Brian Gardner On WordPress Now And Today, Talking Design And Workflows, Full Site Editing, Gutenberg And Beyond  — Post Status Draft 143

In this episode, Brian Gardner, Principal Developer Advocate at WPEngine, joins Cory Miller to discuss the solid foundation WordPress established and how it might continue to expand into the future.

Estimated reading time: 43 minutes


Brian Gardner initially found WordPress as a blogger. His journey led him to found Studio Press which eventually became part of WPEngine. Brian and Cory flashback into what was and lean into the potential future of WordPress.

Top Takeaways:

  • Workflow Education. Getting adoption for workflows can be challenging. Agencies may resist changes to their workflow even if the change may bring significant benefits. Investing in education is key. Contributing to WordPress education by testing things and hosting workshops and demonstrations can ensure the project as a whole succeeds.
  • Scaling is the Safety of WordPress. Many of the page builder softwares are not built for much beyond brochure-type sites. The extensibility of WordPress makes so much possible for businesses looking to deliver excellent customer experience or expand their site capabilities.
  • Competition vs. Cooperation. Today there is far more competition in WordPress. In the early days, competition existed alongside cooperation. We were competing while we shared, learned, and grew together. This cooperation led to innovation within WordPress and cultivated a vibrant, growing ecosystem. A shift towards community innovation can remind us that a rising tide lifts all boats.

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Cory Miller: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, welcome back to post draft. Um, I don’t even know what to characterize this, uh, this se, this interview, Brian. Um, but I’ve got a very old longtime friend, not that he’s old, just that we go way back. Um, to, when I started with WordPress, I found this guy named Brian Gardner. And so I thought, um, who better to talk about with WordPress being 20th this year, our 20th anniversary, um, Brian, who was instrumental in a lot of things that helped, um, Build and grow this cool ecosystem we call the business of WordPress.

But anyway, um, Brian, welcome back. I think you’ve been interviewed before, probably like by Brian or somebody. Yeah. But welcome, welcome to the post draft podcast.

Brian Gardner: Uh, thank you for having me. Uh, one point of clarification. I am old. I’m 48. Um, nearing, nearing 50. And in, you know, today’s terms and. Even as it relates to [00:01:00] WordPress and people who are in this ecosystem.

I’m old and I’m okay with that. Cause, uh, with, with that comes wisdom and experience and, uh, the ability to shepherd. So, uh, I embrace the stage of life that I’m in.

Cory Miller: Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, you know, when we first started and met, we were in our thirties . Now we’re in our forties, and it’s like, uh, I thought there’s a nostalgic fact to that.

Absolutely. But also, yeah, you’ve, you’ve been there and seen things evolve over the years. Um, okay. So thank you for that. Thank you for being on, being on today. Um, I, uh, I wanted to talk a little bit about the past. Um, and tell me how you found WordPress.

Brian Gardner: I don’t even know if I know the story, by the way.

Yeah. You know, like it’s been a while since I’ve told the story. Um, and, and a lot of things I talk about, people still don’t even understand what, what it was or what it was back in the day because it just, you know, they’re [00:02:00] newer and stuff like that. Um, but I was working as a project manager at an architectural firm, and I just wanted to start writing and blogging.

Blogging at that point was sort of in its infancy and there were, you know, things like movable type and Google’s, Google’s blog spot and, you know, WordPress was a thing back then. But I started with, uh, Google’s blog spot, which is their blogger platform now. Uh, and some, somewhere along the way, I ran into somebody online who said, Hey, you should check out WordPress.

It’s you. It’s a little bit more sophisticated, you could do more stuff with it. And I’m like, yeah, sure. Okay. So I tried to install it, couldn’t figure it out. So I did the whole, you know, Google my way through all of it. Uh, and I was like, okay, now that I get this, this is kind of cool. I’m kind of glad that I learned how this works and whatnot.

It’s all, it’s all new internet stuff from back then. And, uh, I remember trying to go through, and I don’t remember WP or something like that, wherever the at, at the time the free, uh, theme directory was hosted and I couldn’t really find [00:03:00] anything I liked. Um, and so I just took some, one of the themes down and I’m like, well, maybe I can try to change some things inside these files.

Didn’t know anything about HTML or CSS , but I was like, well, let me just try right? Uh, and I just started hacking my way through the theme, sort of reformatted it. My O c d uh, didn’t like the, the, the line breaks and the indentation haphazardly that, that were in the theme file. So I started there. Um, that hasn’t changed to date.

Uh, the tendency to be obsessive around, uh, formatting of code, but, um, just learning, you know, what a hex code was and how to change a color or spacing, uh, through the theme and the theme style sheet, um, kind of gave me to a point where I was like, okay, well I created something and now I feel like this is mine.

Right? It was sort of like forking something, but I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, right? Because open source didn’t mean anything to me. I was just doing a thing. And so, um, you know, the, the fast forwarded version was I, I started developing free themes, giving them out for distribution, and [00:04:00] then customizing them as a moonlighting sort of gig.

And from there, uh, revolution, the theme the design came about. And, uh, when that was rejected by a real estate agent in Boston, uh, it was an opportunity that probably changed for certain the trajectory of my life, but likely that of others as.

Cory Miller: Yeah, so, uh, uh, we were talking before we started recording that maybe there’s a lot of people in WordPress today that don’t remember those, but I think it’s important to reflect back that time.

Back then, Brian was the wild, wild west, uh mm-hmm. like, you know, movable type had had done their thing and there was this mass exodus over to WordPress, which. I think one of the biggest, you know, parts of, uh, WordPress’s success was they, uh, the leaders at that community made kind of a misstep and it mm-hmm.

it was an access over here, but that produced this. There was cool code coming in and that, you know, things in WordPress and, but there [00:05:00] was this, that’s what I remember finding as this desert of good themes.

Brian Gardner: Yep. That was rock.

Cory Miller: And that’s where you were rocking, man. That’s how I found you. I think I found you through a free theme, um, and was like, wait, who’s this guy?

I like his design. And then we struck up a friendship that was on this thing called Talk. Yep. Uh, okay. So fast forward then you started Studio Press. Mm-hmm. 2008. Um, and then tell us a snippet of that. I think many people know that, but let’s make sure we cover that. Uh, and then you started what became Studio Press, correct.

And you wanna share that little snippet of story?

Brian Gardner: Yeah. So originally it was all called Revolution. And at the time I didn’t know anything about intellectual property and so I just named something what I wanted to name it. And unfortunately, the product of having it become successful is it gets put on the radar of.

Technology and software companies. And so the short of it is we rebranded to studio. [00:06:00] Uh, as a result of a cease and desist letter I received from a a t uh, a company in the United Kingdom, it, it probably would never have gone anywhere, but it was not worth my hassle to fight it. So, so we rebranded a studio press.

Uh, not too long into that is when, um, we made some hires. Nathan Rice, who, you know, is, was one of them. And we sort of built this framework called Genesis, uh, together. Um, was a theme framework, child, parent theme system that essentially ran the, the tenure of studio press’s, uh, glory days and, uh, you know, for the better part of 10 years.

And, uh, it’s, well, five years, gosh, hard to believe Five years in June will mark, uh, the anniversary of the acquisition of Studio Press from WP Engine. So, uh, there’s a lot of in between all of that for sure. Um, but yeah, it’s, uh, it’s still. It’s hard to believe.

Cory Miller: Well, I wanna set that too, just in case to show how far you back and what you’ve done and part of that, um, but then I want to catch up too.

[00:07:00] What are you doing today? Mm-hmm and what’s interesting, I know I’ve seen some things you put out, uh, with full-size ed editing. I’m like, Brian’s geeking out over there doing this thing. But tell me what you’re doing now and what you’re interested in. With WordPress.

Brian Gardner: Yeah. So before I get to that point, one of the reasons we sold studio press was at the time our, our partnership team didn’t wanna necessarily, or because we had other things in our, on our agenda, we didn’t wanna figure out what this Gutenberg thing was coming.

Right. It was at the time, it was just announced this, this editor thing. And I told our team, I’m like, look, either we need to like lean in and like really like double down and invest into where WordPress is going with this and what that means for our product and what we’re working on. Or we need to just, you know, kind of call it a day and uh, focus on our other projects.

Some of us were already doing personal things and it was time we kind of wanted to go do our own thing anyways, individuals, And so we’re, we set out to find some, some people to see if there was interest in acquiring studio press. And so [00:08:00] we sold Studio Press in summer of 2018. And I was like, Hmm, maybe that was it.

Maybe that was the extent of my WordPress tenure. And, uh, I was gonna try to do other things and I was interested in just trying, just different stuff. Cuz at that point for what, 10 or 12 years, I’d been just doing WordPress theme design, um, pretty much every day. And so, um, yeah, you know, like. So a couple years went on, I did some agency work.

I messed around with some real estate tech ideas and whatnot. Uh, certainly never forgot about WordPress. Continued to always use WordPress, followed along with, you know, the developments of Gutenberg and the editor and all of that. And it was about two summers ago, I came across a, an article on WP Tavern, um, from Justin Tadlock kind of showing a, showing what block patterns were and, uh, how they work and sort of the, and I just literally tweeted this a few minutes ago.

Uh, one of my favorite parts of it all is sort of the, um, The replication [00:09:00] aspect where you can copy and paste and, you know, things happen so much easier and quicker now. And when I saw and understood what patterns were, uh, sort of immediately stopped me in my tracks and sort of was the, um, the seed that was planted for Frost, which is a, a WordPress theme now that WP Engine owns.

And we’re using that on our developer relations team to sort of showcase, uh, the possibilities of the editor and use it for educational purposes. And so, you know, Love WordPress. Probably never been as excited about what it is and what it can do. Uh, as you know, I’m more excited today than I’ve ever been.

Uh, I get to do design related things around it. And I just really, you know, the landscape has changed the competitive landscape, right? You’ve got Webflow and Figma and all of those types of tools that now sort of, and we can get to that sort of pose, existential threats as we try to work our way through sort of all these phasing, um, that I’m still bullish and I, [00:10:00] I think, you know, 43% of the internet still uses it.

So on some level there’s some security involved, but, uh, you know, we wanna be the change. That’s why we exist. Our team at, uh, WP Engine.

Cory Miller: Yeah, I’m glad, I’m glad to hear, uh, someone else say that cuz I’m, I’m right with you. There are existential threats. Two WordPress, you, you mentioned Webflow and . I talk about that a lot.

We, we, AJ Morrison and I looked at it a couple weeks and I was like, wow. Um, when you look out the landscape today, so much tech just accelerates an impossible pace. And I’ve looked at it. Gone. Okay. WordPress needs to kind reestablish ourselves, but I’m so happy to hear though that you see opportu. And hope, um, with, and, and, and I hear it from what you just said is like full side editing, Gutenberg, and I’m curious your thoughts about that, where we are now, where we’re going.

Um, you’ve had a big presence obviously in design and theme work within WordPress and been a champion for that for a long time. [00:11:00] But I want to hear what you’re excited about and passionate. And why, why, why this full set editing, why set frost, for instance, the patterns, how, what you’re working on, what you’re thinking about, what you’re dreaming of.

Brian Gardner: You know, like we all live in a, a no code, easy click, drag and drop sort of society. And like all of the stuff that you and I built like back in the day right? Like was all hard coded. And, and even the PHP files, the text, it was all hard coded. And, and I. To update your website, you’d have to go into a file and change text in a PHP file, which nobody ever wants to do unless you built some sort of gooey for it.

And so like, like throughout the years, even as I look back on what we did with Genesis, there were still elements, you know, it was not ideal to, um, I mean, at the time it, I guess it was the only option, but it, looking back on it, it was not ideal to, uh, create a front page file with a bunch of widget areas and you managed your homepage by way of like eight different widgets.

And then, You know, inevitably somebody would say, well, I wanna replicate this [00:12:00] page and use it for like an inner page. I’m like, well, okay, you gotta recreate the file, re-register eight more widget. It just, it was a mess. And so where we’re at today and why it excites me so much is that it’s so easy to do all of the things that have been historically hard or difficult in WordPress.

And of course when you compare them to some of these other software technologies like Webflow, which are even easier than WordPress has ever been and may ever will be. That’s kind of where you’re like, okay, this is great that WordPress can do this, but like there’s a, a ton of other companies and, and of course we haven’t even talked about the page builders yet, with which within the WordPress ecosystem sort of precursor where we’re at now with the capabilities.

Um, it just, it. I’m a framework kind of person, and when I understand how something works and kind of can work within and build product around, like I, that really excites me. That brings me joy. It allows me to like, um, exercise and flex some of the design muscles because I’ve got a system that can accommodate, [00:13:00] like changing and, and modifications so quickly.

Um, and just that, that’s part of, I think what excites me the most, just having the ability to deliver something to an end user who. You know, make it their own and, and have a demo, like without having to like, spend an hour recreating it. Um, so just looking within the WordPress kind of product system itself, just where we’re at now is, is so much more.

There’s, the capabilities are so much more than they’ve ever been.

Cory Miller: So full side editing. I haven’t dug in fully to it, but I see the promise that it holds. Um, and then you mentioned like Gutenberg with blocks and patterns. So much potential there. Yes. But it kind of harkens back to when we started. You know, there’s opportunity here.

People need to come in, like you and others, I think at Rich, rich Tabor and mm-hmm. you and different people in the design space and go, here’s what could be of this. Here are practical applications of that. [00:14:00] Um, tell me a little bit about your work with Frost in, in that. Is Frost kind of that, um, your r and d lab for doing this kind of.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, it is. Uh, a lot of people who followed me in studio press back in the day know of a gentleman, a very talented designer named Rafa Tamal. Uh, he was our lead designer at Studio Press for a long time. He is on his own now. Uh, he actually created a thing called Design Kit. It’s a Figma. Product that allows sort of like a wire frame system inside of it where, you know, he’s got a library of various components of a website, headers, footers, featured section hero sections, testimonials, all that kind of stuff.

And the idea behind that was um, through Figma you can create files and do mock-ups for clients and stuff like that very quickly cuz you have a library of these sections to work with. Well, when I realized what block patterns. Which are essentially the same thing to sort of the WordPress coded version of these things in Figma.

I was like, wouldn’t it be really cool if you could set up a system that basically had like [00:15:00] a library to choose from, where you could insert into WordPress’s dashboard, like, I want to insert this header with this section and that section, and just like top to bottom, build a page out within a matter of a few clicks.

And so in its infancy, that’s what Frost set out to be. Frost was a very vanilla sort. Not opinionated design, black and white wire frame setup, which has a bunch of patterns in there, several headers, several footers, all the kinds of sections that you could think of building. And the idea behind that was just to, if anything, help us inform ourselves on how this all works, how it can be used to like build sites and then.

WP Engine brought that in when I was hired, and so it’s been sort of like our, our toy within developer relations to sort of showcase things and build things. We’re gonna hopefully move that into a little bit more production ready, um, staging here pretty soon, uh, so that people just can use it, um, beyond its current capabilities.

But yeah, so Frost is, is [00:16:00] just sort of our experimental thing. We, we stay up to date with all of the latest updates that Gutenberg the plugin brings. So once Gutenberg ships, frost has a dependency on it. So we can like leverage all of the things that are coming so we can show people how it works, how it’s built, how it can be used.

And so it’s just, it’s been sort of like an anchor in inside our. You know, I

Cory Miller: think back about, I still create WordPress websites this way, but of course the Gutenberg tools has gotten really good and yeah. And, uh, I’m fully embraced Gutenberg. Um, but you know, back in the day, you know, you had a theme. You were talking about changing CSS and stuff like that, and, um, as I’ve talked to a number of agencies doing client work, you know, I always think about

Brian Gardner: workflow.


Cory Miller: Um, Not to contrast it necessarily, but how, how do you envision the designer developer’s workflow in WordPress with, with site editing? What, how do you [00:17:00] approach, I guess, might be a better way to ask it about building a WordPress website today? In 20th anniversary in 2023, you know, building a website project.

I’m, I’m just curious, uh, I learned a lot of the theme stuff that I know from you mm-hmm. , um, in the early days. So I’m curious, I’m gonna ask the same question. 16, 17 years later,

Brian Gardner: much of what I do is sort of a do as I say, not as I do thing, just cuz I, I understand how things work so well behind the scenes that I, I shortcut a lot of things I think other folks have the ability to do.

And that’s not a flex necessarily and it’s probably a drawback. Um, just a sort of a fly in the way. I, I like to do things. Personally, I just, you know, frost is a, is a blank slate theme and so generally, like I take it and fork it anytime I want to do anything with it. Um, You know, like if I’m doing a client site, I’ll take frost.

First thing I’ll do is rename everything for the client site. Similar to what we would do, you know, you rename the theme folder, rename the functions thing so that you know, it, it feels like, um, [00:18:00] it’s a pro, it’s something that’s being custom built for, for a customer. Now you talk about agencies and, and that’s sort of like what we’ve encountered here.

Uh, obviously agencies matter a lot to our business at WP Engine. And it’s actually the, the subset of people who’ve probably pushed back the most on Gutenberg and this block editor because of workflow. Because they’ve got established workflows where teams have to sort of adhere to certain policies and certain standards and practices.

And so it’s harder, uh, many agencies just are built off of page builders, right? They, or not built off of, but they leverage page builders. So you’re asking them to effect. Change their entire workflow, regardless of how cool and how easy it is, it’s still a change, it’s still a time investment. And so for the most part, in our experience with our, our developer relations efforts, we’re, we’re realizing that agencies are the ones that sort of resist the most.

And that’s okay. It’s understandable. Um, but we’re also sort of slowly just demonstrating, hey, the things that you’re doing now can also [00:19:00] be done with word. Core capabilities, it can also be done quicker. And so while yes, there’s an investment to learn how it works, but you know, the expedition of the expedition of workflow is I think what excites me the most.

Sort of having library of patterns and things to draw from. Uh, you know, what used to take us, uh, 10 hours to build a site can take us two. Right. And so these are the kinds of things that I get excited about, not only for myself, but like for other people to say, Hey, here’s, here’s a new workflow that could actually be advantageous to your business.

It’ll help you scale, things like that. What I

Cory Miller: admire about what you did with you and your team did with Innocence is you created a workflow. Mm-hmm. , you know, for people to, and they’re still fanatics about Genesis and for good reason. And, and I’m curious, like, what do we need to do as a community? To help that.

We want WordPress to still be the primary tool that people build. Yeah. Web projects on, um, what do you, what are the things [00:20:00] that need to happen? And I gather a lot of it’s the work you’re doing today. Sure. But I’m curious, what are those hallmarks to make? You all did it once. WordPress is really good, like, you know, has that workflow established, but we need some new workflows to embrace WordPress.

Full side editing. Good word, yada, yada. And what do you think those elements that need to happen?

Brian Gardner: Uh, a lot of it’s educate, go ahead

Cory Miller: for, for those agencies, because I think about they’re the people. Mm-hmm. , um, out there helping create that growth we’re talking about with WordPress that’s sustaining this for so long.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, a lot of it’s education. I mean, learn, the WordPress Learn team is doing quite a bit like as the project itself, there are, we see them now, GoDaddy, automatic, WP Engine, you know, these developer relations teams that are starting to form really are, are sort of a demonstration of giving back to the community.

Right. Five for the future. Uh, cuz a lot of the work, at least that we’re doing is contributions to WordPress testing things, helping make it better so that just the, [00:21:00] the project as a whole can, can succeed. Um, so education demonstrations, workshops, uh, the WordPress online, uh, at Meetup is, is a very big thing.

Uh, a lot of the people who are doing that stuff are community members, people, you know, some, some sponsored, some, some not. I mean, we obviously get to do some of that as part of our job. Uh, Just demonstrating in just various forms, right? Because there’s, there’s all kinds of flavors of WordPress. There’s people who are just using it as like end users, and there are people who are building Nassau websites with it.

So we’ve got, you know, to serve different subsets of people and to educate and show in different ways. I think, um, one of the biggest pushbacks, I think it was WordPress six point. Or at least this is maybe when it was shipping, was the sort of ability to lock blocks this whole block locking a p i, which was an agency pushback like, Hey, I, this is great for people who are like, tinkering around, but we don’t.

The last thing we wanna do is sort of, uh, equip our end user, our, our client with the ability to break their [00:22:00] site by just toying with, you know, settings. Things like that and buttons, and so WordPress added and they’re still adding more capabilities for block locking, which basically means you can set up a whole section of a website and just.

Block, block locking them out of being able to manipulate it. Like, hey, can’t, like move the columns around, but you can change the text. Right? And that’s something that, that would be very appropriate to turn over to a client. Um, sort of protects the integrity of the site, but allows them to sort of maintain and manage it themselves.

So there’s just a lot of flavors of that. And I, I, documentation is probably the one thing that lacks the most because everything is moving so quickly, like things are changing mid-flight and all of that. So it’s hard. Even do some of this stuff because by the time you cite, you know, the, the joke, the Golden Gate Bridge, once you get done painting the Golden Bri Gate Bridge, you’d have to go back and start again.

Cause it takes so long to do it. It, it’s similar with documentation. By the time you like produce something and show someone how to do that, like the site editor screen or the u the user interface changes and so [00:23:00] therefore, like you gotta update it and things like that. So, I think we’re at a really good point.

6.2 should deliver and sort of level off a lot of this stuff that’s been kind of coming so quickly, uh, which I’m really excited about. Cuz now it’s more about, okay now, now that things are stabilizing a lot, now we can convince people it’s trustworthy software to use. We can feel better educating people and showcasing how things work cuz sort of.

The, uh, the screenshots don’t tend to change as much, and so now it’s more just a matter of kind of rolling up our sleeves and doing the work and showing people how it can be used, how it could be beneficial to their company or business, and effectively help them change their workflows to, to leverage inevitably what’s here and what’s still coming.

Cory Miller: Well, I know back in when we started out, you know, anybody, the beauty WordPress is anybody could pretty much with that five minute install mm-hmm. , um, create something on the web and have it in this database and [00:24:00] all these tools there and over time and um, I think I’ve seen, I know you’ve seen it too, but it’s just the Squarespace, wick, Weebly effect.

Mm-hmm. this tool underneath these tools, sets of tools underneath like a webflow. and, um, gosh, start to, to really, I, I would say a road, but like, That market, even though I still prefer to do it here, I’m not gonna go to Squarespace weekly. I know that, like you said, I know the, I know what I’m dealing with here.

Mm-hmm. . Um, the unfortunate thing is sad for me is that I don’t, I wonder about that market, but your work at WP Engine, you all do great project work and um, with the hosting that you all provide, but your clients are doing really cool projects. Mm-hmm. , and I’ve seen this like section out of. Client work side of things, uh, this, this do it yourself or still there?

Um, you know, somebody preferred just to use Squarespace and Weebly and that. They go to WordPress. But then I see two things, particularly in [00:25:00] Postes, kind of what I call a boutique agency. They’re doing 25, 50, 70 $5,000 projects with a kind of size of business. You know that someone is hiring someone to do it with more complexity.

Yep. And then I see another, and I don’t have these perfectly out, but I see these broad strokes of enterprise. At scale project, which is awesome. Like, I can’t imagine someone trying to deliver an enterprise project and going, wait, there’s 50 people that could touch this. 500 people. I don’t know. You know?

Yeah. Um, that’s one thing I’ve seen that I kind of, um, I’ll, I’ll just tell you as we go. Way back is sad. Yeah. This bottom market’s going on. But I’m curious what you’re seeing, particularly with your work at WP Engine too, is the kinda. That’s being done on this scales up from the, I have an idea. I can roll my website out With this thing called WordPress.

Yeah. To more complex type organizations and things like that. What are you seeing with in, in [00:26:00] those realms?

Brian Gardner: I see. Well, WP Engine for sure. And I think just WordPress in general. Um, generally gravitating, even though Guttenberg itself, the editor’s intent was really to accommodate sort of the DIYers, right?

The tinkerers and the, the Wicks and Squarespace types. WordPress’s Bread and butter has primarily been, even though it started as a plugin platform, really, it’s a really good c m s and there’s a lot, just all because of it’s open source nature, all of the plugins that exist, the ecosystem and the extensibility.

Um, I don’t think that that is the, the, the, the market that I think will be able to sustain sort of all of what’s going on the most because Squarespace and Wick and Webflow, these are all. Catering more towards like the single user, small, very small boutique, you know, brochure type sites of things.

Anything beyond that. Those, those, uh, those softwares can’t even come close. Shopify’s about like the only exception. I mean, it’s very specifically built for [00:27:00] e-commerce and, and to scale with e-commerce, but there’s not a lot beyond that. And I think that’s where WordPress will kind of ultimately stay safe.

Which doesn’t necessarily feel good for the boutique agency who’s now losing out to people, building their own sites on some of this other stuff. But, uh, and so I think there, there needs to be sort of a mind shift to some degree. Um, I’m not saying a boutique agency has to like all of a sudden become 10 up.

Um, But just there, there is a change and I, I think for better or worse, it’s gonna sort of hinge on who, who responds to what’s here and, and all of that. Uh, cause I think at some point people will, a, a client will come along and say, I’ve heard of WordPress in this new block thing. I need a site built that way.

Uh, and what we tell everybody we talk to, um, which, which is quite a bit of people. At some point you need to be, that’s your value add that you could build with, we call it modern WordPress. Right. Um, and if you say, well, I, I could build it in classic press, like that’s not gonna ultimately be a great plan of action.[00:28:00]


Cory Miller: I’m curious what you’re seeing at the enterprise. It’s a space I. We’ve, we’ve, we both have friends that have played on that level for the longest time, and I always, when I hear enterprise, I get excited about WordPress, but I know there’s challenges there too, but, mm-hmm. , what are you seeing with your enterprise?

Um, Agency clients, um, at WP Engine ,

Brian Gardner: I personally don’t interact that much with like enterprise at that level, mainly because, you know, my, my heart and uh, affection generally kind of like lends itself towards like the, the small town , you know, you know, less Walmart and more, you know, Joe’s. Grocery store sort of thing.

I just generally like to work with people who are on smaller scale. Um, I know we’ve got all kinds of, several, you know, just talented people and, you know, client services and things like that around our enterprise business. Uh, and I know we do a lot of, lot of great bit things. We’ve got huge contracts and stuff like that, so obviously we’re very invested in WordPress and [00:29:00] where it goes.

We’re very, you know, yeah. Interested in trying to like, make the, the hosting and sort of the website experience altogether better. Um, so I, I can’t speak specifically to like what we’re seeing. Sure. Right. Like that’s probably for someone else to answer. Um, yeah. But I know that people, you know, there’s, people are starting to ask questions like, Hey, what is, what does all this mean for us?

Right? And it’s, yeah. Not necessarily our team at developer relations to answer those questions, but like, as a company, we need to say, Hey, this is what WordPress’s trajectory means for enterprise type. Yeah, well a

Cory Miller: lot of those boutique agencies I’ve talked to at, in, in the post status community doing so cool things, I’ve carved out these cool niches.

Mm-hmm. , I didn’t envision, um, you know, doing membership sites and e-commerce. With WordPress Pandemic took a lot of in-person, um, physical location businesses and they had to figure out how do we do web? And I thought, I didn’t [00:30:00] like what they, everybody had to go through, but I, I like the fact that now a lot of these physical in-person businesses have, web presence, that ads, they have something that kind of extends their business.

And I love hearing those stories. And I imagine that’s a lot of the people you’re talking about that you work with too, showing how they can, um, use this awesome tool called WordPress to really deliver excellent client work.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, I, I haven’t been asked a lot lately, like how, where do I see the successes happening sort of with people within WordPress and, and from a product side, but also from like a service side.

I think, you know, we’ve started to see this over the last five years or so, sort of this nicheing of sort of, uh, ca, you know, capabilities. Sarah Dunn, she’s a, a WordPress person that a lot of people know. She sort of niched down into like the wedding industry and she like completely owns it there. And she was one of the first people that I really was like, you know, like intellectually you’re like, oh, don’t niche down.

Like be, you know, jack of all trades, [00:31:00] right? And so when I started to like really understand like where WordPress is going and I feel. Wholeheartedly that right now, like the people who are gonna rise above are the people who say, I, I don’t wanna just build WordPress websites. I want to build education WordPress websites, or I want to, you know, be the e-commerce guru, or I want to become the l m S Ninja.

You know, like where you become known for like, and be an expert in. Providing a solution and with all of what WordPress can do, and this is sort of like talking about like blocks and plug-ins and things like that, is people who will go into a certain market and provide and just take WordPress beyond its sort of general capabilities and say, I’m going to either build, you know, a plug-in suite or a block suite that caters to a very sub specific subset of people, and then that that’s where the value truly comes.

Cory Miller: So the, and, and I love that too. It’s uh, 500 flavors times exponential of cool stuff that’s happening that, [00:32:00] that I didn’t even know was possible. But it is possible cuz they showed, they showed that you can do it. So I want to kind of turn our attention now as, so you’ve seen a lot in WordPress over the time you’ve been involved.

What are some of the things, looking back, the hallmark. Things that have happened that, um, showcase who we are as a community and who this, what the software is in the world. As you reflect back, what are the things that come to mind? It can totally be theme and design related, or they can be general, but I’m, I’m asking these questions.

A lot of people that have been around Sure. For a long time because I think it’s very important to reflect back and go, this, this was. Now the second part would be re-imagining the future, right? So as you reflect back, what are those, what are a couple of those key things that moments in our WordPress history or whatever that really, um, made the difference?

Brian Gardner: As you know, I have an 18 year old son and so a lot [00:33:00] of our time as a family can’t believe it. By the way. I know it’s talking about like how life used to be for us as you know, gen Xers and what life is like, you know, for kids nowadays. Right. Zach and I were just talking about like social media and how he just doesn’t like the pressures that it brings, and I was like, well, back in our day.

Right. We didn’t have to worry about that, even though there’s benefits to it. Right. And so I think WordPress similar has some similar elements. Right. Like back when we started. There was a lot of true co competition, right? We talked about that word, sort of the co-opetition part of. We were all helping each other.

You and I were competiting competing, but like we’re on Google Chat, like comparing notes on how we’re succeeding and what we’re doing and what works. And I feel like to some degree life was simpler back then, right? Sort of cliche. Um, it just, yeah, the complexities were lower. There were, there was, it was a smaller market, you know, obviously it wasn’t 43% of the internet, but it was certainly enough, uh, you know, a handful of people doing things and.[00:34:00]

I think the success of the premium theme industry sort of sparked sort of the, the sort of like a, a marker here, sort of the, the initial growth of then the plugin market, right? Uh, gravity forms a good example. WooCommerce kinda like the early plugins that’d say, Hey, you guys do themes, we’re gonna do functionality, right?

We’re gonna sort of find our niche. With, with providing, uh, functionality for people who are using WordPress. And so you kind of go into like the growth and the explosion of the, the plug-in market, which arguably could have dwarfed the theme market because there’s just so many use cases for it. And so like, that’s like the first thing I was like, okay, that’s kind of like when we all started to grow up, right?

We kind of like, we graduated college and we’re like, we’re in the real world now. We’ve all got real world businesses, like companies making millions of dollars doing things. This is not just like a. Software anymore that the, an ecosystem was formed. Um, and from that, like companies like WP Engine, you know, you know, uh, GoDaddy Page, Lee, all of the people, you know, you [00:35:00] see these acquisitions that so-and-so sold for a hundred million dollars.

And I think people start to realize, okay, and that’s when. Um, like a lot of stuff like that’s when like sort of the greed comes into it, like the V C E O, there’s real money to be made here, and so it starts to sort of taint the innocent ness of what we got to experience. I often tell Zach, I’m like, man, life in the eighties was great and y’all missed out, and I feel bad for that.

You know? And I, I feel the same way with WordPress that some people who are like, I just started like three years ago and you know, like you jump in and it’s like living in Tokyo. There’s like ev people like bustling and like cars everywhere and like transportation and it’s like, You know, the good old days like hope floats.

Remember that movie, you know? Mm-hmm. , like small town Americana. Like, I, I miss that. I, I still miss it. Even now, like, again, one of the reasons we sold studio press, I didn’t know we could compete, and that was from a person who effectively created the market that he was trying to compete in. And so, [00:36:00] you know, Lots, lots of stuff that come into play and, and this dovetails into all of the, the iceberg and mental health stuff, which certainly is a real thing, but, uh, maybe for another, another podcast, but lots to deal with there.

Cory Miller: I, I love the emphasis on cooperation that Spirit, WordPress and Open Source and those of us that were starting product companies back in then as a real spirit of cooperation and, um, I think we need a return to that today. Um, for sure. So I’m so glad you mentioned that, um, because that, that’s the, the software’s cool community is what lights it up and makes it magic and.

People going, I think the subpart of what I take from yours too. Innovation, an idea to do something that solves a problem that’s really good for the business that has made the business of WordPress what it is today. Mm-hmm. . And I think there’s challenges we [00:37:00] talked about with WordPress and um, and, and the web.

But that, I’m excited because I think there’s always somebody new coming into the community that has an idea, has something that’s gonna break the innovation wall down. Um, I think about page builders like you mentioned earlier, beaver Builder and Elementor, and going, when I, when I left Ithe was trying to build, rebuild my site, and I went and used one of those tools and I thought, holy cow, this is.

We wanted what we tried to do. Yeah. But they did it really well, obviously by their success. Um, and you go, that’s the cool stuff we need now a return back to that cooperation with innovation. Mm-hmm. and why I, what we do at post status is, I wanna always make sure we have a healthy, vibrant growing business ecosystem, which means we do want WordPress to be successful anyway, cuz we love it.

We’re zealots, you know, of open source software. Okay, so I, I [00:38:00] take first is cooperation. What

Brian Gardner: else? Ah, Sometimes it, it feels like a blur, you know? Yeah. , yeah. You know, community innovation, just a, a lot of that sort of dovetails in and around, you know, you know, it’s an ebb and flow in just the, the product life cycle and the community life cycle.

Um, I’m trying to think if there’s any, anything specific. Um, I mean, Genesis for us was obviously a big thing. It really formulated the whole idea of an ecosystem of developers and builders rallying around a, a project, um, who themselves found, you know, co-opt. Petition to help. You know, rising tide lifts all boats, right?

You had a bunch of people who were developing with the same software, effectively competitors against one another, yet they were the ones who were like referring business to one another and helping answer questions in a forum on how to do stuff because. It really, and, and I’ve really tried to operate this personally, is the sort of [00:39:00] pay it forward mentality, which is someone was there before you and they wrote about how to do it, and you learn from that and you figured out how to do it.

And so like the next person who comes along, um, should have some artifact of, of what you learn so that they can then learn how to do it and then, you know, sort of the, the chain goes on. Um, but yeah, I, you know,

Cory Miller: What about with the software in particular? Um, obviously we were Drew, we, we, we met and we did this thing cause we were drawn to the software that was enabling us to do things.

Are there from the software side, um, things you look back and go, you know what that point. Was a critical shift for, you know, for the core software that enabled something. And I, I have my own thoughts, but I’m curious yours particularly because you, you’ve always come at it with a design perspective and how do we, this workflow side of like, how do we produce these things that are maybe in our head with this software?

Brian Gardner: [00:40:00] So I would say Genesis was one for me personally. And then obviously Gutenberg has been like the second big one. Genesis Al enabled me to do a lot of the things that were sort of pain points. Um, Specifically around beams and designs and websites, stuff like that. Um, so Genesis was like the first like extension of WordPress that said, oh, I can now do all these things that like, I felt were limitations, even though there were several, several things that were like suboptimal about it.

Um, at the time it was all we could do. Why I’m so excited now is because like all of those things that I thought were difficult, even though we could work our way through them, Is now possible, uh, to do, uh, there are things I wish I could do better, right? I wish I could build blocks. I wish I could build plugins.

And so like, I have personally a lot of ideas that I wanna execute on. Um, but I’m like, all I could do is mock ’em up in Figma, and that’s the extent of it. And so I wish, I wish, yeah, I, I wish I knew how to build stuff better. Um, and I’m sure a lot of [00:41:00] other people are, are sort of in the same. Well,

Cory Miller: okay, so you mentioned Gutenberg with, I think it’s critical.

I was curious if you would mention Gutenberg, but um, talk to me a little bit about Gutenberg and what you’re seeing, particularly with that part of the project and into the future. What are your hopes and dreams for that, that the software goes to enable people like you, other designers, and even me, I would say still benefiting from all this, um, thoughts about Gutenberg now and into the.

Brian Gardner: So Gutenberg for me, really helped make product building and product delivery a better and more delightful experience, right? Like I could build something that looked good, but telling somebody how to do it in the way it had to be done was really problematic. Documentation back in the, like, gotta open these files and do all these things.

That is really not great for somebody who’s not versed in WordPress or PHP or anything like that, even though it was the only way to do it. And I, I some I sometimes, I, I have a local copy of the [00:42:00] Revolution, original Revolution theme, and every once in a while I just pop it open for nostalgic purposes and I’m like, oh my God, how did we even live or thrive off of this software?

Which is extremely embarrassing to think about . Um, and so, What Gutenberg, when I say Gutenberg, we’re talking, you know, what originally started out as, um, sort of the whole thing. Now it’s actually the experimental plugin, but the whole idea of the, the black editing experience and full site editing really allows us as product builders to do things that we can turn over to people that they can then easily work with themselves.

And that’s the part I think, That excites me the most is not only can I sort of work within the system and design something that that just kind of looks really well, you empower people who otherwise have not been able to sort of do that for themselves by saying, Hey, you could change colors like in the WordPress dashboard with like one click versus like, Having to open a style sheet, but then you gotta go through ftp, [00:43:00] right?

Cuz maybe some, you know, hosts shut down the ability to edit fol, like all of this stuff that was like, I don’t, I still don’t understand how we got to where we did because there were so many ju uh, hoops to jump through. But what excites me the most though is, is just the ability to. And now the pattern stuff and the, uh, the harmonization of the post and page editor screens, like the traditional WP admin and the site editor, which is essentially the, the merging of them just makes it feel like you’re doing one thing.

Cause I think a lot of people were like, oh, well Squarespace is so good cuz it’s like there’s, there’s parody, visual parody between front end and backend. Like I just go to my thing and I type. Hit save and it just looks the way it does on the web. WordPress is not like that, right? The classic editor was like literally just a Google doc, but like on the front end it was like this beautiful design.

That separation is now closing, and we’re getting to a point now where, um, at some point people are gonna be like, they won’t know the front end from the back end, and it’ll all be just like an experience and they’ll be [00:44:00] empowered significantly more than they’ve ever been. That’s cool.

Cory Miller: I, yeah, I, I love hearing about things like, uh, block locking for instance.

Mm-hmm. , that, that’s showing responsiveness to the community that’s really leveraging this as a tool. And, uh, the game over for me, for Gutenberg was I was trying to create a button and, you know, I mm-hmm. barely knew how to create HTML back in the day, and I went to look for a plugin only to realize Gutenberg does those things now.

Yep. In natively. And then that was the point I was like, okay, this, now I’m, I’m stepping in gonna embrace, um, this thing called Gutenberg. And I’m really curious to see, I know Frost and some of the work you’ve done particularly was we need a base to start those workflows. Mm-hmm. to use some of these tools and uh, it’ll be cool to.

All of that be fleshed out, creatively innovated, you know, along the way to keep, [00:45:00] to keep this thing called WordPress growing. All right, Brian. Thanks man. This was really good nostalgia, but I really wanted to get your perspectives on the, these things. I think it’s important for us at the 20 year mark, I mean, 20 years on the internet is ancient.

Yes. You know, and, and so, you know, the question I keep going is how do we. Doing the good work of democratizing publishing on the web, some of these things, I, I not just because of nostalgia. I love the fact that WordPress could be used from a blogger all the way up to a Fortune 500 company. Mm-hmm. and, um, across the world to, to free f Web.

And, uh, I, I think now is the time for us to kind of remember some of these hallmarks that made us who we. And, um, and then reimagine what, what that looks like in the next phase. And I’m excited for the WordPress community and that you’re still here doing cool work, trying to cutting the edge, trying to like break things and push ’em past where they [00:46:00] want to be and show others that it can be done too.

So anyway, thanks Brian for being on today at Post Status draft. And uh, by the way, so what is the role at WP Engine that you do specifically ? Now,

Brian Gardner: yes, I am a developer advocate on the developer relations team, which basically as it stands now, we have two different developer relations team. One is for headless WordPress, which is a little bit more on like the product side at WP Engine.

And our, our subset, which is uh, Nick Diego, Damon Cooken, myself, uh, Sam Munos is our community manager. We are. Essentially focused on the adoption of full site editing and the block editor. We use Frost as a way to sort of demonstrate that stuff. Uh, we’re, we’re supporting our, some of our product teams internally.

Um, but you know, when I was hired by Heather, uh, Bruner, our c e o, she, you know, asked if I would be energized, you know, in a, in a, a role of this sort. And I said, Heather, I love WordPress. I love design and I love community. So if this role sort of [00:47:00] touches all three of those in various forms, I’m all for it.

And. You know, it’s been a great fit. I love working here and, um, really look forward to all the work we have ahead of us. Cool.

Cory Miller: Thanks Ryan for being here today. And thanks everybody else for listening in to another episode of the post status draft. And we’re gonna press this 20. Um, this is a really good story and one I’d like to, uh, hear again and again and, uh, it’s still possible within WordPress in the future.


This article was published at Post Status — the community for WordPress professionals.

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