happen directly from within the Global Styles panel. Utilizing the current Global Styles navigation pattern, perhaps you could drill down further to adjust and fine-tune after selecting a theme style.
While there’s a lot left unexplored in these flows, I hope these sketches can help serve as a starting point for design discussions around things we would like to see in the future of block theme switching! A great next step would be to start narrowing in on an iterative pathway towards enabling the mixing-and-matching of block themes — at the moment of the theme switch and potentially beyond.
Welcome to a new installment of the series where I look at the current state of GutenbergGutenbergThe Gutenberg project is the new Editor Interface for WordPress. The editor improves the process and experience of creating new content, making writing rich content much simpler. It uses ‘blocks’ to add richness rather than shortcodes, custom HTML etc. https://wordpress.org/gutenberg/ blocks and propose improvements.
In my previous post, I talked about the Table blockBlockBlock is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience.. This time I’ll be discussing another important component: the Search block.
Since search is a central activity for blogs and other sites that index content, it’s essential to give users the ability to customize the appearance of their search bars so that they don’t look alien or feel disconnected from the design of their sites.
The Search block options are pretty limited at the moment, and the block can only offer a short range of styles. The good news is that just by adding a small group of settings (many of which already exist for other blocks), users will be able to customize their search boxes in many different ways:
With that in mind, let’s have a look at this block.
The current toolbar has three main buttons that perform the following actions:
Showing and hiding the search label.
Changing the position of the search button (outside, inside, or no button).
Toggling between a search button with text or an icon.
To be more consistent with the way other blocks present the options and also to simplify the toolbar, we could move the second and third buttons (“Change button position” and “Use the button with icon”) from the toolbar to the sidebarSidebarA sidebar in WordPress is referred to a widget-ready area used by WordPress themes to display information that is not a part of the main content. It is not always a vertical column on the side. It can be a horizontal rectangle below or above the content area, footer, header, or any where in the theme.. In the case of “Use button with icon”, I think this is not a primary action, and also the icon itself doesn’t convey the actual operation behind the button.
We could also add a setting to modify the alignment of the text inside the input field and the position of the text button. Controlling the alignment would allow users to create bars like these ones:
For languages that use right to left scripts like Arabic, Hebrew, or Urdu, we automatically switch the alignment of the text and the position of the search button.
To allow having styles that use the writing direction defined by the language, we could offer four alignment options:
Default (it uses the direction of the selected language)
The last three options would overwrite the direction defined by the selected language.
Let’s review how the sidebar could look like and the sections that it would include:
When users add a new search bar, they’ll get the default setting (Button outside), but will have the other styles visible on their sidebars for a quick switch.
This section would allow adjusting the general width of the block (a feature that is currently present) and also toggling the following settings:
The icon inside the search input.
The icon inside the search button.
Here is a list of variations that those two settings would produce:
In this section, users could change the padding of the item and also affect the spacing (the distance between the button and the input field).
There’s an interesting conversation around contextual padding controls in this GitHub issue, which could probably be applied to this block.
Depending on the style (button outside or button inside) the padding could behave differently:
If the style button outside is selected, the padding will affect both the input field and the button.
If the style button inside is selected, the padding will affect the outermost element.
The spacing setting could also be adjusted using a handle in the block itself. The control between the input field and the button would change the spacing, whereas the control in the button would allow resizing the whole block (which is the current behaviour).
I think we should allow users to modify the border of the input field and the button independently for each of the four sides. That would give them great control to create different styles. For instance, they could create search bars with just a bottom border.
There’s an open PR that deals with border color support and border style here.
Depending on what element is selected, the typography section would affect the font and style of the input field, the text button, or the label.
Like in the typography section, this one would affect the text and background colors of both the input and the button (again, depending on the selection).
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if we implement these changes, users will be able to customize their search bars in many different and exciting ways and have more control over the design of their sites.