Join the Widgets Revolution and Get Involved

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to drag a widget onto a sidebar, only to continuously “drop” it with my stupid, clumsy fingers. So when I read Corey Collins’ post at WebDevStudios calling for a WordPress core widget refresh, I nodded by head in furious agreement at his call to arms to end widget drag and drop.

As Collins writes, “I’m sure we’ve all complained about it at one point or another, especially when a client wants a bevy of widget areas/sidebars forcing you to try and make your browser scroll while dragging a widget to the bottom of your list.”

WordPress widgets revolution

Amen to that.

All I can say is a widget overhaul has been a long time coming. Automattic introduced widgets as a plugin back in 2006 before they were introduced to core in WordPress 2.2. Since 2009, the clunky way widgets work hasn’t really changed at all.

A widget storm has been brewing for months and now widgets are finally set for a major shake up in WordPress 3.8.

And there has been no lack of ideas doing the rounds for a re-imagined widgets admin page.

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Collins proposes a more streamlined approach, with a widget area that contains an “add a new widget” button that, when clicked, displays a modal window similar to the media manager. All available widgets are then listed. When you click on a widget, its properties are listed to the right.

Widgets modal WebDevStudios
WebDevStudios is working on a widget UI plugin for WordPress 3.8.

A second concept Collins has put together adopts the layout used to manage menus. Instead of displaying all available widgets, it focuses on the widget area you want to edit, mimicking how you would assemble a menu.

Both concepts are clean and simple UI solutions that use existing management structures in WordPress, giving new users one less UI idea to get their head around. Anything that makes the user experience a little bit easier – particularly for new WordPress users – can only be a good thing.

WebDevStudios hopes to spearhead work on a widget plugin, which they plan to have ready in time for WordPress 3.8. Their work so far is at GitHub, with more discussion at the WDS Core Development site.

Automattic’s Shaun Andrews has also been stirring discussion at Make WordPress Core, this week inviting people to fill out a survey about how they use widgets.

The survey contains just six questions and only takes a minute to complete. If you haven’t already filled it out, do it now.

Tabbed WordPress widget sidebar
One of designer/developer Shaun Andrews’ concepts for the widgets admin page.

Andrews has a lot of ideas for widgets floating about in his head and has posted a couple of widget UI concepts on his blog. The most recent features a clean vertical tabbed interface, which shifts the focus away from the existing and unwieldy available widgets area.

My only beef: it retains re-ordering via drag and drop similar to how widgets currently work. But the listing of widgets to the right makes a lot of sense. The designer/developer has put together a plugin prototype of his concept over at GitHub.

One of Andrews’ earlier designs shifts the focus on displaying sidebars as they would look on your website, pushing the available widgets section to the right-hand side. It’s an idea worth exploring as the existing available widgets area takes up a whopping 75 per cent of the widget admin page, leaving little room to display other elements.

Andrews said he had been in touch with the folks with WebDevStudios with a view to collaboration.

“We’re looking to work together on widgets. We’ve been exploring lots of ideas and soliciting lots of feedback from anyone we can in the WP community,” he said.

Collins added: “We have spoken with Shaun and we all feel that we can work together to really knock this thing out of the park and hopefully have it all set for 3.8.”

No doubt we’ll see more widget UI concepts make the rounds as work on WordPress 3.8 get underway. For now, if you’ve got a great idea to improve widgets, have your say and help improve how they work. Get involved in discussions at Make WordPress Core and comment on Collins and Andrews’ ideas.

What do you love/hate about the widgets admin page? How do you think widgets could be improved? Tell us in the comments below.

Image credits: pasotraspaso, WebDevStudios, Shaun Andrews.

Comments (6)

  1. my wish list:

    1) widgets in content (much like shortcodes, but via ‘widgety’ block element in editor, plus widget selector, plus widget configuration popup (somehow))

    2) context sensitive sidebars (like context sensitive widgets plugin, but better integrated with wp backend admin gui). maybe allow sidebar per page post within page/post edit screens.

    i think these features would make a massive diffence & significantly easy customisation/theme wrangling tasks.

  2. Sidebars should indicate how many widgets they contain – when collapsed there is no way to tell if they are empty or not (wasted hours on a theme that had widgets in a sidebar on the home page – blocking posts being displayed – I know, it was the theme, but still).

    Focus on the sidebars – not the widgets. So, display a sidebar (folded out) after selection. Then add/edit widgets by clicking on them – not just that tiny arrow.
    The widgets are listed next to it: either check the ones you want to add (in one go) or D & D – or double click – widgets can be ordered by dragging them or with up/down arrows.

    And, ‘locking’ them – I activated another theme and that messed up my existing sidebars – I know, ‘it is the theme!’, but not all themes are equal…

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