Have you ever seen a common WordPress end user taking part in conversations over stack exchange where developers ask development related questions? Or have you ever seen a layman who cannot design, who doesn’t know a thing about aesthetics, sharing shots at Dribbble? I am pretty sure your answer is NO!
We Developers/designers Are Guilty#
So, why is that? It’s pretty obvious that an end user who has nothing to do with development or design really has nothing to do with programming and design. But we are guilty! we (developers and designers) are guilty of one thing, submerged in the deep detail oriented sea of programmable options & design aesthetics we often forget about the end user.
Ask yourself, what an end user wants and what does an end user really needs? These are the questions, we forget to answer and deprived of actual feedback in a sheep walk towards less performant, less affective, remotely intuitive systems we keep on building unnecessary stuff i.e. Page Builders.
I mean no offense to any of the companies/dev/designers, I just mean to address this voice in my head which keeps telling me to stop, while I appreciate every other (new) page builder which comes in to play.
My Take on Page Builders#
While I like all the page builders and such other solutions present in the WordPress industry, at the same time, I also don’t like them for one big reason. The obvious reason! End users are not designers/developers, they are not meant to design things. Just for a second here stop whatever you are doing and compare a designer who spent five to ten years learning, experimenting, pixel perfecting and experience modelling with an end user who bought a page builder to design his site. What do you feel about it? Is it the future or the doomsday, if I could just call it that.
An end user with no experience at all, designing his website through a page builder is the perfect recipe for “Visual death” of the internet as we know it.
Re-Thinking Our Approach#
In my humble opinion we need to re-think our approach because the way things are and where they are headed, are going to lead WP to more mess and less of what we might call the future WordPress. We should be building niche specific and application specific piece of software. I think user experience is a necessary evil and we need to evaluate ourselves, our projects and our ideas. What do you think?
“We should be building niche specific and application specific pieces of software. ”
I couldn’t agree more
Sallie Goetsch (@salliegoetsch)
I think most end-users–the sort of people who use WordPress.com or who hire people like us to build their websites–either just want to post content or don’t even want to do that much: they want sites they can forget about. BUT there is a large group of DIY and “prosumer” WordPress users who want to get their hands dirty. Maybe they are building sites for other people but lack some code skills.
I think these people–the ones who’ve maybe built a little side business specializing in making sites with Avada or something similar–are the real market for page-building tools.
The true experts with CSS and PHP will probably avoid them unless they can be convinced that the quality of the code produced is as good as their own. I’m what’s known as a “Google developer”–a person who searches for code snippets and applies them by trial and error, and I’M not convinced the code output is good enough. But there are enough WP consultants at or below my level of experience who will, and do, love these tools. And I can see someone who has graphic design experience but not CSS, HTML, or PHP skills trying them out, too.
So the end-user may not really want or need page-builders, but there seem to be quite a few other people who do, or we wouldn’t be seeing such a flood of new entrants into the market.
I agree about the fact that there is need for such solutions in the market. But this approach is messy.
Let’s put it like this, I think all this process should be done pre-theme creation. Instead of page builders, I think we should have theme builders, so that the theme which is built through the generator, must only use the code which is really needed.
If you ask around you’ll hear almost every time people want full cotrol. So when given the choice they will pick a theme that’s powered by a page-builder.
And that’s how the problems start. Because when they have to configure their website they have no idea where to start. Even if they have basic design skills, they have to many options and they are overwhelmed.
Page builders force end users to become designers and sometimes even coders, considering most of them require users to know basic css.
Lately I helped a few of my friends build their websites using Visual Composer ( Their choice, not mine ), and today, I am ashamed to tell anyone that I did. My friends started making changes, adding pages and as you can presume they ruined the entire design.
Exactly, the end result of using these page builders is ruining aesthetics of WordPress based designs.
Disclosure: I’m not a fan of builders, but I have built a plugin that allows end users to design their Genesis site within a certain range.
I think the thing that gets lost in this argument is that we as developers and designers think have a say in what an end user should and should not do. I’ve fallen victim to that myself. But I need to remember that I don’t own their site. It doesn’t belong to me. I have exactly zero say in what is OK for them to do. While I can recommend people not use them (which I do) and promote better methods, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply not my decision to make.
It’s the “I know what’s best for you” attitude that alienates a lot of end users to begin with. Maybe they don’t know jack about design theory or development best practices. Maybe they will create the most hideous looking site ever displayed on the web. But that is their choice. And I’ve gotta respect that.
What about WordPress? When people look at poorly designed websites they start thinking wrong about WordPress, which in turns costs every single one of us. WordPress community loses a lot of users coz they think WordPress is a big mess.
Your clients must be very different from my clients. Mine are usually small businesses who constantly get frustrated by the Visual Editor when it does things (or doesn’t do things) that they expect. These are people who grew up with Microsoft Word, and that’s what they expect from the Visual Editor. They want to move things around, put things in columns, and be able to line everything up nicely. Except…when that rarely happens in their WordPress editor, they are frustrated and upset. The client doesn’t see herself as a designer. She just wants to present the content on her page in a visually pleasing way. She wants this page to have 3 columns of text with a couple of images interspersed within them, with a few big bold headlines, maybe in different colors, etc. She’s confident of her abilities to design a nice Microsoft Word flyer, and she wants to use those same abilities to do the same on her site. But she fails often because the Visual Editor sucks at that. And the last thing she wants to do is to have to pay a 3rd party to make her content look good every time she writes a blog post or creates a new page.
Clients assume WordPress is easy because that’s what they hear. But unless a client just wants to spew out a bunch of text and the occasional image, and doesn’t need to have it all laid out nicely in columns, WordPress content creation is anything but easy. And that’s not even talking about the poor folks who attempt to move from writing HTML all their lives and attempt to use br tags and other things that disappear on them. That’s another conversation for another day.
I wish everyone would stop making clients out to be stupid for trying to design. Clients need to do what they need to do to control their sites and present their content in the best way possible. Making it easy for them to do that is our job. And that’s why we need to get this page building thing done right. Should have focused on it more long ago.
I agree. The rise of page builders is in part a result of the lack of control provided by the post editor. One of the most talented WordPress theme designers I’ve seen tries out page builders for one reason only, looking for easy ways for end users to create / manage columns.
On the subject of page builders, I’m personally not a big fan of inserting widgets into each column to add content. Also, as Chris Lema points out, you end up with page builder or theme lock-in because if you switch you sometimes loose the content or end up with a shortcode mess.
I think it would be a good step forward if we had visually editable columns built into the visual editor that used divs.
As Eusebiu noted, most people will say they want “full control” when asked. I mean, inside every human being is desire to be free. That might sound silly, but they’re definitely related.
But, if you pose the situation with different wording, you’ll find most people choose a different option. Given the choice between redoing all the plumbing in your house by trial and error, or having a skilled and knowledgeable professional plumber do it for you in much less time and with much less frustration, most people will choose the latter.
I think it boils down to an education problem. If a site owner has a job to do, they may buy a multipurpose theme with page builders and hundreds of options thinking that’s the best way to go. What kid didn’t fall prey to the featured packed gimmicks of Swiss Army knives? You can certainly put together an Ikea desk with one, using the rickety screwdriver tucked in next to the corkscrew, but it’s way easier to do it with a regular screwdriver that was built specifically for the job. The person may think the Swiss Army knife is better because at some point in the process they may need a blade to open that overly taped pack of screws. Teaching that person it’s better to have a single purpose knife and single purpose screwdriver will make their lives better. Who hasn’t wanted to kick a hole in the wall while putting together a desk? Now imagine doing it with a multipurpose tool that’s basically great at nothing. That ain’t no way to live. :)
Sallie noted there’s a market of people who fall somewhere in the middle who want to get their hands dirty. No doubt. And apparently there’s a good many of them. Most of the people I run into using these things don’t fit in that space though. They’re end users with no design or code skills whatsoever, who are just trying to get a website up and running. They get distracted by the shiny bells and whistles and forget what they set out to do in the first place. I’ve seen many people fumble with them for months, literally, before finally giving up. Needless to say most attribute the difficulty to WordPress itself – which is already hard enough for new users – instead of attributing it to the fact that they’re trying to do something they don’t know how to do with a tool that works about as good as a Swiss Army knife.
My beef with the page builder concept is that it proposes people should spend days and weeks trying to do a job for which they have no skills instead of focusing on what they’re good at and set out to do in the first place.
Good design solves problems. Good design requires making decisions, not shrugging off that responsibility by throwing 400 options at the customer, most of which they won’t use in the end. That makes lives harder. Not easier. Products should make lives easier. But as Norcross said, you have to respect that it’s their decision. When given the chance, I educate people on the upsides and downsides of these things when they ask for my advice. Sometimes they choose one way, sometimes another. Ultimately it’s their decision, and I did my part to educate.
This is a big topic, with a lot that can be said. There’s a lot of nuance. The conversation could go on for some time. We wrote about this at Array last year.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
John Parris the analogy of Swiss Army Knives is perfect for Page Builders. And you are right about this part “What kid didn’t fall prey to the featured packed gimmicks of Swiss Army knives?”
Yes! it’s their choice, and hey it’s me voicing my concern because I want to be a part of WordPress future which is better than present one, and less messier(if that’s even a word).
My experience is that 1 out of 50 customers like to customize their website themeselves. The rest of them struggle with getting their grip on navigating the admin dashboard to write a simple post og edit a page text and get their head around how to add a descent photo to the post. This might sound condescending, but it´s my reality struggelig with trying to educate my customers to take more use of the possibilites owning a wordpress.org site. Therefor I look foreward to front end editing gets included in the core so they dont have to get lost in the wilderness of the wordpress admin area. Builders is fun for those (us) that are novel to intermediate web designers wanting to build a site in a flash, but nothing for the larger crownds
HASAN DAWAR RAZA RIZVI
I think Page builder is needed. WordPress is also working on page builder. So when MATT thinks its necessary so I think it is necessary for users.
WordPress is not working on any page builder. Your are pretty much mistaken about that. Front-end editor is being created and it is a different thing, not a page builder.