Magento, Hyvä & more - Interview with Simon Sprankel

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Simon Sprankel from CustomGento has been part of the Magento cosmos for over ten years. In the community and in meetups he shares his extensive knowledge, co-develops solutions and is an active contributor.

In this interview he talks about his experiences as a user of the new frontend theme Hyvä, gives tips on how to use it properly and shares his learnings from 10 years of Magento.

Please introduce yourself briefly

My name is Simon Sprankel and I originally studied computer science - from 2008 to 2014 in Darmstadt. Already during my studies I started my own business, actually just because it came up that way. Well, at some point someone needed an online store and that's how I got involved with Magento. Initially it was more by chance, but after a small own store was added in 2012 I stayed with it and now it's been more than 10 years. Sportschmuck24.de was a bit of a guinea pig to test how to build new functions, for example. That was very important for me, because it allowed me to try out a lot of things before I implemented innovations for customers. By the way, we still do that - only now with Magento 2.

During my studies, the store development was still running on the side, but since after its completion the first customers were already waiting, I had to "professionalize" myself at short notice and have made myself independent. The brand name "CustomGento" came quickly - derived from "Custom" for "tailor-made" and "Gento", of course to establish the reference to Magento.

However, I actually founded CustomGento GmbH only in June last year, when we became more employees. By now we are a team of four people, so still relatively small, but it was time to give this team a professional framework. We are all highly specialized in Magento and its customization - so the company name still says it all. We are currently not planning to open up more to other store systems, although we do see the trend within the community. With the size of our team, it makes sense to focus on one system and do high-quality work, especially since Magento is extremely complex.

Why are you working with Hyvä now?

I have been very active in the Magento community for years and am always at many (virtual) events. Therefore, I heard about Hyvä very early and found the approach very exciting. On the one hand, because performance - understandably - is always an issue for store operators. And you always come up against the limits of Magento.

On the other hand, I also found the approach "hey, we'll just throw everything out and make something fast ourselves" just cool.

Because what is becoming more and more important, especially for store operators, are the green numbers in the Core Web Vitals. They are tangible and as long as they are green, everything is okay for the viewer. And these numbers are also based on the performance, i.e. the speed of the page, so this topic is becoming increasingly important.

I have known Willem (A.d.R. Willem Wigmann, developer of Hyvä) for a while now, so I was sure he knows exactly what he is doing. Yes, and Tailwind and Alpine as technologies behind it are not exactly unknown now. And it is precisely for these reasons that I find the subject simply exciting. I then took a closer look at everything and then we actually actively proposed it to customers.

In the case of chiptuning.com, a Magento 2 migration, we said on our own initiative that we would have to rebuild it anyway and would then like to do it with Hyvä. For the customer, this was not a discussion at all, although he could of course have asked why he should pay license costs for Hyvä. But for that cost, you simply can't build it yourself, so you can directly take advantage of someone else's preliminary work.

Websitechiptuning.com

In the case of sunliner, it was the speed issues that the customer explicitly wanted to work on. Although we built his store 1.5 years ago completely with Magento 2, our suggestion to rebuild the frontend with Hyvä was met with understanding.

websitesunliner

Interestingly, another order has now been added, via the Hyvä provider site. So there are clients who are concerned with this issue and then very actively looking for appropriate agencies. In our case, the customer is certainly more tech-savvy than usual and in the end only needed a team of developers for support.
For us, however, it is nice to see that it is worthwhile to be a little more active in this topic and that this way obviously works.

What excites you about Hyvä?

Speed was certainly the initial deciding factor in getting involved with the topic. And when you then start to take a closer look at the product, you naturally also come into contact with the Hyvä community. And that's a bit like what you know and appreciate from the Magento community. You almost have the feeling that everyone from the Magento community, who you know from there and who is active and helpful there, is now also in the Hyvä community. And of course that has its advantages, because you are surrounded by people who know a lot about Magento and that makes working with Hyvä much easier.

And speed is not only interesting from the end customer's point of view, but also for developers. So, if I'm developing and have to reload the page a thousand times a day to see my changes, that's just pretty cool if I don't have to wait 3 seconds every time, but only 50 milliseconds.

Is Hyvä difficult for newcomers?

I would argue that it is easier than the classic Magento frontend because a lot of complexity is taken away. So with the classic Magento frontend you have a lot of JavaScript technologies behind it, with jQuery, KnockoutJS or RequireJS. And you can forget all that when you use Hyvä.

You really only need these two technologies: Alpine and Tailwind. Sure, you have to deal with those of course, but then you're really almost done.
And Alpine as a framework is just cool, because it's extremely small and so compact that you can get all the commands well explained within an hour. The application is certainly something else, but in contrast to other applications it is extremely clear - jQuery is rather not explained in an hour. You get along very quickly with Alpine and can immediately build cool things. For beginners as well as for professionals certainly an important criterion.

What are the disadvantages of Hyvä?

Most of it is really very positive, but of course there are issues that are not so nice. One of them is the still missing features, for example at the moment there is no "Search Auto-Complete". This is supposed to be released soon, but at the moment it is missing a standard function for an online store.

But there is a feature matrix, which is very transparent, so you always know what is being worked on. And, of course, this also lets you know what you have to be prepared for.

Another issue is the compatibility of third-party modules. That is definitely a very big issue, because many modules intervene in the front-end area. You have to make them compatible first. And again, there is a list of modules that are already compatible - and new ones are added every day. Nevertheless, if you have such a project, you still have to make 5-7 modules compatible yourself first.

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages and there is always a workaround. Under the time aspect, however, you can not give a general answer, which solution is better. With Hyvä, I currently have to develop compatibility and some features, but development with Alpine and Tailwind is faster. But all in all, you definitely have a faster frontend and that alone is worth the effort.

By the way, due to the Core Web Vitals, we notice that it is not so much our direct contacts at the customers, but rather their SEO people who explicitly ask for new technologies to increase performance. For them, of course, it is very interesting that the pagespeed is usually above 90 due to the changes.

Is the Magento version relevant for a Hyvä migration?

If you migrate it is of course reasonable to move to the Hyvä immediately and not to develop a Luma frontend first. But I think it's not really relevant what the source system is - whether Magento 1 or Magento 2. Because when you start you always have the step that you have classic CSS and on the other hand you have to produce tailwind classes. So you don't write CSS (or Less / SASS) anymore, but classes to elements and the CSS then comes along automatically, so to speak.

Whether the source system is Magento 1 or Magento 2 is therefore less crucial than the fact that you have to switch from writing CSS to writing Tailwind classes.

When developing a Hyvä frontend, you don't really approach it any differently than a classic Magento frontend. What many frontenders and also designers find difficult is rather the fact that I have predefined distances and sizes in Tailwind - but the designer would often like to have intermediate levels represented. So not 1, 2, 3, but 1, 2.5, 3.2... But that's not the way it's meant to be with Tailwind, so you just have to decide and sometimes make a design compromise. In my opinion, this makes sense if you follow a certain standard, because it also guarantees a uniform look across the entire frontend. Of course, you can always do some customizing, but changing the standards can also come at the expense of speed - and that's what we're primarily concerned with, after all.

Are there any best practices for Hyvä projects?

I think the very first rule, for Hyvä and for projects in general, is "talk to the customer." Because if you are already building something new, then you can change things. Maybe that's clear to everyone, but it's still often forgotten.

And then I can only recommend everyone to automate as much as possible. Of course, this is also less Hyvä-specific, because it's about the general development setup. But our experience is that it's beneficial to take as much thought work away from the developer as possible, so that he can develop and not still have to execute commands all the time. Everything that is so "command-standard" we try to automate and have had very good experience with it. We use a Docker-based setup called Warden for this and have automated a lot more with CaptainHook.

By the way, something that has proven very successful for us is our so-called "Knowledge Exchange". Every Friday, we take an hour to an hour and a half to present a topic. One employee then prepares this topic during the week and presents it to the others during this time. By the way, not everything has to be of a technical nature; we also cover other areas of knowledge. That's incredibly helpful and also helps us as an agency.

And I would always advise newcomers to look for a company that places value on knowledge and training, but also gives employees the time to deal with new topics on their own, because then it's much easier to develop quickly.
(A.d.R.: Who now feels addressed to work at CustomGento:Twitter|LinkedIn)

"Knowledge Exchange" at CustomGento.

Are PWAs an alternative?

For us, PWAs are not an alternative because both we and our customers are too small for it, in my opinion. It's just a whole other ball game. And yes, Hyvä is also a new technological approach, but much more "relaxed" than such a big solution like PWA. It also doesn't really have anything to do with Magento anymore, because you're creating a completely new frontend that communicates with Magento only via API. We don't really want to cover that, so it wouldn't make sense for us to learn it.

From what we hear, the development time is also much longer and that, in turn, is not what our customers want. But for really big stores, it's certainly interesting if they want to have app-like features developed, for example.
I've noticed that some of them have put a lot of work and time into it, but are now backpedaling again because they realize how extensive everything is and how time-consuming it is to maintain it.

What is so special about Magento?

The expandability of the system is simply a huge advantage. You can customize the system very much and it still remains updateable. And of course that makes it extremely future-proof, if you implement it correctly. From my point of view, it is simply technically very, very good. We mainly work with the open source version, but we also have customers who prefer Magento Commerce in conjunction with the cloud. For us, both are possible, it simply depends on the customer's wishes.

CustomGento relies on certifications - currently the team holds six Adobe certifications.

One of the most important reasons why I like Magento so much is, as mentioned above, the community. And I hope that the community idea will be revived when live events start again in a relaxed setting.

The special thing about this community is simply the great willingness to help. There are various Slack workspaces where you get very selfless support. I think that's just cool and it makes working very pleasant. You don't feel so alone and you get really helpful input. In addition, the focus is on togetherness and not this blatant competition that you often have in other industries. This is certainly also due to the fact that our industry has been booming for years and we actually all have "too much" work. So that may change at some point, but right now I'm just enjoying the current state.

By the way, even as a Magento noob you can quickly get in touch with the community. Just have a look what's there and if something is unclear to you or you can't find something, write in the question without shyness. Most of the time you get a solution even in very special cases, or at least an idea where you might look again. That's just super valuable and it's definitely worthwhile to get involved in such a community. Of course, I'm more likely to get support if I'm active myself and provide content than if I'm a mute fish swimming around in Slack all the time and don't help anyone.

For Magento beginners, however, there are now also really cool offers and courses that make the start much more pleasant than ten years ago when I started. Vinai Kopp offers very good tutorials and developer screen casts, as does the M.academy by Marc Shust.

Also the virtual Magento meetups are often a great help. And especially for more introverts, those are certainly a good forum, because you can also just listen and get a lot of concentrated knowledge. I also think that it is much easier at the hopefully soon to be held again live meetups or unconfs to make contacts if you have once written with people in Slack or seen them at a virtual meetup. For "newbies" (A.d.R. newbies are also welcome to contact Simon for a "community direct entry") this already makes it much easier to get started and will help you become a Magento and maybe Hyvä fan.


More information about "Hyvä" can also be found in the following blog posts:


Published on 07.09.2021 | NM

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