Press This Podcast: Stop being afraid of Gutenberg with Tina Granzo

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogel Paul, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at In this episode I’m really excited we’re gonna be talking about stop being afraid of Gutenberg joining us for that conversation as someone who learned to build with Gutenberg recently Freelancer and agency owner I’d like to welcome Tina Granzo to press this Tina welcome. Thank you. So glad to have you here. For those listening well we’re gonna be really talking to Tina Valentina is with a company called agency called city beautiful design, she’s gonna be talking about her journey adopting and building really wicked cool things I was hearing a little bit about Tina was learning to build and building prayer customers using WordPress blocks. So she’s going to kind of share her story of discovery, how she kind of learned and discovered the tools to use, how she chose her first project and build with blocks. And then of course the resources you use to log noise really excited to hear this journey I know a lot of people have started this journey recently or been on this journey, kind of the last few months or so. So Tina, we’re gonna kick it off in their first question. You might remember this question from creating your profile if you have one of that is, but briefly tell me your WordPress origin story.

Tina Granzo: Sure. Well I had for maybe about 10 years built little weeny little content management systems for my clients custom things where they could just change little bits and pieces. And that was working really well for me and then about 2006, I installed WordPress just for blogging on a client site and then a couple years later as many of us know the economy kind of tanked, and I was reevaluating, what services to offer my clients and I realized that WordPress as a development platform would save my clients a lot of money rather than building custom systems for them.

DV: Oh that’s really interesting so you know my own journey has similar aspects of it at least in my agency days when I was choosing kind of the CMS of choice and kind of settling on WordPress that a lot of benefits of course documentation, the number of developers, you could hire to do it and of course the clients could use it well, that’s really interesting in 2006. So this was before custom post types and post meta. That’s interesting to hear you thinking about it and then like the development platform context back in 2006 2010 was like that kind of Cambrian explosion if you will and stuff around that. Tell me about city beautiful design I mean you shared with me some of the customers you work with some of the work you do, but what are you all about.

TG: Well, it’s just me, and it was never really meant to be a lifelong business I went to art school and I thought well if I do this stuff on the side I can make art in my spare time and 20 almost 21 years later it, I, I realized that you don’t really have spare time when you have your own business so I don’t really advertise I work with clients that come to me and I do what they asked me to do I don’t really seek out anyone in particular somebody comes to me with a particular problem or maybe they just want a basic site, and I either build them aside or help fix their problem profitable.

DV: That sounds like a pretty wonderful accidental career Tina. Funny how that works, so much opportunity in WordPress sounds like can I be advertising which is great to have that much opportunity that much freedom, that’s awesome to hear that, for sure. So, before the block editor, you know block editor was introduced in December, 2018, I’m not sure when you adopted it before you started using it like what what was your go to or maybe even still as your go to is your, your continuing during with the block editor but like what was your, how did you build websites before he started building with rocket

TG: Well, as you mentioned 2006 is a little bit early to be thinking about WordPress as a platform and I really didn’t until 2008, and even then when I first started, I, I was kind of an idiot about the whole thing, I, I tend to work fast and I don’t tend to spend a lot of time learning about what I’m doing, because I need to get something done and move on to the next project so I I don’t remember what it was anymore but I needed to change something and I changed a core file and then I was talking to a friend who Edward uses WordPress for a while and she’s lovely and though there’s a checkbox for them a dashboard. And so, I would say in the beginning, I was just writing a lot of template kinds of things and just sort of doing my own thing and mainly using the classic editor, and then when builders became something that were sort of common and stable, I really liked Divi, and so I have most experience with the Divi Builder, which sadly is getting a little bit, really big and out of control. So, I don’t know how much longer that one will be in my tool case.

DV: So were you building with like cuz like totals like ACF or were you creating you know plugins that might invoke their own custom post types or anything like that, as you build out sites we’re primarily focusing on kind of that page builder type experience with Divi.

TG: So it really varies, most of my clients weren’t into things like blogging, they would have systems where they there was something very specific that they needed like maybe it was a school and they needed to post a menu a lunch menu or have a lunch ordering system so when plugins became available for that sort of stuff, I’d use them But definitely, I would make my own custom post types. And before I was aware of advanced custom fields which I love. I would also do all of my own custom field writing which was kind of a pain. But to be honest, sometimes I would go as far as, especially in the early days before I really realized how much was available or maybe a lot wasn’t yet available I would, I would just use PHP and MySQL and write my own connection like information to the database or communication back and forth.

DV: Gotcha, gotcha so you got pretty deep but are you really focusing on that custom post type approach with custom that is sometimes using ACF or doing it from scratch yourself a lot. How to divvy work into that like you’re doing it that way to be some really different grid check how did you how did you reconcile that. At the same time, for different reasons like when would you choose.

TG: So Divi really is just kind of what I would use for constructing basic pages so that that’s more like, I guess I do a lot of dynamic work with Gutenberg but I would say that Divi is more like a Gutenberg Gutenberg equivalent sort of thing so yeah definitely not mixing I do not try I do not like to mix up with other things like advanced custom fields.

DV: So it sounds like then as you thought I did he was kind of like these one off pages for the most part, content obviously versus like templates. And then when you chose custom post types, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was the like a kind of piece of content of course that you have to replicate over and over and over again is that roughly how you brought up the distinction between the two.

TG: Yeah, yeah, sort of, so for instance I guess a real world example would be a Business Association website where members need to have a profile and they can manage their own profile so a form is set up with ACF and they fill that in and and and everything gets saved to the back end and we get a notification and we can approve that and then there is a template that’s built for the front end that pulls that data out and displays their membership page.

DV: Okay, I got it. So you’re thinking of the right tool for the right job, and you’re kind of chugging along and doing this in your agency business and when did you first start like thinking about like I might want to try to build something with the block it was really early on, like in December 2018 years later.

TG: Well, I still haven’t thought that I want to use the black plague. So what happened is a client that I had been working with for a very long time, but doing just basic HTML and CSS stuff for them. Their in house developer retired and they didn’t want to hire a new person so, and at the same time, their larger parent organization was moving everyone to WordPress, and we had some long conversations I explained to them. The idea of page builders like Divi. And then I also told them about this new thing Gutenberg which was probably going to be started taking over as the main editor and they spoke to some others within their organization and came back and said yeah we want to use Gutenberg.

DV: Yeah, future proofing that kind of Coraline that aspect I know that that’s important to a lot of teams. So I want to talk to you a little bit about this moment of, kind of like this comes to your forefront and then how do you kind of begin and continue with this journey with with the block editor, but we’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

DV: hello everyone welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcast on w EMR. This is your host David mobile Paul, I’m speaking with Tina runs out about stop being afraid of Gutenberg Tina, right before the break you were telling us a little bit about your kind of historical way maybe even I guess still some way today of building with WordPress which is really leveraging custom post types that you put yourself. And then for the kind of quote page builder context leveraging dibby, you then explained that you had a client who was building out a new experience you explain the concept of page builders, and they said, you also explained what Gutenberg was and they were like, let’s go with the Coraline one. So this is where we kind of left off before the break, helped me understand what happened next, like you said, Okay, I’ll do it and decided to jump in or was there more consideration and how you thought about it because this is the project I’m actually going to start using.

TG: Well, it was definitely I said okay let’s, let’s do it because I pretty much do what my clients ask unless I realized that I’m really not the best fit for it. So, we, we started. They their parent organization so it’s a it’s a department at a university so it’s a department and then a college at a university and so the college is kind of their parents and the college was already starting to use blocks, and they had made some of their own blocks. And we had some, some issues with their blocks that I won’t go into because I don’t want to upset anyone. But we decided that I should just build the block so I did a little research and I learned about creating a block. And I installed that in my local environment, and I started playing around with it.

DV: So, yeah, a minute ago you said you kind of typically will do what your customers ask for required guessing you have customers with like a high degree of technical and inside knowledge and digital strategies and others that aren’t is that always true. I mean are you certainly you’re like guiding customers on their decisions so that way if they ask for something that’s wrong, you can kind of guide them in the right way, is that true,

TG: that is true I, I tend to be I’m just not a very pushy person so if I know that somebody is going down the wrong path. And I know that they want me to let them know that I will, and if I know they’re going down the wrong path. And I know that they will at least listen, then I will tell them, and sometimes I’ll even say okay I know you have a pretty good idea of what you want, so I’ll only say this once. I think this is a bad idea because so and you are right I have clients who are very tech savvy and I have some who aren’t tech savvy at all and I try to gauge, my interaction and response, according to their level what what they want from me and what they know

DV: you feel like this recommendation I mean I’m assuming, if they’re creating their own blocks or part of university they’re somewhat sophisticated. But did you feel like maybe this wasn’t the right decision that they were taking this better.

TG: I did and I didn’t, I, I did not feel like I had enough information to make a really solid choice on that I definitely felt that in terms of the future Gutenberg was going the right way. And I also thought that going with a core tool was important. There’s not a lot of turnover in. In, within my client group or team, right now, but there could be down the road a lot of things change. They do a lot of stuff in house and the people who do those things aren’t necessarily tech savvy so I also thought it was important to stick with whatever we chose, so that they were learning it, they were learning it fresh it wouldn’t be like me where I’m used to this other thing that I’ve used for years and now there’s this brand new thing and oh my god what am I going to do with it. It was all brand new for them so I tried to include that in, in the idea, or in the decision and also just knowing that the college was going in that route so if for some reason I wasn’t available, there were probably other people close by who could help them,

DV: who I liked how you kind of thought about it through the lens and it’s all brand new for them so might as well go with something that’s aligned with core. And, you know, perhaps has more longevity, or their particular use case or otherwise. So you mentioned like okay I’m gonna go build some blocks. It sounds like you hadn’t built in, at this point, and you discover create guten block which I love. It’s the project by a model was for this unfamiliar, it’s free actually helped me understand like what that was like you just use creagan block to learn how to make blocks and make blocks or help me understand like what was good about that journey or confusing or wherever your blockers.

TG: It was not unlike most of my tech journey I, I’ve been building I started building databases in 1992 and in 1997, I started making websites talk to them. And I’m self taught and all of it so there’s. It’s definitely easier to be self taught these days because you can just google questions and getting answers but back then it wasn’t so easy. So the Gutenberg experience was not like a lot, or not unlike a lot of other experiences in my tech life where I sat down and there was some frustration and there was some oh god you know what part of this is react and what part of this is creating guten block and what part. And there was a little bit of of trial and error. So I started simple I started with it I don’t remember what my first block was it was probably a card. So a photo and a title and a text block. And I started with some basic things also that I could find documentation on like adding color palettes to the settings. But it really, it really was just a lot of trial and error, a lot of looking on forums, a lot of thinkings there’s got to be somebody out there who’s done this before. How come there’s no information about it. And, and then just taking some basic like short little classes to read catch me up on on things, latest jobs

DV: This is kind of getting back to your custom post type journey as well but like there’s plugins out there like ACF and then I come to the company I work for WP jazz workouts Genesis custom blocks which is like a PHP version of building blocks. Did you, did you not or those not available when you did this or did you just decide I’m just gonna go ahead and learn how to do it from scratch, because that’s what you do. Um, I think

TG: there is kind of a combination. So when I, when I started looking for tools to help create blocks the only thing I found was create guten block, I didn’t find anything else. And here was this.This would have been late 2000 or late 2017, probably.

DV: That would have been pre yeah that would have been pre Gutenberg release in WordPress core, in 2017, yeah definitely weren’t any tools back.

TG: Well it might have been early 2018, it’s definitely I know we launched. we launched in September of, 2019, and we’ve been working on the site for almost a year and a half the whole project.

DV: So, the dates might be wrong so wouldn’t even been in court till I know you said 2019 yes you would you say, I see what you’re saying. Okay, that’s interesting yeah for sure when ACF came out with their Genesis custom blocks and the plugin that preceded it bigger. Were probably created in 2008 there that one that preceded it was created in 2019. Yeah, you had to learn it from scratch. And you said you knew a little react. What did you feel like you had to know like all of react to build the block I’ve kind of for people I’ve talked to this taken this journey, they’re like yeah you have to learn it but it’s like you have to learn react react, you have to like learn but the Gutenberg version. Would you say that’s true.

TG: I would say that’s true. Absolutely. Um, and I think that also can be a little bit part of the trouble because you are the difficulty at least back then because it was hard for me to know, you know what is what of this is specific to WordPress what is specific to create good and black and what is just straight up react and, but there isn’t a lot if you wanted to get into things like like deprecated blocks or deprecated features or parts of a block then I think knowing a little more react would be helpful. Like, if you need to go to get and look at the core files for the blocks the black files themselves. Just to see which is something that I do, I would reference.

DV: Well what does WordPress do in the core black for a paragraph or, you know, that’s what so many people get that same who is obvious example but give that same example about how they really helped to kind of quote learn it deeply creaky wooden blocks also a popular choice. The creator of justice custom blocks actually learned react to create blocks of that tool as well, and fewer questions but we’re going to take another quick break and we’ll be right.

DV: hello everyone welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcast on w EMR This is your host David Vogel Paul I’m interviewing Tina ronzo about not being afraid of building with Gutenberg Tina I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this so far. So you’ve talked a little bit about your journey like learning how to build blocks you use create block building it from scratch. He also shared that learning how to build blocks does not necessarily mean like learning all of react, you can have to learn a quote WordPress way to help me understand you, you were building these blocks for this department within a university. And what kind of blocks Did you, you mentioned you kind of have the card block to learn but like in the project or kind of blocks,

TG: a lot of different kinds. There were some that were as simple as something similar to I think WordPress has a default cover block. So, something like that, but the team didn’t like the way that worked exactly they’re, they’re very precise and they’re very they when they want something they really want it so in some cases, it seemed at first when we took we could just use a default black for that but then it turned out that it would be easier to customize so there are a lot of cosmetic type blocks maybe there’s a big image in the background and the title and then there’s a card that takes up the height of the section and then next to it are four cards in a grid, that sort of thing. And then a lot of dynamic blocks because they pull a lot of content. We pull a lot of content into custom post types from their in house servers so PhD students courses awards, faculty, all that kind of information we pull into custom or custom post types, and then we have blocks that allow them to put that stuff on the site they put a block in it lists all of the faculty or it lists a staff with the alphabetical index that you can click and see people from that, you know, in that alphabet whatever your last name is a look at all the people. A is, and also their news they will pull their news in from the college’s site. And then, we use a lot of custom taxonomies and things so that they can it’s a multi site environment and they can have things like news get pulled into a division site or specific news for research gets pulled into just that research, a site or faculty site pulls in certain kind of news so lots of dynamic blocks for splitting that kind of stuff.

DV: That’s awesome. Did you took your you mentioned kind of integrating in guessing via like the WordPress REST API within the multi site contacts, but maybe I guess external WordPress sites, did you have any blocks integrated in like other third party systems like, I’m not sure I’m not sure if you have any examples of as part of that project.

TG: I’m not sure what would really qualify as a third party system

DV: know a block that included a HubSpot for more a block that was pulling your grades from a grading system or something like that.

TG: No, not really. I would say the closest we have to that is an API I wrote myself that lives on their in house server that allows us to pull weekly announcements. Um, so it’s actually kind of going the other way.

DV: It’s interesting because I think when I hear people think about like, well, what am I going to build with blocks they often think it’s designed, but it’s the what like the way you’re using it is really way I think about it as you’re scaling your innovation right you’re allowing this content creators, not just to drop in a piece of content and modify it, but to really drop in an integration, and experience, if you will, it to me that’s where it gets really cool. It sounds like you’ve given a lot of great examples there. And my world in the Genesis Rob we have Genesis blocks and custom blocks and the types of blocks you’re referencing are the most requested blocks it’s like what people really want to do is essentially add kind of dynamic and customizable post grid. That’s kind of pulling in content from the rest of WordPress or maybe other WordPress is in so it’s good to see that demand but I think a lot of folks are thinking of Gen Gutenberg the block editor is really just like I’m going to design some content piece out. The reality is, there’s actually a lot of really cool and meaningful integrations you can do within the bar contacts. Tina, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for joining us today.

TG: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

DV: Of course, really enjoyed hearing about your journey if anyone’s out there listening that is also contemplating starting your blog journey hopefully this gave you a little bit of courage you can quit being afraid of Gutenberg. If you’d like to learn more about what Tina is up to you can visit Thanks everyone for listening to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. Again, this has been your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.

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