Back in September, Elegant Themes released the latest version of its flagship WordPress theme – Divi 3.0. So, after testing the builder out for a couple of months, now seems like the right time to see how good this thing actually is.
Let’s start by saying this is no small update. Elegant Themes has reinvented this theme from the ground up, redesigning the whole platforms and building it in a completely new set of language frameworks.
If you’ve used previous versions of the Divi builder, you’ll see it’s now faster and more powerful from the moment you start using it. Plus there’s the fact Divi is now a fully-visual editor with drag-and-drop functions, meaning you can see your edits on the fly as you make them.
So there’s no doubt Divi 3.0 is a different kind of website builder now. It’s one that brings some major new features and improved usability to the table. But how good is it really in the grand scheme of things after a couple of month’s using it?
Let’s find out.
Divi 3.0 – the visual editor
The first thing you’ll notice about Divi 3.0 is the new visual editor. This is probably the headline feature if the update and will likely be its best selling point going forward.
One of the biggest frustrations with previous versions of Divi was the fact you had to make changes in the back end and then hit the preview button to see them. Now you can make changes on the fly in your browser and everything happens live – a major improvement for workflow.
Of course, visual editors are nothing new these days. In fact, Divi is a little late coming to the party and this has been one of the major criticisms it’s had to deal with over the years. But let’s not forget most visual editors suck. They’re often slow, frustrating and regularly glitchy – which isn’t something you could often say about Divi before this upgrade.
So. How does Divi’s new visual editor actually perform?
A closer look at Divi 3.0’s visual editor
The first thing worth mentioning about Divi’s visual editor is that it actually takes up the full browser. This may sound trivial but most editors have bars and menus taking up browser space, whereas Divi puts nothing in the way of you and your design.
This means you get a 100% accurate view of your site and all the changes you make. Instead of fixed menus, you’ll find interfaces pop up as you hover over “Sections”, “Rows” and “Models” which are basically Divi jargon for sections, divs and elements.
It’s impressive how smooth the overall experience is – something I was dubious about when I first heard Divi was going visual. There’s a lot going on in the browser at any one time when you’re using the editor but it all manages to work seamlessly.
I always test browser tools in cafes with dodgy WiFi connections to see how they cope. I’m glad (and slightly surprised) to say Divi continues to impress in this regard.
As with most visual editors like this, you can click on content to change it instantly. You can also drag and drop elements, duplicate them or add and delete new elements within a few clicks.
All in all, the combination of features and performance from Divi 3.0 is pretty incredible. This visual editor is no gimmick and your workflow will be lightening fast on Elegant Themes’ new flagship editor.
What makes this version of Divi so much faster?
The secret behind Divi’s drastically improved performance lies in the code Elegant Themes chose to build it in. Rather than an update, Divi 3.0 is more of a complete rebuild of the entire platform, where every line of code was rewritten from scratch.
Thanks to the ultra-fast DOM operations of React, you can resize elements, drag and drop them, copy them and make edits without ever slowing down the browser. It’s really impressive to see a web application perform this well and it never really seems to break a sweat.
Divi 3.0 feels like the first jump into the next stage on website builders and it’s going to be an exciting few years to see what other developers can come up with.
What isn’t so good about Divi 3.0?
Okay, so Divi 3.0 is incredibly fast, powerful and intuitive to use – so what’s not to like about it?
Well, there are some niggles one the UI side of things that you start to notice after using it for a while. It can sometimes be a bit tricky to get the right settings menu to pop up – especially if you have multiple small elements in the same row. Unsurprisingly, this problem gets worse if you like resizing the browser down to drool over your responsive design.
It’s a minor complaint that only crops up every now and then but it’s worth mentioning all the same.
I also lost my changes a few times because the Save button isn’t as visible as it could be. This is a more serious issue, of course, but I’ll let you decide if this is Elegant Themes’ mistake or my own stupidity for forgetting to save.
As you can see, these are pretty niggly complaints and this goes to show how impressive the overall experience and workflow is with Divi 3.0. It’s hard to fault the new version on this side of things.
However, the same issues over using WordPress website builders are still there.
Once you go Divi, you can’t go back
Perhaps the most worrying complaint about Divi is the fact it can be difficult to leave. In fact, WordPress expert Chris Lema says “If you use the Divi theme with WordPress, it better be forever” and this is clearly something that worries people.
You’ll find countless beginners putting this question to Elegant Themes on its Facebook group. The problems begin when you try to transfer your site’s functionality to a different theme or builder – an issue not unique to Divi by any means.
Elegant Themes is working to fix this issue, though. It’s developed a plugin that essentially downloads the functionality of your Divi theme and allows you to install it into a new theme. So the problems of switching from Divi to another theme in the future aren’t so much of an issue anymore.
Shortcodes (aka loooong code)
Another concern with website builders is the shortcodes they use to turn your designs into functioning websites. Hats off to whoever came up with the name for these things because the end results is actually a lot more code working under the hood – than it would take to get the same functionality from custom code.
Of course, this doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the programming skills to match that functionality. Chunky code is the trade-off with using WordPress and any of its website builder tools. Either accept it or get the necessary developers on board.
There’s a limit to how much you can edit
Aside from performance, the biggest gripe with using any website builder is you’re always limited to what you can edit or create. Divi is certainly one of the better editors in this regard but you’re still working from a fairly rigid template, compared to the complete freedom of independent design.
Of course, many designers follow the same conventions we see across the internet these days and the majority of companies want that kind of look. It also means the non-designers out there can use Divi 3.0 and come up with a slick website, even if it doesn’t scream creativity.
Final verdict on Divi 3.0
The latest version of Divi is by far the best website builder I’ve used from a workflow perspective. The whole UI operation and experience of using the editor is almost flawless – and it’s a pleasure to use for that alone.
It’s also great to see Elegant Themes trying to fix one of the biggest issues with using page builders – moving to another theme at a later stage. It’s refreshing to see them make the effort when it basically allows you to stop using their products at some point in the future. You wouldn’t see Apple doing that.
There are still a number of drawbacks to using website builders, of course. You’ll always get better performance from a custom-built site but Elegant Themes isn’t trying to replace web developers with Divi – it’s providing a platform for designers without coding skills to take on bigger projects. And, at this stage, it’s the best option around by quite a margin.