According to the latest estimates, somewhere in the region of 180 million websites are built using WordPress technology. That equates to 43% of all websites on the internet – an impressive figure that surpasses even their closest competitors tenfold.1
WordPress is by far the most popular Content Management System (CMS) available to developers, dominating just over 64% of the CMS market. Much of this popularity comes from the user-friendly interface and the high level of flexibility offered by Gutenberg blocks, which allow you to customise your website’s content and appearance.
What are Gutenberg Blocks?
The so-called ‘Gutenberg’ block editor was introduced in WordPress 5.0 in November 2018. It replaced the classic WordPress Editor, which resembled text editors such as Microsoft Word, by offering the user a selection of more intuitive blocks with which posts and pages could be constructed.
The name derives from Johannes Gutenberg; the 15th century German inventor of the printing press. His invention revolutionised the speed and efficiency of book production, leading to a rapid spread of information throughout Europe and beyond.
WordPress looks to do much the same in the realm of online information with the blocks that bear Gutenberg’s name. Currently, around ninety default Gutenberg blocks are available in the WordPress content editor, ranging from the humble ‘Header’ and ‘Paragraph’ text blocks to the more innovative ‘Content & Media’ and ‘Gallery’ blocks.2
These Gutenberg blocks have transformed the way in which content can be added and organised in the WordPress content editor. The system is much more intuitive and user-friendly, while the editor interface provides a more realistic visual representation of the webpage. This is a significant improvement from the previous editor, making website management more efficient and enjoyable, paving the way for an unprecedented leap forward in the sophistication and usability of sites.
Using a Modular Content System
Page building has become more efficient and flexible with the introduction of Gutenberg blocks. Instead of being restricted to a fixed design or template, users can now work with interchangeable modules that function independently. This provides more opportunities for creativity and customisation.
We can think of these components as ‘Lego bricks’ that can be pieced together in many ways to produce distinct yet coherent creations. In WordPress terms, users can build striking pages from scratch by picking and mixing from a variety of pre-made blocks, inserting content, and tweaking the appearance with the click of a button – all without having to touch a single line of code.
This modular system of site-building is incredibly versatile, allowing users to create flexible, coherent, and maintainable websites:
- At the heart of the modular content system is flexibility. Rather than relying on a fixed template design, users are able to utilise carefully designed blocks to construct and modify pages as required, block by block.
- Creating well-thought-out modular components empowers the content author to create custom pages and modify blocks without compromising the overall coherence of the website’s design.
- Modular components make a website more maintainable for users, giving them the ability to quickly update or create pages as and when needed without having to request these changes from a developer.
Creating Modular Blocks
Within the digital team, we create modular WordPress themes that empower the user, with themes designed with a strong emphasis on the versatility of each modular block. In order to take advantage of this versatility to the full, it is essential that we, as designers or developers, create these components with a number of key factors in mind:
Though the advantage of using modular blocks lies in their flexibility, and in the ability for the user to customise blocks and pages as needed, it is crucial that we, as developers, get the right balance between too many options and too few.
In the words of Gerry McGovern, “Designing a website is a bit like being a kid and inheriting a sweetshop. It’s easy to get carried away. There are so many choices.”4
When building each modular block, it is crucial to consider these choices. Having too many options can make the build process overwhelming and convoluted, with blocks and pages losing the coherence that binds the site together. However, having too few options can inadvertently restrict the user from the very versatility that makes the blocks so useful.
One example of a decision to consider is the background colour of your blocks. Colours are a great way of breaking a webpage up into easy-to-read sections. They also make your webpage stand out. However, providing countless background colours can lead to headaches and inconsistencies.
One of the biggest advantages of modular blocks is their seemingly effortless ability to fit anywhere on the page without disrupting the overall look and feel.
Achieving this requires a lot of care and thought in the design and build processes. When creating modular blocks, it is important to consider all possible scenarios. No matter what order the blocks are presented in on the page, elements such as spacing, alignment, and colour contrast must all be considered.
Careful preparation, meticulous design and development, and scrupulous testing are a must to create the perfect modular theme.
In summary, there are many advantages to using modular blocks in a WordPress theme. By moving away from fixed page templates and, instead, breaking websites down into independent and interchangeable modular blocks, content authors are empowered to create and update their page content with ease.
To fully take advantage of this block-building system, it is important to carefully prepare from the start. Blocks must be designed and built to fit together in any number of ways while maintaining consistency across the website.
By investing that extra time, thought, and care into the design and build processes, you are ensuring the flexibility, coherence, and maintainability of your website for the long term.
- WordPress Statistics: How Many Websites Use WordPress in 2023? Aigars Silkalns, January, 2023 (https://colorlib.com/wp/wordpress-statistics/).
- WordPress Blocks: What Are They and How to Customize Your Site Using Them. Astari S. and Leonardus N., March, 2023 (https://www.hostinger.co.uk/tutorials/wordpress-blocks).
- Thinking in Blocks: WordPress and Modular Design, June, 2021 (https://purrgroup.com/insights/blog/thinking-in-blocks/).
- Web Navigation is About Moving Forward, Gerry MGovern, April 2006, (https://www.cmswire.com/cms/web-cms/web-navigation-is-about-moving-forward-000709.php/amp/).