In the last year, we’ve rewritten Toolset to run inside the WordPress Block Editor. We are almost done with this grand project and are preparing to release the new development during this month (November 2019). Part of this change includes a branding update from “Views” to “Blocks”. In this post, we explain our reasoning and what it means practically.
Recap – Why we Invested so Much Effort Moving to Gutenberg
About a year ago, Gutenberg made it into WordPress. At the time, many (including us) felt that the project is not yet mature enough and doesn’t allow doing what most websites require. However, together with the long list of missing features, we could also see the promise and potential for Toolset-based websites.
From the beginning of the Toolset project, our product had suffered from two major problems:
- Lack of design features – it was difficult to build a beautiful site with Toolset and required a lot of advanced CSS work.
- Steep learning curve – since everything was HTML and shortcode-based, there was a lot to learn and a lot to remember.
Our solution to these chronic problems was to integrate with popular page builders. Those developers who’ve been using Toolset since its beginning may remember our grand plans to work with the Headway theme. Then, Beaver Builder and almost every other popular page builder. The idea was simple and made sense. Toolset would deliver the backend and page builders will deliver the design features.
However, experience has taught us that these integrations are difficult to maintain over time. They require cooperation and effort on two companies that don’t necessarily share the same goals, plans, and schedules.
Overall, we’ve spent years of developer effort in developing and maintaining these integrations. The return to our clients wasn’t proportional to the effort we spent. Clients had to chase ever-changing recommendations from us about the best “Toolset-friendly” theme and builder. This wasn’t only expensive for us, but also for our clients.
When WordPress introduced its own page builder, we saw it as an opportunity to work with one editor, which focuses on stability rather than chase features. Indeed, when we look at the progress in Gutenberg in the last year, we can see that its infrastructure has greatly improved, without introducing massive breaking changes. This was exactly what we needed. A platform that moves slowly and predictably and allows us to always remain ahead.
The Current State of Toolset’s Integration with Gutenberg
At the beginning of the project, we got a little worried. Gutenberg was missing many of the elements and features that we considered as “basic” for any design tool. It didn’t even have working columns and did not produce responsive design.
Loading pages was horribly slow, the editor had a long list of glitches and preview left a lot to be desired.
When we started the project, we had to take a leap of faith and assume that these basic features will eventually arrive. We were hoping that they would already exist by the time we complete our development.
Fortunately, today Gutenberg offers convenient editing. It still doesn’t have all the basic features that we’re looking for, but they’re all either “ready” or “coming very soon”. If you use Toolset (the last beta) with Gutenberg (in WordPress 5.3) today, you’ll discover that almost everything that you’re trying to build is possible and easy. We know because we’ve been using this combo for the last few weeks to rebuild our own Toolset.com and big parts of wpml.org. Our conclusion is that it works well and allows a “non-programmer” designer to build beautiful websites. We’ve heard similar feedback from many of our clients and from others in the WordPress community.
Why Rebrand and What it Means
The “old Views” offers a very specific workflow for building templates, archives, and Views. The new Gutenberg workflow is completely different.
For example, to build a View now, you edit the page where you want the View to appear, add a View block and design it right inside the page. No back and forth between different admin screens and no shortcodes appearing anywhere.
So now, the product feels much different, includes a very different set of features and comes with completely different usage instructions.
We think that this is enough reason to also give it a new name. So, we’re calling the new version “Toolset Blocks”.
The new Toolset Blocks plugin will have its own documentation, while the old Views keeps its current documentation. These two sets of documentation sections will teach how to achieve similar results but using very different ways.
Existing sites will continue using Views with shortcodes so that you don’t need to worry about updating old sites that you built. New sites will use Blocks, so you enjoy the drastically improved workflow.
You can easily switch between the two. You will be able to enable the Blocks features in the old Views and enable backend editing in the new Blocks. By default, these mixed-features will be disabled, so that the user interface supports either this workflow or the other.
How Does Layouts Fit In?
The new design process uses the WordPress Block Editor and Blocks. It doesn’t require Layouts and we don’t recommend using the two plugins together.
Layouts is great for the “old Views”. When you’re building new sites with Toolset Blocks, there’s no need to also use Layouts. We recommend picking a simple “Gutenberg friendly” theme and that’s it.
Toolset’s Integration with Other Popular Page Builders
Many of our clients use Toolset with other popular page builders. These page builders have been around well before Gutenberg and currently offer more flare that Gutenberg has, so it’s perfectly understandable.
As the old Views plugin remains and keeps getting updates, you can continue using the “old workflows” that you’ve come to rely on.
We are doing our absolute best to keep up with new features and API changes from page builders. Some we manage with and some are a lot more challenging.
We have no plans to abandon any of the existing integrations from our side. However, all these integrations require the active cooperation of “the other author”. The introduction of Gutenberg into WordPress has made this a lot more challenging for us, for a surprising reason.
Once WordPress received its own page builder, all authors of all page builders felt the need to compete and prove their superiority. This means even faster release cycles and drastic changes to interfaces. We feel that Toolset integration with popular page builders is less of a priority. This is because Toolset’s users are a tiny part of their clients. The majority of the people using page builders are pushing for more and more design features and not to maintain Toolset integration.
Other Development Work Done During This Time
We kept writing about our Gutenberg plans in the last year, but a significant part of our development went into other important features.
Here is a short list of other highlights that we completed:
- Drag-and-drop editor for Forms
- Bootstrap 4 support
- Public API for Types fields
- Native Media management for Forms
- Major performance improvements for distance search in Maps
And, we’re still working on other major features that are not yet done:
- Calendar integration for Views (will go into Blocks)
- Same-post-type relationships
- Blocks support for users and taxonomy
- Nested Views with Blocks
- And, of course, a whole set of tools for designers
We hope that this long story brings clarity to our design objectives and where we see Toolset going in the future. We don’t have all the answers yet. However, we do have a working product and we hope that you will enjoy using it.
Please leave your comments with questions, ideas, and concerns so that we can reply.