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Gutenberg Contributors Begin Early Exploration of a New Distraction Free Mode

A truly zen, distraction-free writing experience is my white whale of WordPress features. The one that landed in WordPress 3.2 was pretty close to perfect, but the block editor changed everything.

In the early days of the Gutenberg project, contributors worked on different ways to improve the writing experience after reviewers said they found it distracting and disruptive, that the concept of blocks may not be fully compatible with the simple task of writing. The block editor introduced settings like Fullscreen mode, top toolbar, and Spotlight mode, in part to mitigate the less than optimal writing experience.

Plugins like MRW Simplified Editor and Iceberg have attempted to bridge the gap, but it’s not the same as having a built-in, core option for distraction-free writing. WordPress does so many things well but I would love to see it provide the best writing experience on the web, without a third-party plugin.

Gutenberg contributors have returned to this challenge again with an early exploration of what a drastically reduced interface might look like as a new setting for improving focus. The PR outlines the reasons for the exploration:

  • The UI of the post editor is so heavy it makes it hard to focus. Things appear and disappear: mostly the floating block toolbar and the insertion point flashes depending where your mouse rests on the screen.
  • Using the top toolbar eats screen real estate.
  • Using reduced interface does not reduce much.
  • Writing and general content creation can be more pleasant on a blank canvas with little chrome to obfuscate line of thought.
  • Having full UI power at the press of a key (ESC) is simple enough.

Automattic-sponsored Gutenberg engineer Andrei Draganescu created a video to demonstrate what a “reduced interface” setting might look like. Most notably, this mode keeps the editor top bar hidden and prevents the block toolbar and insertion point from appearing. It also hides the drag handle in the block toolbar and some icons in the editor top bar.

After some feedback, contributors agreed that it would be good to make the top toolbar available on hover. They also explored the possibility of detaching panels from the top bar so that they float on the canvas.

In this mode, users familiar with the keyboard shortcuts can still invoke them to bring the hidden panels to the forefront again.

“I wouldn’t call this a writing mode per se because for some people the best writing environment would be the default one, or top toolbar; for others it might be spotlight, etc,” Gutenberg lead architect Matias Ventura said. “The ‘reduced interface’ (which I hope to rename ‘distraction free’) is more about removing UI from the canvas and working more with keyboard and shortcuts.”

The PR for exploring a drastically reduced interface is still in the exploratory stage. It’s a good start at reducing the pain points felt by users who just want to write without the distraction of block-related interface elements constantly popping into view.