WordPress Blocks and Their Customisability (is that even a word?!)

WordPress Blocks and Their Customisability (is that even a word?!)

Written on: 11/08/2023

In the evolution of website design, few innovations have been as impactful as the introduction of WordPress Blocks. Before the Gutenberg editor’s advent in WordPress 5.0, customising layouts and content in WordPress demanded a mix of shortcodes, custom post types, and a variety of other tools. Today, WordPress Blocks have not only transformed the user experience for both beginners and professionals, but they have also opened the door to a new era of customisation.

Blocks provide a visual, drag-and-drop experience, eliminating the complexity of understanding code for the average user. Now, every element – be it a paragraph, an image, a quote, or even more advanced components like tables – is represented as a block. This modular approach makes it easier for users to craft and customize their content to a degree previously reserved for skilled developers.

The true power of WordPress Blocks, however, lies not only in their intuitive user interface but also in their expandability. Developers from around the globe have embraced this system, creating custom blocks that serve specific needs, integrating third-party tools, and crafting solutions that were once beyond the reach of standard WordPress users. The customisable nature of these blocks means that they can be adapted, tweaked, and modified to create unique digital experiences tailored for any website or audience.

But how do these blocks really empower users? And what can you do to tap into their full potential? In this blog, we’ll dive deep into the customisability of WordPress Blocks and explore the vast possibilities they offer.

I want to add a small caveat. WordPress 6.3 came out this week. Blocks have been a part of WordPress since 5.0. I have ONLY just started using them this week. I am 40. I know what I like, and I like what I know – and I stuck with Classic Editor and Flexible Content from ACF for years longer than I should have done. But now I have finally found some time to take the plunge, I feel great. The level of customisation is insane. It really makes for a great editing experience. Anyway, let’s get into it.

Section 1: A Brief Overview of WordPress Blocks

In the vast and ever-evolving digital realm, WordPress has maintained its dominance as the most popular Content Management System (CMS) for well over a decade. This enduring success can be attributed to its flexibility, ease of use, and commitment to innovation. One of the most significant strides in this journey of innovation is the introduction of WordPress Blocks.

What are WordPress Blocks?

At their core, WordPress Blocks represent a shift in the way users interact with their content on WordPress. If you break down any webpage, you’ll find that it’s essentially a collection of distinct elements – paragraphs, images, videos, headlines, and so forth. WordPress Blocks takes this fundamental concept and transforms each element into a standalone block. These blocks are modular, meaning they can be moved, arranged, and customized individually to create a cohesive digital layout.

Imagine constructing a building using a set of Lego blocks. Each block has its unique purpose and can be combined in countless configurations to achieve your desired result. Similarly, WordPress Blocks offers users an array of blocks, each serving a particular function – from adding a simple text paragraph to integrating a dynamic gallery.

The Transition from the Classic Editor to the Gutenberg Editor

For long-time WordPress users, the introduction of the Gutenberg editor in WordPress 5.0 marked a paradigm shift. The Classic Editor, which had been the default for many years, operated much like a standard word processor. Users would type content, insert media, and use a toolbar for formatting. While it was functional and familiar, it had limitations in terms of layout design and integration of complex elements without resorting to shortcodes or plugins.

Enter Gutenberg, named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the movable-type printing press. This new editor sought to revolutionise the WordPress experience by introducing the block-based system. Initially met with mixed reactions, over time, it became evident that Gutenberg provided a more visual, intuitive, and flexible approach to content creation. With the Gutenberg editor, users could now see their changes in real-time, experiment with layouts more freely, and integrate a wider variety of content types without needing advanced technical knowledge or additional plugins.

Basic Blocks: Paragraphs, Images, Headings, and More

While the Gutenberg editor offers a plethora of block options, both native and through third-party plugins, understanding the basic blocks is the foundation of mastering this new system.

1. Paragraph Block: The fundamental block for adding text content. It comes equipped with various formatting options, such as text size, colour, and background colour.

2. Image Block: This block allows users to insert, resize, and align images seamlessly. Advanced options include adding captions, alt text for accessibility, and hyperlinking the image.

3. Heading Block: Essential for structuring your content, the Heading Block lets you insert headings of different levels (from H1 to H6). Proper use of headings not only enhances readability but also boosts SEO.

4. List Block: Ideal for creating bulleted or numbered lists. Each item in the list is treated as a sub-block, making it easy to rearrange or customize individual items.

5. Quote Block: Perfect for highlighting quotations or testimonials. It offers options for styling and citing the source.

6. Gallery Block: Allows users to display multiple images in a grid format. It’s a dynamic way to showcase portfolios, photo collections, or product images.

7. Embed Blocks: These are a series of blocks that let users embed content from popular platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Spotify, and more, directly into their posts or pages.

In essence, these basic blocks lay the foundation for any WordPress content. Once familiar with their functions and options, users can experiment with more advanced blocks or explore third-party offerings to expand their creative horizons.

And then, of course, there are custom blocks that I create for each unique client, based on the needs of their project. These are what really make every site so custom. Whilst I recycle a lot of blocks, there are always unique blocks specifically for the project at hand.

Section 2: The Anatomy of a Block – Understanding Core Features

In the world of WordPress, blocks are more than just a contemporary way of adding content; they are a radical rethinking of how users can interact, manipulate, and present their digital material. But to genuinely leverage the power of WordPress blocks, one must first understand their anatomy. Like any tool, the more familiar you become with its components and functions, the more effectively you can use it.

The Block Toolbar: A Quick Guide to Essential Options

Upon selecting any block in the Gutenberg editor, a contextual toolbar appears at the top of that block. This toolbar provides quick access to the most frequently used options relevant to the specific block type.

Transform Tool: This tool is represented by a rectangular icon and allows users to change one block type to another. For example, you can swiftly switch between a regular paragraph and a heading, or transform a gallery into individual images.

Alignment Options: Depending on the block, you’ll have alignment choices such as left-align, center-align, right-align, and justify. Some blocks, like images, also offer wide-width and full-width options for more expansive layouts.

Text-specific Formatting: For text-based blocks, you’ll find formatting tools like bold, italic, hyperlinks, and strikethrough. These are fundamental tools to enhance the readability and style of your content.

Additional Options: The three-dot menu (often referred to as the “ellipsis” or “kebab” menu) houses more settings, including the option to duplicate, insert a block before or after the current one, and even transform a block into a reusable one.

The Block Sidebar: Diving into Deeper Settings

On the right side of the editor, there’s a sidebar dedicated to block-specific settings. This sidebar offers a deeper level of customization, which can significantly impact the appearance and function of the block.

General Settings: Every block will have a set of general options. For a paragraph block, this may include drop-cap settings or custom text sizes. For an image, it may involve alternative text and image dimensions.

Color Settings: This allows users to customize text and background colors. Advanced blocks or those added by certain themes may even include gradient backgrounds.

Advanced: A pivotal section for those who have a bit of technical know-how. Here, users can add custom CSS classes to blocks, allowing for external styling or integration with other plugins.

Reusable Blocks: Saving and Using Blocks across Your Website

One of the most potent features of the Gutenberg editor is the capability to save and reuse blocks. This is especially useful for content elements that appear frequently across your site, such as call-to-action sections, author bios, or custom-designed sections.

Creating a Reusable Block: After setting up a block with your preferred design and content, simply click on the three-dot menu in the block toolbar and select ‘Add to Reusable Blocks’. Give it a name, and it’s saved for future use.

Using and Managing Reusable Blocks: Whenever you want to insert a saved block, click on the ‘Add Block’ button (represented by a ‘+’ icon), search for your saved block by name, and insert it. To manage or modify all your saved blocks, navigate to ‘Manage Reusable Blocks’ from the ‘Add Block’ panel. Here, you can edit, delete, or export blocks for use on another website.

Understanding Block Patterns

Introduced in WordPress 5.5, block patterns are predefined block layouts, allowing users to create complex, attractive designs quickly. Themes and plugins can provide their own patterns, and there’s a growing library of patterns available.

Accessing Block Patterns: In the Gutenberg editor, click on the ‘Add Block’ button, and select the ‘Patterns’ tab. Here, you’ll find a series of pre-designed layouts, from simple text and image combinations to more intricate designs.

Using Block Patterns: Choose a pattern you like and insert it into your post or page. Once added, you can customise each block within the pattern as you would with any other block, adjusting content, colours, spacing, and more.

Section 3: Customising Blocks – The Sky’s the Limit

The Gutenberg editor, with its innovative block system, is akin to a blank canvas, allowing users to paint their digital masterpiece without restraint. While the basic anatomy of a block offers foundational tools for manipulation, the true power of this system lies in its extensive customisation capabilities. Whether you’re striving for a distinctive brand identity, a responsive design, or simply wish to stand out from the digital crowd, WordPress blocks are your versatile ally.

Adjusting colours, Fonts, and Spacing for Your Blocks

When it comes to design, these three elements – colour, font, and spacing – play a paramount role in defining the look and feel of a website.

1. Colours: Most blocks come equipped with colour settings. You can set background colours, text colours, and in some advanced blocks, gradient backgrounds. Some themes offer a pre-defined colour palette, but custom colour options ensure you can match your brand’s exact shades. Remember, consistency in colour choices across your site enhances brand recognition.

2. Fonts: While Gutenberg doesn’t natively offer extensive font customisation, many themes and plugins integrate with the block editor to provide font choices and settings. From defining font size and weight to adjusting line height, your textual content can be styled to resonate with your brand’s voice.

3. Spacing: Proper spacing ensures that your content is readable and aesthetically pleasing. Many blocks offer padding and margin adjustments, allowing you to control the space within (around text or media) and outside the block, respectively.

Advanced Settings: Background Images, Gradients, and More

For those who wish to push their design boundaries, blocks offer a plethora of advanced settings.

1. Background Images: Some blocks, especially container or group blocks, allow the addition of background images. You can adjust the image’s opacity, position, and even add an overlay colour. Such dynamic backgrounds can serve as attention-grabbing hero sections or captivating dividers between content segments.

2. Gradients: Moving beyond solid colours, gradient backgrounds bring depth and dynamism to blocks. WordPress now offers gradient presets, but you can also customise the gradient type, angle, and colours for a unique appearance.

3. Drop Cap: A stylish addition to text blocks, enabling drop caps transforms the first letter of a paragraph into a large, decorative initial, giving a classic literary feel.

Tips and Tricks for Achieving Unique Block Designs

While the basic and advanced settings of blocks offer a myriad of design choices, a few tricks can help you unlock even greater customisation potential.

1. Grouping Blocks: You can group multiple blocks together, treating them as a single unit. This is especially useful when designing complex sections that include images, texts, and other elements. Once grouped, you can set shared background colours, images, or gradients for a cohesive look.

2. Custom CSS: If you’re familiar with CSS, the ‘Advanced’ section in block settings allows you to add custom classes. This means you can define styles in your theme or a custom CSS plugin and apply them to specific blocks.

3. Overlaying Blocks: By playing with positioning and z-index (often using custom CSS), you can overlay blocks on top of each other. This technique is handy for creating dynamic visual effects, like text over images.

4. Use of Spacer and Divider Blocks: To control vertical space between blocks or to demarcate sections visually, you can employ spacer (adjustable empty space) and divider (visible line or design) blocks.

Exploring Block Styles and Variations

Some blocks come with multiple styles or variations, which can be selected from the block toolbar. For instance, the “Button” block may have different styles, including filled, outlined, or rounded. These preset styles offer instant design variations that can save time and still provide a unique appearance.

In essence, customising WordPress blocks is a journey of exploration, experimentation, and expression. With the vast array of options at your disposal, you’re equipped to craft distinct digital narratives, regardless of your technical expertise. Whether you stick to the native capabilities of the Gutenberg editor or expand your horizons with additional themes and plugins, the sky truly is the limit. Embrace the creative freedom, and you’ll find that with every block you place and customise, your website becomes more of a reflection of your unique vision.

Section 4: Best Practices and Recommendations for Optimal Block Usage

The Gutenberg block editor in WordPress has unlocked an unparalleled level of flexibility and design freedom for users. But, as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” To ensure that your site isn’t just aesthetically pleasing but also user-friendly, SEO-optimised, and performant, adhering to best practices is imperative. Let’s delve into some recommendations and best practices to make the most of your block experiences.

1. Prioritise Mobile Responsiveness

In today’s digital era, a substantial portion of web traffic comes from mobile devices. Hence, it’s crucial to:

– Test Frequently on Mobile: Every time you design a section using blocks, preview it on mobile. Ensure text is readable, images resize appropriately, and interactive elements are touch-friendly.

– Use Columns Wisely: While multi-column layouts look great on desktops, they can become cramped on mobile. Be judicious in your use of columns, and test how they stack on smaller screens.

– Opt for Mobile-optimised Blocks: Some block plugins offer mobile-optimised versions, automatically adjusting for smaller screens. This can save time and ensure consistency.

2. Maintain Accessibility Standards

Every user, regardless of their physical abilities or disabilities, should have an equal opportunity to interact with your content.

– Alt Text for Images: Always provide descriptive alt text for image blocks, assisting visually impaired users navigating with screen readers.

– Contrast is Key: Ensure text and background colours have sufficient contrast. This not only aids users with visual impairments but also improves overall readability.

– Semantic Structure: Use heading blocks sequentially (H1 followed by H2, H3, etc.). This helps screen readers interpret the content structure and boosts SEO.

3. Enhance Performance and Loading Speeds

Page loading speeds directly impact user experience and SEO rankings.

– Optimise Media: Before adding images or videos, compress and optimise them. This reduces file size without compromising quality, ensuring quicker page loads.

– Limit Block Plugins: While there are numerous block plugins offering attractive features, each additional one can potentially slow down your site. Choose reputable and well-coded plugins, and only those that you genuinely need.

4. Keep Consistency in Design

Consistency isn’t about being repetitive; it’s about maintaining a cohesive brand identity and enhancing user experience.

– Set a colour Palette: Choose a set of brand colours and stick to them throughout your site. This ensures brand consistency and makes your site look professional.

– Uniform Typography: Choose two or three typefaces at most – one for headings and one for body text. Consistent typography enhances readability and brand recognition.

– Use Reusable Blocks: For elements that recur across pages (like CTAs or contact info), create reusable blocks. This ensures design uniformity and streamlines the content updating process.

5. Regularly Update and Backup

The digital realm is always evolving, with frequent updates to WordPress, themes, and plugins.

– Stay Updated: Regularly update WordPress, your theme, and plugins. This ensures you have the latest features, bug fixes, and security patches.

– Backup Before Updates: Before any major update, backup your site. This safeguards against potential issues, allowing you to revert to the previous version if needed.

6. Experiment with Caution

While experimenting is the cornerstone of creativity, it’s essential to tread with caution in a live environment.

– Use Staging Sites: Before implementing major design changes or adding new plugins, test on a staging site – a clone of your live site. This allows you to experiment without risking your live site’s functionality.

– Seek Feedback: Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes can spot issues you might overlook. Periodically ask colleagues or friends to navigate your site and provide feedback.

7. Optimise for SEO

Blocks can be incredibly SEO-friendly if used correctly.

– Structured Content: Use blocks to structure your content logically. Employ heading blocks for titles and subtitles, list blocks for bullet points, and so on.

– Internal Linking: The link block isn’t just for external links. Regularly interlink your content, guiding users to relevant pages or posts within your site. This enhances user experience and boosts SEO.

– Utilise SEO Plugins: While not block-specific, plugins like Yoast SEO or All in One SEO Pack can guide your on-page SEO, ensuring your content is optimised for search engines.

8. Stay Informed and Educated

The Gutenberg editor and block ecosystem are continuously evolving, with new features, blocks, and improvements regularly introduced.

– Join the WordPress Community: Engage with the WordPress community through forums, blogs, or local meet-ups. This helps you stay updated with the latest trends and best practices.

– Continuous Learning: Periodically revisit the Gutenberg handbook or take online courses. As the block editor evolves, there’s always something new to learn.

In conclusion, while the Gutenberg block editor offers unprecedented creative freedom, it’s imperative to use this power judiciously. By adhering to these best practices and recommendations, you ensure that your website isn’t just visually stunning, but also user-friendly, accessible, performant, and SEO-optimised. After all, a well-built website is not just about aesthetics; it’s about delivering a holistic and impactful user experience.

Of course, the easiest way to get an incredible website built on WordPress Blocks is to speak to your friendly, neighbourhood freelance web designer – and that is me! Give me a shout for a totally free, no obligation quote.

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