Yoast SEO plugin founder, Joost de Valk, published a critical appraisal of the WordPress user interface (UI), saying that it makes it “harder to use” and may be a reason that contributes to WordPress losing market share to companies like Wix and Shopify.
The official WordPress design philosophy states that they want to make WordPress easier to use with every new version published.
They write that it’s their goal that the “non-technically minded” user is the one they design for so that they can be set up within five minutes with a fully functional website.
However the reality of how easy WordPress is to use falls far short of their philosophy statement.
Even the developer of WordPress itself, Matt Mullenweg, said that designing in Wix is faster than doing the same thing in WordPress.
WordPress User Interface Design
Joost points the finger at the current WordPress admin user interface as a contributing factor to why WordPress is confusing to use.
He called attention to the fact that WordPress has three different user interfaces, forcing users to learn how to use each interface and complicating the experience of using WordPress.
To make things worse, themes and plugins introduce their own user interface elements, which again forces users to learn an entirely different way to navigate and user the software.
An ideal user interface (UI) offers a consistent workspace so that a user doesn’t have to stop and rethink where all the buttons and links are.
Interacting with the interface should be similar across every screen, regardless of what they are trying to accomplish.
“The current state is simply bad: WordPress core basically has 3 designs now.
The edit post page I’m typing this in looks nothing like the Posts overview page, which looks nothing like the Site Health page.
And then you go into plugins and each has their own UI there too. This makes WordPress as a whole harder to use.”
WordPress is Old Fashioned and Losing Market Share
Aside from the UI being inconsistent, Joost also pointed out that competitors like Wix have a consistent UI throughout their content management systems.
So while the rest of the world is moving on with best practices WordPress is stuck with the same inconsistent interface it’s had for years.
Yoast insisted that the poor user interface is contributing to the exodus of users from WordPress to competitors.
“This is how we lose CMS market share to companies like Wix and Shopify (who each do have their own design system).”
Is WordPress Hard to Use?
A major feature that makes a closed source CMS like Wix attractive is that it’s easy to use. One of the reasons it’s easy to use is a consistent design system.
PC Magazine gave Wix an Editors Choice Best of the Year Award in 2022, writing:
“If you want to build a website online with minimal effort and maximum creative freedom, look no further than Wix.”
WordPress received no such award. However, in PC Magazine’s overview of WordPress, the authors remarked that it wasn’t “particularly difficult.”
But the authors of the PC Magazine overview also acknowledged the learning curve to using WordPress:
“…people who aren’t familiar with the process may need a guiding hand.”
WordPress theme website ThemeIsle writes:
“While WordPress does not require any coding knowledge, customizing your theme is often not that straightforward.
By default, you don’t get quite the same visual editing experience as you would with Squarespace or Wix, although the new Block Editor is evolving in that direction…Some poorly coded themes might also be a pain to adjust unless you’re an advanced user.”
One of the goals of WordPress is to be easy for users to build with.
So it’s puzzling that WordPress is acknowledged as difficult to use, particularly in comparison to closed source alternatives like Wix, Shopify and Duda.
Joost de Valk puts his finger on the outdated admin UI as one reason why WordPress is so hard to use.
He practically pleads for the leadership at WordPress to prioritize designing a consistent user interface.
“WordPress needs a design system and it needs it fast…”
Response from Twitter WordPress Community
The response to Joost’s article was overwhelmingly positive, with many from the WordPress community thanking Joost for calling attention to the topic.
“Excellent write-up, summary, recommendations, tips, resources. It’s not often you get this much valuable info in one blog post.
WP Product Devs, pay attention! Settings UIs matter, whether you like the route Yoast took or not, I think it’s worth paying attention to.”
@Shock9699 tweeted thanks for the article, calling attention to the mismatched menus within the WordPress admin interface.
“Totally agree. WordPress now looks like a 10/15 year old CMS. Especially with the advent of the new FSE where the internal menus are different from those of the normal dashboard.”
@mnowak_eth tweeted agreement with the opinions about the state of the WordPress admin UI:
“…Wordpress panel is starting to look like ancient enterprise software (you know the names). With the whole SaaS movement constantly educating the Internet society on good and bad UX and ergonomics, wp panel was overlooked.”
A standardized design that is shared by plugins and themes would create a seamless and coherent admin interface. @wpsecurityuser tweeted an appeal for a standardized design system.
“Please stop plugins implementing their UI systems, update the wordpress admin UI and standerdize everything, let’s get modern.”
@bitartem called attention to the value of having a design system in place so that the WordPress ecosystem can know ahead of time what to expect.
“Another problem is that WordPress is in a transitional phase, I mean Block Editor, and Full Site Editing, and new features are added almost every day, so if there’s a Design System, we need to know what WordPress will become in near future.”
WordPress Admin User Interface Needs Improvement
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that WordPress is in trouble when the person who created it says that it’s faster to get things done in a closed source competitor than it is with WordPress.
Joost’s article focuses on the outdated state of the WordPress admin interface and calls attention to the need for a coherent design statement that plugin and theme developers could adopt in order to create an easier to use end product.
Read Joost de Valk’s Blog Post
Featured image by Shutterstock/fizkes