Customizer Everywhere – No, Thanks, Here’s Why

When I wrote my post about the voluntarily business decisions last week, I tried to stress on the fact that a minor change may have a big impact, and for some this may be pretty critical.

Now we have a major decision that followed some other major ones, including the theme review requirement that Customizer is a “must” for WordPress themes.

dilbert-400-features

As a side note, an online friend told me last week that I’m very positive. On the contrary, I’m in fact a realist that always evaluates the possible regressions that something may do – because, at the end of the day, I love to help, give back and give credit where credit is due. I despise injustice, political BS and other things that happen due to frivolousness caused by people with power.

Without bringing the same strong level of emotion to the matter in hand, the latest “goodie” is that the Menu Customizer is also to be merged in Core. I love the Core Leads and all active contributors that make WordPress what it is, but it doesn’t mean that I have to support every decision. And I don’t think that this one is a minor one.

As Sarah said on WP Tavern:

My initial impression after testing is that managing menus in the customizer makes me feel claustrophobic. The live previews and the mobile friendliness are the big wins here, but they come at the expense of a squished menu management experience. For sites that use WordPress as a CMS, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of pages and subpages, menu management in the customizer could become rather cumbersome.

There are at least a dozen golden quotes both on Make and on Tavern’s posts, and I welcome you to read them and join the discussion.

The only real use case when I’ve seen the Customizer to be helpful (other than changing the site title or the logo) is Conductor which is a premium plugin by my friend Matt. It’s just useful and makes the management easier. Other than that Customizer isn’t useful to me or our clients, and I have seen too many practical scenarios where options are simply lost.

settings-api-implementationThe fact that the Settings API is terrible doesn’t mean that we need to ignore or bury an API for the sake of moving large components to the Customizer.

Mind you, we had to build a new Menus design a few major versions ago that has two different screens since they didn’t fit on a single one. And now we move them to Customizer.

In case someone reads that as a rant, please go and see the comments on both sites. My Twitter feed is literally filled up with Customizer complaints due to the latest proposal. I don’t really think that everyone around me lives in the same bubble with me named the “tiny little group of people who don’t like Customizer” while we have no access to everyone else who seems to like it.

Since I’m biased, I admit that my great vision for WordPress would be a super stable core, detachable, a framework even (like BackPress) that could be bundled similarly to Drupal’s distributions. I know that it won’t happen, don’t worry. But the further we move from this and the more we try to compete with Tumblr (Post Formats UI) and Squarespace (Menu in Customizer), the harder would it be for us to land large clients without having to spend a crazy amount on updates all the time.

I know how long does it take now for our largest clients to update to a new major version of WordPress and update the plugins as well (not the security updates). It’s a lenghty process that occasionally leads to regressions in specific areas.

And the reason of this post is to explicitly state that this is not a rant, but a vocal expression of a personal opinion based on business experience. I honestly believe that the people behind this idea are not aware of the number of people who don’t support it at all, and the more feedback they receive, the clearer would it be that it’s not the way to go.

I’d even say “let’s revive WordPress Ideas“. Democracy would be insane with the large community that we got, but at least it would be clear when something on the roadmap gets no support at all, or the majority of the people find it to be an incredibly bad idea.

12 thoughts on “Customizer Everywhere – No, Thanks, Here’s Why

    1. They actually require that already – https://make.wordpress.org/themes/2015/04/22/details-on-the-new-theme-settings-customizer-guideline/

      I don’t like it either, and I have friends who run (or just stopped) theme companies upselling from WordPress.org. It’s applicable in a few cases, but with an unlimited type of possible options for everything the limited tiny view in Customizer is a no-no in specific situations. A recommendation – sure, but a requirement is something I can’t approve here. That’s limiting creativity and possible extensions in every possible way.

      1. I contacted the Theme Review Team yesterday on Slack and they confirmed the new requirement.

        In fact, I believe that in my case users must be given the option to change particular theme settings from the WP dashboard. Otherwise, I am afraid that it will be difficult for them to use the theme as intended, which also means that fewer people will use it.

        I think I have no other option but to study the Customizer from the codex.

  1. Mario, completely agree with you. It’s a completely wrong move to move all the options into Customizer. Soon, we won’t have a WordPress admin interface at this rate.

    Right now, the admin bar link for Themes goes into the customizer, which means adding a new theme or testing is one extra painful step. So you have a link to Customize and a link to Themes also going to the customizer.

    Throw in the menu management there and we’re going to end up with a perfectly clogged user interface! And, throwing in all the theme options hasn’t helped the cause.

    1. I don’t like it either. Removing the Menus screen now (which will probably not happen) is a mistake in my opinion. Supporting two possible views in parallel isn’t the best UX too, and adds an overhead, creates potential bugs that are applicable in both screens, or only one of them, and so forth. That said, none of the use cases makes sense to me – at least done right now, with the existing infrastructure.

  2. At least it wont be removed from the Apperance menu so old way will remain, but like Nick (the proposer) wrote in Core Slack then we would have two places to fix bugs for and he didnt want to fix any bugs with the current system. So now we have more areas of WP Core that is abandon by everyone from the looks of it. I never got an answer to why they greenlit the menu customizer in the first place and spent so much time there instead of improving the current system. Except they saying it was a summer of code project. They have no plan at all for how the Appearance stuff will change in future etc, they wrote that it will change organically on a case by case bases. So apparantly all work is done without any specific goal in mind. But that seems to be the case for most of Core development. Which is very strange way to develop software.

    They are spending lots of time working on the customizer and all it does it making it worse from my view. The new system with the flipping panels etc makes me confused. I watched a video of Clickfunnels and I felt that their solution for customizer controls was better. Similar style but felt less constricted. Or Im just liking the color scheme more. Havent tried it out yet.

    1. Andreas, I do agree (strongly) on several points with you.

      Not having a long-term roadmap is a problem for larger websites, not to mention enterprise software. I covered the stability issue in one of my latest posts.

      Spending the time in a better way is also one of my thoughts. I’d like to see a lot of things implemented ASAP on an architectural/framework basis. And Customizer is very far away.

      The lack of “organization” is something that slightly bothers me. IIRC the Frontend Editor was supposed to get in Core in 3.9 or so. Now we have Customizer holding all the options. I have advised my clients not to build their own editors or use 3rd party ones since “it’s coming”. A startup I consulted even closed doors since they decided to invest in a frontend editor and abandoned it after the featured plugin plans.

      On the other hand I understand that with hundreds of millions of customers a huge group will be against any change proposed at all. That’s inevitable. Decisions need to be made if the platform is to move at all, or else we’ll end up as an Enterprise product that updates every 6-8 years.

      But given my Twitter feed, Slack channels, the Tavern and the Make blog, the Facebook groups – it’s all about how terrible of a choice that is. And I can’t agree more. I don’t see any public discussion revealing “the other side” or a readiness for a civilized discussion that covers both arguments and points.

      Also, live previews are great in theory, and they can save a lot of problems. I just don’t think that the Customizer is the right option, having seen a bunch of front-end views, popups with previews, the Preview button for posts, Admin theme preview plugin and so on, and so on.

      Communication and open documentation (component roadmaps) can totally be included and I believe that this will happen in time – as long as it’s not too late. I’m also curious if someone would fork WordPress or update BackPress, just as Backdrop emerged from Drupal. Where WordPress could be used for enterprise projects without the bloated part that’s not needed for a lot of high-end solutions.

  3. Hi Mario, you might be forgetting about the perspective of the WP user who has nor programming know-how at all. The feedback we get from many of our small business clients is that they love the customizer because they can “see instantly what changes” and *everything is in one place”. The visual preview is a killer feature for them. I think the existing menu management screen should stay, but there’s nothing wrong with improving the menu management options in the customizer. UI remember a post of yours that highlighted the importance of making WP as simple to use as Squarespace & co – the customizer is an important element in the process.

    1. Hey Peter, thanks for your comment!

      I haven’t really forgotten about the WP user’s perspective, simply because we interact constantly with thousands of non-tech users. The majority of them don’t find the customizer to be useful, mostly because it’s crazy claustrophobic.

      Changing basic colors, the site title or something small is fine, and I definitely see the benefit of having a previewer. Adding tons of components makes it cluttered in my opinion, and anything but a standard clean blog includes a lot of features that wouldn’t be a good fit for that sort of container.

      In addition to that there are other technical solutions that could come into play – frontend editors, preview before saving and others that exist as plugins. And as Ajay mentioned, afaik the long-term plan (in a year or two) is removing the Menus screen completely, which is a tough hit for all large websites with complex menus.

Your thoughts?