Gutenberg Contributors Considering a “Focus Mode” for Writing

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After overwhelming feedback from testers indicating that Gutenberg is not well suited for simply writing posts, the project’s contributors are considering a few options for improving the writing flow. These proposals are spread across several tickets on GitHub.

Two weeks ago, Gutenberg technical lead Matias Ventura submitted a PR exploring the possibility of introducing a “Focus Mode” to the editor. This mode would highlight the current selected block with all other blocks faded while the “fix toolbar to header” option is enabled. The video below shows an example of what that might look like:

“The aim is to provide a writing experience that can satisfy those that would prefer an environment with the least amount of distractions at the expense of tool clarity,” Ventura said. “I’ve been testing this and personally find it a very enjoyable mode to toggle when I just want to write for a bit. Paired with a robust set of keyboard shortcuts it could be quite nice to use. In this sense, it’d be important to provide an easy keyboard shortcut to toggle the mode on and off.”

Automattic designer Kjell Reigstad opened another ticket that proposes transforming the “Fix Toolbar to Top” setting into a “Focus Mode.”

“A key feedback point we hear is that Gutenberg’s interface can be a little overwhelming,” Reigstad said. “This often comes from users who more commonly focus on ‘writing’ versus ‘building’ their posts. They find the contextual block controls and block hover states to be distracting: When they’re focused on writing, they don’t necessarily want to think about blocks — they just want to write.”

Reigstad said this same subset of users also misses having the formatting toolbar at the top of the page, as it is in other applications like Google Docs, MS Word, and WordPress’ classic editor. He proposed a solution that addresses these concerns by combining the “Fix Toolbar to Top” option with the following UI changes that would provide a more complete “Focus Mode:”

  • The block toolbar would be pinned to the top of the screen.
  • The editor would be full screen.
  • Block outlines would be removed for both hover and selected states.
  • The block label would appear on a delay, and be toned down visually.
  • Block mover + block options would also appear on a delay.

Reigstad also created a video demo of this concept:

This new “focus Mode” concept is also compatible with Ventura’s proposal for highlighting the current selected block and fading out the others. It could either be present in both modes or available as an add-on feature.

A couple of well-written reviews on the Gutenberg plugin describe how the concept of blocks complicates the writing experience and how Gutenberg’s current writing environment is visually distracting and disruptive. This has been a major concern since the plugin was first released for testing, as there are many users who depend on WordPress for its writing features more than the page building aspects.

The Gutenberg team’s new ideas go a long way towards decluttering the interface for writers. This is especially important for those who want to do their long-form writing inside WordPress, instead of beginning their work in an application that is dedicated to providing a distraction-free writing experience. Introducing a “focus mode” or “writing mode” will solve one of the most critical issues with the new editor and we’re looking forward to seeing how this develops.

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