Since I’ll be leading the 4.7 release cycle, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it might look like. Really, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about bigger projects and longer roadmaps in general, but 4.7 is pretty good motivation to kick things off.
One of the wishlist items I’ve heard throughout my five years of core contributing has been NUX – new user experience. So many abandoned sites, so much frustration in getting a site looking the way you want it to, so let’s fix it! Except that NUX is hugely broad (and itself can be thought of as N-UX and NU-X), and while individual bits have been worked on here and there (e.g. pointers), I wouldn’t exactly call it a unified effort toward a shared goal.
The part of NUX that I would like to start tackling in 4.7 is initial site setup, which also ties in with theme setup, whether that’s initially for a site or on theme switch. My premise here is that a user should be able to go from a fresh install of WordPress to being ready to show somebody else their site in a unified experience that allows for live, non-destructive previews. Initial questions that spring to mind are:
- Where exactly do we define the start and stop of the setup phase to tackle right now?
Perhaps post-theme selection through when you first feel comfortable sharing the site with somebody else, e.g. “check out what I’m working on”.
- What might somebody have already in mind when they start the process of setting up a new site?
These might be things like a general visual idea (typically inspired by a site or general trends), existing media (photography, videos), contact form, and so on.
- How do different people conceptualize the structure of a website?
When I taught digital portfolios for musicians, the most successful analogue was a hierarchical outline. Some people don’t think about it at all, and that’s okay, too.
- What goes through somebody’s mind as they pick the next thing they want to change about their new site?
For instance: I want the title of my site to look like this, now I want a logo next to it, now I want this image behind all of that, and then under that would be a menu that goes to pages with these titles, and then over there I want my contact info, etc.
- What currently exists in WordPress that supports this goal?
Customizer, site icon, site logo, custom header, custom background, featured images, nav menus, widgets, ???
- What currently blocks users from accomplishing this in WordPress?
Activating a theme might not make it look anything like the screenshot or demo you saw. Adding pages to nav menus currently requires you to leave the customizer, make a page (which confronts you with a content area that you may not be ready to think about yet), and then go back to add it. Or, add a fake link and remember to go back and change it later (and that’s for a user who understands custom links and making fake ones, etc.). Multi-part pages don’t have any sort of standard or even common editing experience. Shift-click to edit an element (which is over in a side panel) is a hidden feature with no visible hint.
- What are other services/software projects doing in this regard? What’s working or not working for them and why?
Time to do some market research. 🙂
With 4.7 being the final release of the year, Twenty Seventeen is also on my mind, which aligns nicely with this focus area. I have some pretty strong personal feelings about what I want it to be like, but no matter what, here’s what I want it to represent and enable for others:
- Theme demos on .org that actually best showcase that theme. This may be static home page, specific content, layout selections, and so forth.
- Initial option/content/whatever setting upon theme activation, so that users get the look they saw and have some prompts for what kind of content might go where. This is super tricky for a number of reasons and I think we’d want to approach it in a restricted way so that best practices have time to develop before more creative approaches appear and get copied.
- If some kind of multi-part page is present (seems highly likely in the current climate), at least an initial exploration of the best experience for editing that in various contexts.
One of the things that was really interesting in 4.6 was the response to the proposal for creating page stubs while editing nav menus in the customizer. A lot of concerns seem to center around mixing of content and appearance editing in the customizer, and the recurring theme of worrying that the customizer is eating WordPress‡.
In regards to the mixing of what’s being edited, I don’t believe that the majority of WordPress users or even a significant percentage of us make a distinction between “content” and what our sites look like. Essentially, for most there is but a singular “this is what’s on my website”. That’s not to say that there isn’t a difference technically, and certainly for developers it’s much more evident (although nav menus and widgets still seem to be a gray area). As always, I’m happy to be wrong, but I’m also confident that I’m not.
Bottom line, what I want is to close the gap between what a user is expecting a theme to look like and what it actually looks like on their own site. Someday soon I’d also like to close the gap between what a user has in their head and finding a theme to match. If this sounds like some things that Matt’s been saying, well, we do actually talk to each other 🙂 I’ve got plenty of other things I want to have happen in 4.7, and I’m sure as things get rolling next month people will bring up tons of great ideas and bugs that need fixing, but actually planning some kind of product feature and roadmap seems like a good thing to start doing.
‡ As for the customizer eating WordPress: it’s not. But! I understand where that comes from. User trust is centrally important to WordPress – shared philosophies and its success alike. When it comes to what’s on a website (appearance and content), one of the best ways to gain and keep user trust is to provide non-destructive live previews. Right now in WordPress, TinyMCE can serve that for content, but that’s largely the area of the customizer, and that’s why things keep creeping into it – because that ability to try out changes without them showing up before you’re ready or otherwise being “punished” for them is incredibly important. But it might not be the customizer in its current form forever, and in fact, it probably shouldn’t be.