Webflow Conf 2022: My Take
Just when you thought you knew Webflow, along comes an hour and 20 minute keynote of new features and workflows offering you everything from variable fonts to higher CMS limits to six pack abs and developer super powers and even a large neon obelisk.
So Stay Calm, Hold On, and Trust Me while we fly through these Webflow announcements and figure out if they are indeed a utility belt of super powers or just a Halloween disguise.
First up is components. Symbols have evolved (and been renamed) to components which offer new on-canvas controls, the ability to integrate CMS data on collection pages, and a visibility toggle. In my initial testing of components in designer, I felt a bit underwhelmed in that I didn’t really discover any new capability with components that I could not achieve before with symbols. The user experience does feel a bit improved in that now we can make edits live in the main pane of designer, rather than in a little box on the sidebar, but working with symbols just wasn’t a major pain point for me before. Additionally, users are reporting some buggy behavior with components: Matt Evans points out that nothing appears in navigator when you open up the component in isolation mode. Josh Hartman notes that components are getting more powerful, but less performant, especially on complex projects that take advantage of the ability to nest components.
Me personally? I see components as a quality of life update with huge possible implications for the future of integrating directly with the new libraries in marketplace, making it easier for large (enterprise) teams to share design assets, and perhaps most significantly, porting your components over to a React project (more on that later).
But first, let’s talk marketplace. Webflow basically took templates, Made in Webflow, and expert matchmaking, along with the new apps and libraries features and stuck them in a dropdown in your nav bar. To me, marketplace is a move out of the Apple playbook, whereby Webflow will have tighter control on how the community can deliver content to the platform. If that’s the direction it goes, we might start to lose out on cool free community tools like browser extensions but could possibly realize better integration with the Webflow User Interface. Most assuredly, developers will start to realize 30% of their fees go straight into Vlad’s pockets. It’s just business.
Speaking of the new additions in marketplace, it turns out the app store right now is just an authentication wrapper on top of already existing tooling. Clicking “Add to Site” for Power Importer (shout out to not-so-indie-anymore developer Marc for this fantastic tool) and then “Authorize Application” on one of my project sites just takes me to the tools homepage, and doesn’t carry over any information about the site I had previously selected. It’s just business.
Libraries offers components right in designer, which is a pretty cool integration for existing libraries, but again doesn’t improve THAT MUCH on current workflows. I think now that the community has pretty much fully realized how powerful component libraries are in speeding up build time (check out my free component library webbae.net/components), Webflow has taken notice and wants their pound of flesh. Right now these all say FREE but don’t be surprised when that says $19 per month with Webflow going full Steve Jobs mode and pulling 30% off the top
Variable fonts let you adjust things like weight and alignment with just one file ending in .vf instead of uploading multiple font files like .ttf, .woff, .woff2 or .otf for each individual style. Pretty handy if you have that .vf file, but a small quality of life improvement to me that maybe doesn’t require a 6 minute demo on how to drag a slider? The designer types in their 90’s Jeans and Doc Martens were gushing, us developer types didn’t quite get it.
Enterprise Customer Improvements
Big companies are where the big money is, and it’s no doubt enterprise business has been a top priority for Webflow for a while now. For most of us building websites for grandpa at oldcoot.com, these aren’t game changers. However, when Google finally hires me to fix their homepage for Google Meet, I’ll be better equipped with page branching, higher CMS limits, and multi-language support. I am however particularly intrigued by the guest role for Agency and Freelancer workspaces which could definitely improve my workflow for the inevitable “Client breaks website after I transfer the project to their account”
Developers and DevLink
Let’s be honest, the other big money comes from developers, which is why us coders pull perfect tens all day. With Dev Link, you can use Webflow to design the front end of your full stack app and port over your components to any React project. Sync your components over with one command “npx webflow-devlink sync” and watch design updates occur live in your React project with the “link” command. What’s more, you can port over your CSS code in modules so the browser only loads the styles your component needs AND it has support for interactions.
Dev Link is sure to be sick when we see it. I submit for access on the day of the announcement... let's see if I get approved.
So there you have it. Webflow Conf 2022 is over and it’s up to us to figure out how to put these new super powers to use. My overall take is that not much has changed in the short term - most of these features are either geared toward large enterprise customers, who probably were already testing these features anyways, or aren’t released yet. Memberships, Logic, and Dev Link are all in beta, while variable fonts and multi language support aren’t expected to roll out until next year. I see Webflow taking notes from the Apple business model, laying the foundation for an entire ecosystem around designer where they provide quality control but in exchange become gatekeepers and fee collectors. As a hardcore Apple user, I definitely see myself becoming more entrenched in Webflow products as they continue to grow and mature this ecosystem. The future looks nice and Apple-y for Webflow fans!