Mobomo: A Look at Drupal’s New Layout Builder

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Recently, Drupal has been on an update rampage. The introduction of the oh-so-beautiful Drupal 9 core has spurred a chain reaction of upgrades across the Drupal platform. Just this week, we’re getting a new default theme (which is hyper-minimalist and easy-on-the-eyes), a 20% reduction in install times, and automated lazy load for images. But let’s talk about the juiciest UI/UX update that came with Drupal 9 — the standardization of Drupal’s Layout Builder.

If you’ve built a pre-Drupal-9 website over the past few years, you probably dabbled with Panels/Panelizer, WYSIWYG templates, or even custom coding to set up your UX/UI. And that works. We did it for years. But you can throw that worn-out Panelizer module in the trash. The times, they are a-changing. Drupal’s new Layout Builder module combines the core functionality of Panelizer with an out-of-the-box WYSIWYG engine.

First hinted at in 2017, Drupal Layout Builder officially left the onerous Drupal testing pipeline last year as part of Drupal’s 8.7 updates. Despite circulating for a year now, the chaos of 2020 has overshadowed this potent and flexible tool. So, let’s talk about it. Here’s what you need to know about Drupal’s Layout Builder.

What is Layout Builder?

Layout Builder is a WYSIWYG page editing engine that lets you manipulate back-end features via an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface. It’s difficult to overstate just how valuable Layout Builder is when it comes to time-savings. You can create templates in minutes, immediately preview and create content changes, and tweak page-by-page UI/UX features to create more cohesive and on-the-fly websites and landing pages.

At its core, Layout Builder is a block-based layout builder. You can create layouts for either a single page or all content of a specific type. In addition, you can jump in and create rapid-fire landing pages based on your existing design theme. There are three “layers” that Layout Builder operates on to help you build out holistic websites.

  1. Layout templates: You can create a layout template for all content of a specific type. For example, you can make a layout template for your blog posts or a layout template for every product page. This template will be shared across all pages, so you don’t have to go in and rebuild for each content type.
  2. Customized layout templates: You can also go in and make granular changes to a specific layout template. So, if you want a certain product page to be different than the layout template, you can make granular changes to just that page.
  3. Landing pages: Finally, you can create one-off pages that aren’t tied to structured content — like landing pages.

Important: Founder of Drupal — Dries Buytaert — dropped a blog post with some use cases for each of these layers.

To be clear, Layout Builder isn’t a WYSIWYG template. It uses your existing template. Instead, it allows non-developers (and lazy-feeling developers) to quickly make per-page changes to the website without diving into code. But these aren’t just simple changes. You can create a layout template for every page type (e.g., creating a specific layout for all the shoes you sell), and you can also dive into each of these layout pages to make custom changes. So, it really lets you get granular with your editing without forcing you to completely retool and redesign pages for each type of content. This gives Layout Builder a massive advantage over WordPress’s Gutenberg — which requires you to go in and re-lay elements for every page individually.

Here’s the kicker: you get a live-preview of all changes without bouncing between the layout and the front-end. Every block and field you place and every change you make to taxonomies or content is visible the second you make the change. The entire process takes place on the front-end, and changes are instantly visible. Remember, Layout Builder is part of Drupal’s Core, so you don’t need to implement new entity types of dig into third-party elements. It’s an out-of-the-box experience.

Advantages of Layout Builder

Last year, we got a gorgeous, picture-perfect demo of how Layout Builder would work. It’s beautiful, fast, and packs a punch that other leading layout builders are indeed missing. So, to help unpack the value of Layout Builder, let’s look at some of the advantages of Layout Builder:

Customization

Beyond Layout Builder’s incredibly powerful and customizable block-based design engine, it offers customization in usage. Let’s say you want to create an amazing landing page. You can start with a blank page that’s untied to structured content, drop in some hero images, a few pieces of text, some content, and a video. Suddenly, you have a custom landing page (complete with modules, blocks, and taxonomy) that exists in a separate ecosystem from your website.

Simultaneously, you can create a template for every blog post, then dive into a specific blog post and make on-time changes to just that page while still being tied to your structured content. Remember, you can make these changes nearly instantly, without touching code. And you’ll see a live preview of every change immediately without switching between interfaces.

Accessibility

Drupal is committed to accessibility. The second principle of Drupal’s Values & Principles page reads, “build software everyone can use,” and this rings true. Layout Builder meets Drupal’s accessibility gate standards (i.e., conforms to WCAG 2.0 and ATAG 2.0, text color has sufficient contrast, JavaScript is keyboard-usable, etc.)

Ease-of-use

Like many WYSIWYG editors, Drupal Layout Builder is all about “blocks.” But these aren’t your run-of-the-mill blocks. There are inline blocks, field blocks, global blocks, and system blocks. Each of these has its own use case, and you can combine these block types to create stellar pages in minutes. For example, global blocks are used to create templates, and inline blocks are used to create page-specific changes that don’t impact the layout. The combination of these block types makes Layout Builder a hassle-free experience.

Additionally, there are plenty of ease-of-use features built into the core. Layout Builder works with the keyboard, has plenty of usability features that tie to Drupal’s value statements, and allows nit-picky setups for customized workflows.

Creating a Drupal Website is Easier Than Ever

With Layout Builder, users can generate valuable content and pages without needing to patch together various WYSIWYG tools or Panel/Panelizer. At Mobomo, we’re incredibly excited for our clients to dive into Drupal Layout Builder and make actionable and memorable changes to their templates based on their in-the-moment needs and experiences.

But Layout Builder isn’t a replacement for a well-designed and well-developed website. We can help you build your next world-class website. Once we’re done, Layout Builder gives you the freedom to make substantial changes without the headaches, back-and-forth, or unnecessary touchpoints. Are you ready to create a customer-centric, experience-driven digital space? Contact us.

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