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Gutenberg Prediction: The Gutenlook

Don't create cookie cutter sites with Gutenberg
If a design pattern sells, theme developers have a vested interest in reproducing that pattern.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I have a prediction about the future of Gutenberg and WordPress. A year from now, all blogs will have what I’m calling “The Gutenlook.” Website owners will want the clean, easy-to-read design that Gutenberg provides, and we’ll all slowly start to adopt The Gutenlook until it eventually takes over the world.

It will start out innocently enough. A site or 2 will pop up with this new aesthetic, and we’ll all look longingly at the Medium-esque style and decide we have to have it.

Before you know it, The Gutenlook will take hold and become as ubiquitous as the logo+banner+3 icons design that took hold around the time Bootstrap was introduced. There’s no use trying to fight it. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes and me getting YouTube Red just to watch the Cobra Kai series.

Why will The Gutenlook take over?

Gutenberg is the new visual editor for WordPress that makes it easy to add custom elements to a post or page in the form of blocks. Frankly, it’s awesome. We love Gutenberg here at Reaktiv. I believe it will drive the next decade of innovation in WordPress. There are several reasons why I believe The Gutenlook will become universal.

Clean, professional design

The first reason for the ensuing dominance of The Gutenlook is that it looks good. It offers a clean, professional design that helps make your content easy to consume. It appears to be inspired by the simple, single-column design of Medium posts, which offers a pleasant, distraction-free reading experience. Why wouldn’t website owners want to adopt this aesthetic?

It’s WordPress

The latest news is that WordPress powers 30% the top 10 million sites. That is a huge number. With the market share that WordPress has, changes in the core become widely adopted across the internet quickly. Once Gutenberg is officially released, I expect to start seeing people use it in droves. With Gutenberg will come a lot of new themes that take advantage of the new visual editor and adopt The Gutenlook.

Generic Sells

Generic designs sell. I don’t mean that in a bad way. In the market for website themes, whether for WordPress or other platforms, you often see a move towards current standards. For the past few years, the Bootstrap look has been the de facto standard in web design. If a particular design pattern sells, theme developers have a vested interest in reproducing that pattern over and over again.

As more and more people adopt Gutenberg, theme developers will gravitate toward The Gutenlook because that will be what people want. There will be customized designs produced for high-end clients who have the resources to take advantage of Gutenberg’s flexibility, but for the mass market The Gutenlook will reign supreme.

Why it’s a good thing

The Gutenlook isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the kind of thing that usually happens in the world of web design. I happen to believe it can be a good thing. Here’s why.

Clean, professional design

Did I already mention that The Gutenlook is a clean, professional design? Well, here it is again. I’m old enough to remember when the trend was to put gaudy background textures behind your content making it virtually illegible. I even remember a time when using tables for your layout was considered an innovative idea. Those were dark days, my friend.

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that design patterns become widespread for a reason. Maybe it looks better than previous design patterns, or it provides a user friendly interface. Perhaps it helps lead to a better overall user experience (see “pleasant, distraction-free reading”). I’m happy for The Gutenlook to take over, because it’s a really good design.

Signal of Gutenberg Adoption

When we see The Gutenlook in the wild, it will be a signal that Gutenberg is being used by more and more people. If you care about the future of WordPress, this is a good thing. This is the first step in the adoption of a new technology.

Designers and developers use the tool the way it was built as they work their way up the learning curve. Once we all get more comfortable with how Gutenberg works, you will start to see a lot more creativity. Maybe a new design pattern will emerge that no one has thought of yet. It’s exciting to think of all the new innovations we will start to see over the next few years.

Website Sameness™ is better for users

Chris Coyier wrote an excellent post about what he is calling Website Sameness™ that makes this point much better than I ever could. He says this about sameness:

…if every website was a complete and total design departure from the next, I imagine that would be worse. To have to-relearn how each new site works means not taking advantages of affordances, which make people productive out of the gate with new experiences.
CSS Tricks

Designers have this compulsive need to make every site unique. That’s a good thing, because your website should reflect your brand and what sets you apart from your competition. But we need to be careful not to sacrifice user friendliness at the altar of uniqueness. Common design patterns help users know what to expect when they go from one website to another. Sameness helps them have a consistent experience and prevents them from having to learn how each site works.

Why it’s a bad thing

The Gutenlook is not all bad, but it’s not all good either. There are reasons we should try to customize our sites and avoid rubber stamping The Gutenlook all over the web.

Cookie cutter sites

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but where I live we have cookie-cutter neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods full of houses built by the same builder with 2-4 elevations to choose from. Every house looks like the one next to it. It’s easy to get lost in a neighborhood like this because you lose the ability to differentiate between the houses.

If every website looks exactly the same, the web becomes a boring, cookie cutter neighborhood. You go from site to site wondering if you even left the previous site because they all look the same. Of course, this is taking The Gutenlook to the extreme. I don’t believe we are in any real danger of turning the web into a cookie cutter neighborhood, but it could become that in the absence of creativity and innovation.

The “WordPress Look”

If all WordPress sites start looking alike (again), it might signal to the world that this is the new  “WordPress Look.” It could send a message that it is difficult to deviate from this look if you use WordPress, and inspire people to try other systems.

Lack of Creativity

If The Gutenlook takes over for good, it means there is a serious lack of creativity in the WordPress community. I don’t believe that’s the case, which is why I think The Gutenlook will have a relatively short shelf life.

Why does it matter?

The Gutenlook is coming, and it will be here before we know it. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Designers should learn the nuances of the tool to start coming up with new, creative designs that leverage what Gutenberg has to offer. Developers should learn the nuances of the tool to take advantage of and extend what’s possible. Once we work our way up the learning curve, we can get beyond The Gutenlook and help drive the next innovations. In the meantime, at least it looks good.

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Cory Webb is a senior full stack developer hailing from Waco, Texas, home of Dr. Pepper, Baylor University, and shiplap (that’s a reference to HGTV’s Fixer Upper for the uninitiated).