This post is a direct reflection on the admin design kickoff post by Saxon Fletcher and, as such, will refer to things in that. This reflects on very early work; collaboration and feedback are essential for that post and those to come. I found myself writing long replies, and I wanted to take it into a space to compose a longer form.
Discovering the boundaries
One thing that is more of an ‘unsaid’ is the work that needs to happen before many of these visuals occur. That is the listening, auditing and discovery.
WordPress creates at all levels, from enterprise to the single holding page business card, from the blog about a pet to the massive news network, small cafe to the chain of enormous revenue online stores. Due to this, any system has to ebb and flow and scale to meet it.
Those creating this system can’t know the scale – they know what gets told them. Right now, hearing those stories and input is critical, and I would urge anyone working at any point on the scale to say to it, along with those creating the new design, to seek to listen.
Clearing the path
Whilst creating new is excellent, there isn’t a green field. WordPress has a legacy, which doesn’t mean every project should be held to ransom by that at all; the concept delivered has been deliciously free of constraints.
In order to bring anything new in easier clearing out the old has to happen. That’s not explicitly saying a wholesale rejection, but a good spring clean wouldn’t go amiss across many areas of WordPress. There are some questions we need to ask:
- Has everything been made a variable needs to be?
- Can our CSS be refined more? Be more efficient? Reusable?
- What can be removed right now?
By asking these questions, a cleansing can begin, and the ground can be cleared to prepare for the work ahead.
Documenting clarity and surfacing
As a project, particularly within the design, clarity of documentation hasn’t always been our most vital point. I say this recognising my blame, and that documentation in format ends up often happening in Figma. It isn’t that it doesn’t happen; it doesn’t get to where people need it, so a crucial and essential part of any system is documentation and putting it where people will read it.
Many designers within WordPress don’t yet use GitHub to contribute to the project (they might not even within their work) outside full-time contributors, which means incredible issues often get lost. If a design system is created alone within issues it won’t get seen.
Naming is hard, and naming when you haven’t written it down and defined it somewhere is pretty much impossible. This project will need incredible support from the powerful documentation resources available within the community, both in handbooks and those that have experience automating as this moves to the components and system level.
External perception matters based on extensibility, not brand
A solid foundation that can be extended and built on means more products and reach. This is beyond the experience of the interface, such as frames or surfaces. Many use WordPress vanilla, but many don’t.
The plugin and product ecosystem need reliable, extendable components. They need more rapid creation flows within WordPress, just like outside. They need trustable, extendable styling independent components – easy to use, documented, maintained and advocated. With this kit, they can build their product desires and soar.
A proper system will unlock the freedom of creation and the capability to untie from WordPress as much as desired. There’s a balance, though, with “vanilla, install and go” being some experiences still – not all by far. That installation still has to be the best it can be for those.
Today WordPress is missing some key features most users expect, from onboarding to even some simple ones. All of these must be considered to create up from the styling foundations. The brand of today also won’t be the brand of the future, or should at least evolve. Therefore, the visual language set and features must have this all in mind. It’s not simply a restyle and go.
An opportunity to raise
There is a possibility to raise the sea on accessibility, usability and extensibility with this work. A system with baked-in practices that teach and allow everyone to have a level increase in every single product and site. The resources and collaborations from other teams are going to empower this system to improve the quality of so much potentially.
It’s too easy to use a component library for a plugin and not know it’s causing accessibility issues. The ideal state would be to extend from core and trust the source.
The screenshot matters less than the intention
The critical point is that whatever is created can detach from the design. With this at the core, whilst those experiencing vanilla WordPress will get everything, they eventually might be the only people that do.
This is also a start, not something being shipped tomorrow or next week. Things will be iterated and refined. It is hard seeing complete visuals and stepping mentally back, but I would strongly encourage that, and the post does an excellent job of this section by section.
The robust driver here is going to be not just balancing between creating roles but between those building upon it, from those creating products to those in agencies and closed enterprise situations. All those needs vary, and each’s customer’s journey is often radically diverse.
That’s where this gets interesting, and a proper system needs to be considered as said ‘making it yours’ and detachment of styling. Configuration is going to be a keyword in this all.
Overall I am optimistic about the plans, but I am cautious that some foundational work needs to be done and realistic that this is a starting point, not an end. As with anything, this needs and will be done collaboratively.
Finding the right voices at the right time is an incredible challenge for those creating, I know from experience. One thing those making can do is reach out, and those with the ecosystem experience can also reach out and seek out to tell our user’s journey why. If we do this right, collaboratively, the toolkit created could set up products and the space for incredible potential, so everyone is motivated to enter the space with open ears, hearts and intent.
WordPress has needed a proper design system for a long time that is cohesive and capable of being independent of the visual layer. Easier to adapt to the tooling expected of a system. I am hopeful this is going to see that and excited to join and support whatever I can.