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I'm a combination Drupal and WordPress developer and have recently started playing with Drupal's Panels module -- which allows you to create flexible layouts and drop content blocks (The Drupal equivalent of widgets) in place on either a per-layout or per-content item basis.

I'm now working on a WordPress project that would really benefit from this kind of functionality — is there a visual layout editor for WordPress that even slightly resembles Panels?

By "visual layout editor", I mean something that can have text and/or widgets added on an ad-hoc basis to regions created by either dragging column widths or click-and-dragging selections (Similar to Adobe InDesign).

Edit: It's a year later, so I've created a wiki answer below. The original question has been updated to reflect this.

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Do you want to select widgets from the post type pages? Or do you want to have the complete widgets admin interface/screen implemented on pages? –  kaiser Aug 12 '12 at 16:04
    
I'm not sure I understand your question; I mainly want to be able to put build custom content layouts on an ad-hoc basis, dragging and dropping various widgets as needed. For instance, my design calls for a three-column table (or 3 inline divs, whatever) with styled text in each cell, placed as-needed. I can't think of a way to make this editable without dumping a bunch of code into the Code Editor. In Panels, I'd create a Mini Panel with 3 columns, each of which would be an independently-editable custom pane. Play around with Drupal and Panels for 30 minutes to see why this is awesome. –  aendrew Aug 12 '12 at 16:12
    
I fully understand you - even without setting up Drupal with "Panels". I just want to know if you want to have "Panels" a) on (the built in, hierarchical post type named) "pages", b) on (the non-hierarchical, also built in post type named) "posts" or c) on a custom post type named "Panels". Got me? And as you compare "Widgets" with "Panels", I asked if you want to have the "Widgets admin UI" implemented there. –  kaiser Aug 12 '12 at 16:14
    
Ah! I see, apologies for the confusion. I'd say A., yes, B., not as necessary, C., nope. As per Widgets Admin UI -- yes, most likely, though I'm open to alternatives if that isn't possible. –  aendrew Aug 12 '12 at 18:07
    
Also, apologies if I came off as super "Rah-Rah DRUPAL!" there; I like WordPress and it's the first CMS platform I generally suggest -- perhaps I'm just a bit surprised I don't know of anything comparable from the WP development community. –  aendrew Aug 12 '12 at 18:15
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2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

There's been a lot of development in this sphere since I posted this question, not only in using visual layout tools for the overall site theme, but also for laying out individual pages. Some plugins I've evaluated:

  • SiteOrigin Page Builder has a Panels-esque fluid grid layout engine, into which you can place any kind of widget. This makes it pretty powerful. I've built a few widgets specifically for use with this, and it works decently well. Free!
  • Page Layout Builder is really similar to SiteOrigin Page Builder, albeit with 1/8th as many downloads (~8k versus SiteOrigin's ~64k). Free!
  • ScrollKit, which allows you to do some really interesting scrolling effects while doing InDesign-esque visual layout, has a WordPress plugin. Note that finished pages are hosted by ScrollKit. Free!
  • PlugNEdit is a similar deal to ScrollKit, but looks eye-gougingly terrible by comparison. Free!
  • Zedity looks really similar to PlugNEdit. Free!
  • Pagelines' "DMS" is probably the most polished of the commercial offerings and it looks really snazzy. Unfortunately, it's brutally expensive, and if you stop paying their monthly subscription fee (?!), they add a "Powered by Pagelines" link to your site, effectively turning your site into a free ad for their company. I can't tell whether it works on the page level, though I get the feeling it does. Plans range from $8 /mo. (1 site) to $24 /mo. (unlimited sites).
  • Visual Composer for WordPress is similar to SiteOrigin Page Builder, but seems to use its own specialized widgets instead of WordPress' own. Appears to work on the page level. $25.
  • Elegant Builder seems to be pretty similar to SiteOrigin Page Builder, albeit for $89. Seems to work on the page-level.
  • Headway looks pretty snazzy, I like the visual grid-based workflow. $87, includes 1 year support.

I've made this answer community wiki, so feel free to add more.

IMO, what would be awesome is something at SiteOrigin Page Builder's level of quality and cost, but directed towards free-form (i.e., "gridless") visual layout like ScrollKit or PlugNEdit.

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Have you tried PressWork? It's http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/presswork.

This post might yield some interesting leads: http://www.smartfoxes.ca/blog/2012/04/11/top-5-drag-and-drop-wordpress-themes/

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I was hoping more for something in terms of a plugin so I could extend a theme I've already developed, PressWork looks pretty rad. I'll have to give that a shot sometime. –  aendrew Aug 15 '12 at 13:35
    
I bet you could install PressWork and either 1) adapt your theme to be a child theme of PressWork, or 2) rip it apart and distill the drag and drop portions into a "plugin" of sorts. Nothing's stopping you from copying the relevant files and dependencies from PressWork into your own theme. It's on the repo so it's GPL2. And hey, if you do pluginize it, share it back to the community! –  Tom Auger Aug 15 '12 at 13:43
    
Well, certainly I'll be using that as my parent theme from here on in -- looks rad. Will take a look at the code later, kinda curious to see how it works. Leaving question open for awhile longer to see if there are any other solutions out there, but this is a really good answer. –  aendrew Aug 15 '12 at 13:55
    
FWIW, I just tried out PressWork, and while it does have some drag-and-drop functionality, it's nowhere near as flexible as Panels. –  aendrew Sep 19 '12 at 22:57
    
To explain the above (was going to add it to the above but ran afoul of the 5 minute editing limit): New sidebars have to be added with hooks; widgets can't be reordered by simply dragging and dropping. It's a really nice theme in general, but still a ways off from what I'm looking for. –  aendrew Sep 19 '12 at 23:04
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