Faces of WordPress is a community-centered project that celebrates the people behind WordPress and the projects they create that collectively drive WordPress forward in a way that directly benefits the community or the core software. Share your WordPress story here.
The WordPress Customizer allows users to easily preview and modify their site’s appearance. Using a WYSIWYG interface, users can customize their theme’s colors, text, fonts, and anything else they want to change. The Customizer brings instant feedback to visual changes on your WordPress site, enabling easy site modification and alleviating “save and surprise” behavior. The Customizer has come a long way since its debut in WordPress 3.4 and today it is a beloved feature of WordPress.
Weston Ruter, CTO at XWP, has contributed to the Customizer and understands just how important it is for the future of WordPress.
Why not use WordPress?
Ruter first got involved in web development in the late 1990s – years before WordPress was created. During those years, when he was in high school, he experimented with several different programming projects.
It wasn’t until late 2006 when Ruter was first introduced to WordPress as an option for building websites. “Someone I was working with chose WordPress for building a site we were working on, and after I got familiar with how he had built them,” he said.
In 2007, Ruter had a few websites that he needed to build on his own and turned to WordPress (version 2.2) for the job. With each site he built, Ruter grew more and more comfortable building themes and plugins. The next year, in 2008, when he landed his first agency job, Ruter found an email in which he first proposed and pushed for using WordPress to build out a client’s site (on WordPress 2.3):
Subject: why not use WordPress?
I think it would be just as easy (if not easier) to just create [a] theme for WordPress then it would be to code up everything myself, and [the client] would then be able to very easily and safely be able to update the content.
By 2008 he was completely sold on the merits of WordPress and from then on used it in as many website projects as possible. It wasn’t until 2010, at an agency that is today known as XWP, when Ruter started using WordPress for much larger-scale projects. One of the projects in 2013 involved the need for a user to be able to create a layout of modules using drag-and-drop in a live preview interface.
“In looking at WordPress, two of these pieces were already in place: widgets are modules that can be arranged with drag-and-drop in sidebars, and the Customizer is WordPress’s live preview interface,” he said.
“The problem was that these two pieces were not integrated together so you could not manage widgets in the Customizer,” Ruter told Torque. And thus the Widget Customizer feature plugin was born and it was merged in WordPress 3.9. This was Ruter’s first major contribution and how he really got involved contributing to core: he became a maintainer for the customize and widgets core components, which then led to becoming a core committer.
No more “Save and Surprise”
When it was first introduced in WordPress 3.4, the Customizer only featured controls for managing a few options which you’d largely only configure for a site once, such as the site’s title, header image, background color, and so on, Ruter said. But the Customizer framework is not limited to just managing options; it can be used to manage anything in WordPress, from widgets and nav menus (added to core in 3.9 and 4.3), to posts and pages (via the Customize Posts feature plugin). Ruter sees this as essential for users to give them confidence when making changes to a site.
The Customizer was intended to alleviate the “Save and Surprise” behavior that can make users fearful of making changes.
“Like in Las Vegas (so I hear), what happens in the Customizer stays in the Customizer… until you hit Save & Publish. But this safety net aspect for novice users—experimenting with making changes prior to publishing — is also a key feature for power users and advanced use cases.”
Every change made in the Customizer is written to a changeset, a staging area for changes prior to going live. When changes do go live, they get published all together at once, Ruter explained. This ability to batch changes together is a powerful aspect of the Customizer.
For example, in the Customizer an entire section of a site can be created in a changeset — including the creation of new pages, adding nav menu items, and modifying sidebar widgets — all being able to be previewed and reviewed by stakeholders. These changes can then be scheduled to go live at a specific date and time.
Essentially the Customizer can take the place of a separate staging environment, avoiding the need for a migration script or manual steps to recreate the content in the production environment.
“I’m looking forward to more things in WordPress taking advantage of live preview in the Customizer,” Ruter said.
Go to Faces of WordPress for more stories.