As we step into 2019, it’s a good time to stop and take a look at what’s been happening with the Drupal editing experience. 2018 seemed to be the “year of the editor” for not only Drupal, but the entire open source CMS world.
Editors need easy-to-use, highly flexible and accessible tools to create beautiful sites. With the rise of solutions based in react.js coming of age as well as more REST oriented architectures, we can certainly expect to see an explosion of the editing experience, especially in Drupal.
Merging Technology Between The Giants in CMS with Gutenberg Editor
The greatest thing about open source is that it’s open. One platform can adopt the features of another, and they often do when their aims are as close as those of Drupal and WordPress. Last year the Drupal community adopted a project called Gutenberg for a more pristine editing experience. The editor allows you to have a visual inline content creation experience with text, media and, of course, blocks. Gutenberg was created in coordination with a major WordPress effort to introduce the concept of blocks to their CMS. Since Drupal was born in this concept, Gutenberg was an easy adoption into our community.
This editor of course enhances the experience on both systems. However, I believe Drupal stands to gain the most from this project as the CMS has a long established history of blocks as a delivery system, though the editing experience has needed help. When you add in all the other complexities Drupal offers, such as Paragraphs, Context and Views, the possibilities are endless.
Drupal and WordPress have always been locked in a great debate as to which to use, when, what’s better than what. In this case, it’s great to see how different open source communities can enhance each other. Drupal’s concept of blocks is hands-down proven and, conversely, WordPress has been a favorite for editing content. Even Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, was heard saying “Drupal is my other favorite open source project” at the 2018 WCUS conference. It’ll be exciting to see what comes of this in 2019 as we progress in Drupal.
Layout Builder is an experimental module still in progress from the Drupal community. It’s a drag-and-drop style editing experience that is geared towards allowing editors the opportunity to create structured content with ease. If you’re familiar with Drupal Panels or Panelizer, you can think of this as a next step from there and in a similar direction as Gutenberg.
According to a Dries Buytaert post, we should see Layout Builder become stable and ready to use by May of 2019. Many of the remaining issues are related to maintaining Drupal’s commitment to accessibility standards. Layout Builder is aiming to keep up with Level AA compliance with WCAG and ATAG.
Emerging 3rd Party Page Builders like Glazed
For those who desire more free and wild control, we’re seeing solutions like Glazed surface from 3rd party companies like Sooperthemes. Glazed is a Drupal module that allows you to have granular control over padding, margins, custom animations and so on with a rich feature list.
While the Sooperthemes strongly promotes their pre-built themes, the Glazed module is able to be installed independently into any theme. Paid modules with this kind of functionality are a bit against the grain in the Drupal community, however it’s gained a note of praise from Dries even. I recommend testing it out and seeing if it fits into your organization's needs.
Making Trends Work for You
It’s really awesome to see how far we’ve come, but how you make a decision on which direction to go is always the question. There’s a few questions you can ask to help determine what’s best for your company.
Do you have the need for consistent and structured content?
Does your company have an established brand style guide?
How trained are your editors for design and technical editing?
Solutions like Glazed, for example, are very loose and free in what you can do. If you have multiple editors in your company on different teams, tools like this could distract from your brand’s consistency. In the case of needing structured content with some flexibility, I’d keep my eye on what’s to come with Layout Builder. And of course, if you have editors that come from the WordPress side of things, Gutenberg maybe a strong choice to minimize on new training while still benefiting from Drupal’s core features.
As a front end Drupal developer I favor structured, component driven theming patterns. One of the greatest challenges in delivering a custom Drupal theme is meeting the immediate need for an editor to understand how to utilize the tools I’ve made.
I’m a huge fan of Paragraphs, as it offers tons of flexibility for creating reusable components. However, those features and options can get buried in technical feeling UI. It’s exciting to have tools like these to tighten the gap between the features we make and the experience our clients have editing in Drupal.