Menu Customizer for WordPress 4.3

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Menu Customizer for WordPress 4.3

After seeing some of the fuss about the Menu Customizer proposal for WordPress 4.3 (WP Tavern, WP Tips)  we decided to test it out for ourselves and see if it is as good / bad as people say it is. Well,  there is both good and bad, and at this point it is just a proposal to put this feature plugin into the core of WordPress, so nothing is set in stone yet. Right now the only way to test this is to install WordPress 4.3 (with the WordPress Beta Tester plugin set to install Bleeding Edge Nightlies) and the Menu Customizer Plugin.

First, a bit of background on the two things we are talking about here – the WordPress customizer and the WordPress menu management system. The WordPress customizer (located at Appearance -> Customize ) has risen to fame lately as a controversial decision was made to only allow themes using it on wordpress.org so developers can no longer use other options panels. Good and bad with that decision too but that is another discussion entirely. The WordPress menu management interface (located at Appearance -> Menus) has been stagnant for awhile and a project was started by Nick Halsey at Google Summer of Code 2014 to integrate the menu management features into the customizer.

Here is a video that the team working on it produced:

The Good

  • Live Previews – flipping back and forth between two browser tabs to see the results of a change to the menu (after it has already been changed) is not especially fun or efficient, doubly so when the menu drops to a second line which requires further tinkering.
  • Global Search – currently there is a search box only for posts, this opens it up to all custom post types, terms, and taxonomies.
  • Its Faster – the JavaScript based interface is fast but it does sometimes stall when waiting for the live preview to update.
  • Consolidation – moving more things into the customizer brings a lot of the appearance related items of your site into one screen with live previews.
  • Fixes Problems – there are some problems with the current menu manager (this 16 items in the menu limit problem has been around for 4 years) which the new interface fixes
  • Its Mobile Friendly – I don’t usually develop sites on my phone but in the case of a quick menu change this could make it easier from a phone. Besides everything should be mobile friendly now right?

The Bad

  • Space Contraints – because of the live preview area on the right hand site the actual interface for changing the menu only takes up about 30% of the screen, squishing the menu items in. Most sites don’t have 200 menu items like Amazon does, but for a lot of people this was the first thing they noticed and complained about.
  • Customizer Bloating – the customizer has so far been used for things like changing the site title, font size, colors, etc. which are mostly visual elements. You could argue the menu is a visual element as well but it is a navigational component as well which gives it extra importance, it is definitely important enough to have its own page in the admin area.

The Ugly

  • People’s Reactions“poor decision”, “really bad idea”, and “Worst idea yet” were things I found in the comment section of the article on WP Tavern and another whole article against the menu customizer goes into further detail. I don’t agree with them completely, its a good idea to make progress on the menu management but putting more things in the customizer is not necessarily the only way forward, perhaps a live preview button in the menu management screen or a preview button like the post / page editing areas have would have been sufficient.
  • Re-Training and Re-Developing – for a lot of people this is an easily manageable change. But for others, like Chris Lema mentioned in his article on this topic, training materials will need to be re-created for the new interface which takes time and money. Also plugins and themes that used the old interface will need to be re-developed or scrapped entirely, and making developers angry is not a good idea for an open source project like WordPress that depends on them.

There has been more discussion about this and related things in the Make WordPress Core blog, most recently this Trust, Live Preview, and Menus in the Customizer which aims to clarify the decisions being made. Basically they want to bring things in the customizer mainly because of the live previews, so users can know what their site will look like before making changes. Personal experience tells me this is a good thing, especially for users who aren’t web developers or designers, they can visually see the effect their proposed changes will have.

When the menu takes up too much space and drops to a second or third line on desktops, it usually looks terrible, this is something we’d like to see before we make the change, not after. Then we don’t end up scrambling to update the menu again while readers or potential clients are browsing our site with a menu we don’t want them to see. As always big changes like these will have some resistance but in the long run doing what is best for most of the users is the best way to go and I think the WordPress core developers are aware of this. Get ready for the future of menus in WordPress, at this point the change seems inevitable.

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