Menu Customizer Officially Proposed for Merge Into WordPress 4.3

Contributors on the Menu Customizer feature plugin are proposing its inclusion in WordPress 4.3. Nick Halsey posted the Customizer Team’s proposal last night, beginning with a summary of the purpose of moving menu management into the customizer:

In the process, we hope to offer an updated design with improved user flow, a mobile-first interface, improved accessibility, rebuild the administration UI from the ground up to be JavaScript-driven, solve long-standing problems with the current implementation, and clarify the purposes and capabilities of the menus feature. Additionally, Menu Customizer contributes significantly to the long-term goal to move all appearance functionality and, really, everything that could benefit from live previewing, from the admin to the Customizer.

Menu management in the customizer is essentially a full replacement of all the capabilities previously housed in the admin. It allows for editing, reordering, deleting, and adding individual menu items within any menu. The plugin adds a convenient global search that includes all post types, terms, and taxonomies.

The video below was prepared by Halsey’s team to demonstrate the capabilities of the Menu Customizer:

The dizzying speed with which she flips between panels in the demo is not representative of the capabilities of your average WordPress user. Given that the plugin currently requires WordPress 4.3 alpha, it’s not likely that it has not been widely tested by users of varying experience levels.

My initial impression after testing is that managing menus in the customizer makes me feel claustrophobic. The live previews and the mobile friendliness are the big wins here, but they come at the expense of a squished menu management experience. For sites that use WordPress as a CMS, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of pages and subpages, menu management in the customizer could become rather cumbersome.

menu-customizer-test-add-page

I have no doubt that the Menu Customizer has been architected to perform better as a JavaScript-driven solution for managing menus. Halsey and the team employed no small amount of wizardry in creating the custom panel for implementing screen options and the sections that lazy load menu items.

But if you put a relatively new WordPress user in front of the customizer menu panel, will it be intuitive to use? Will stuffing menus into the customizer cause the usability of the feature to decline?

Reactions to the proposal in the Advanced WordPress Facebook group were less than enthusiastic, as not many favor expanding the customizer’s reach into menu management.

“I really don’t feel the Customizer is the correct place to manage menus or any content for that matter,” member Tom Hemsley commented. “If a theme offers styling options for a menu then fair enough – put those styling options in the customizer. But the customizer is not the place for managing content. Why not force people to create new posts using the Customizer, too?”

Lisa League’s comment accurately summarizes many others’ initial reactions to the demo video: “My first impression of Make was not ‘Cool, look how they did this with the customizer’ but ‘Whoa, there’s too much stuff in this tiny space.'”

If the Menu Customizer plugin is approved to merge into core, Halsey outlined a plan for the removal of the old menu admin screen in favor of focusing all new development on the UI in the customizer. WordPress 4.3 would point the Menus link in the admin bar to Menus in the customizer and later releases would remove all core links to the Menus admin screen, or point them to the customizer.

“The above plan is fairly aggressive, to eliminate any ambiguity about future plans and intentions and to avoid the potential for mass trac ticket rot,” Halsey said.

WordPress cannot move forward without making changes and taking risks. The question of whether or not to merge the Menu Customizer plugin should inspire some fairly active discussion in the days ahead. If you want to test the plugin for yourself, the easiest way is to install the WordPress Beta Tester plugin to get 4.3-alpha running and then install Menu Customizer from WordPress.org.

Core contributors will discuss the Menu Customizer proposal today during the regularly scheduled development meeting on Slack. According to the WordPress 4.3 project schedule, the feature plugin merge window will close June 17th and the official release is expected in mid-August.

37 Comments


  1. Wasn’t a fan when I heard about this project, and not a fan after seeing it in action for all the same reasons mentioned in this post and by comments on the project blog post. The UI is way too constrained, claustrophobic, and busy.

    Menus are not really a visual design element. They’re a navigational tool. They can have very complex structures. Managing them within the customizer makes it difficult to focus on the job at hand when managing and creating menus… too much sliding in and out in a small constrained space with the site design itself visible.

    Housing them in the admin as they are now allows you to focus more on what you are doing.

    If you use WordPress for a blog, you’re menus will likely be simple and this might work. But WordPress isn’t just for blogs anymore. It’s a CMS used for all manner of web sites. It’s time that core starts taking that into account when it comes to new features. It’s not just about blogs anymore.

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    1. Menus are not really a visual design element.

      If only I could convince my clients of that. The reality is that for most people menus are an important part of their site’s design.

      The UI is way too constrained, claustrophobic, and busy.

      Agreed, 100%. And yet it would be nice to be able to see changes to the menus in real time.

      But WordPress isn’t just for blogs anymore. It’s a CMS used for all manner of web sites. It’s time that core starts taking that into account when it comes to new features. It’s not just about blogs anymore.

      Oh, hell yes. WP has evolved from a simple blogging platform into a decent CMS and is rapidly becoming a web application framework. Personally I’d love to see more devotion to the latter. Sometimes it feels like the WP mothership is trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

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    2. Haha you use the same words as I do when I describe my feeling of using the customizer itself. After working with it I want to scream put my hands in the air and run around on the plains.

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    3. But WordPress isn’t just for blogs anymore. It’s a CMS used for all manner of web sites. It’s time that core starts taking that into account when it comes to new features.

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  2. In my personal opinion, with a history of dealing with enterprises over 21 years, this is a poor decision that will hurt our ability to take WordPress into that market. I know it’s a small segment right now, but a decision that not only puts the menu in a new place, but also removes the old place, represents a ridiculously high cost of training (and training materials).

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    1. Good point Chris. A lot of training materials are going to have to be recreated indeed. Not a great decision moving towards these new interfaces, I find them cumbersome and limited compared to the old admin dashboard.

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  3. If you feel the need to put hundreds of items in your menus, you’re probably doing something wrong. I can’t come up with a single reason you would have over 100 items in a single menu. Surely there can be better structure to your website to make a better user experience.

    I mean, amazon.com has just over 200 items in their menu, but they could arguably reduce that drastically. There is a lot of repetitive stuff there. Even then, they have other things broken out into entirely different menus. It’s just bad bad bad UX to have a gajillion items in a single menu.

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    1. I daresay Amazon has done more than it’s fair share of testing in deciding that menu structure. Can you imagine editing a large content site, similar to Amazon, in that tiny menu editor? Heck, even just “mega menus” can be simple and contain only a few dozen items overall, visually in the admin they have 3 levels which is clunky enough to use at the moment let alone in that limited space.

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    2. Mega menus are not always bad UX. If designed well, they can often be easier to navigate than trying to guess which top level category your desired outcome fits into, because it’s all right there. This is especially true in cases where the menu items are so diverse they are completely unrelated, like a massive ecommerce site. Look into Edwarde Tufte’s “adjacent in space” concept for more thoughts.

      Tl;dr: big menus are sometimes necessary and menu management should account for that.

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  4. I am big fan of customizer and really like it. However this looks as “too much” for me.
    Mobile friendly? I can not imagine how someone build website on mobile ;)

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  5. What’s this obsession with the Customizer?

    This idea smacks of trying to find something for it to do rather than thinking first about what’s the best way to manage menus.

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  6. This is a really bad idea. Period. Being forced to use the customizer to work on menus and rearrange content is very counter-productive. These “updates” are not necessarily helpful, as we found out with 4.2.2 which destroyed the ability to display comments on some themes, 2010, 2011, 2012 which brings on the WSOD and a blank ‘comment-php’ page.–a problem STILL unresolved. Imagine now, a new update, with all content painfully arranged, and some WP genius with nothing better to do decides to “update” the customizer. BAD idea.

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  7. If the Menu Customizer plugin is approved to merge into core, Halsey outlined a plan for the removal of the old menu admin screen in favor of focusing all new development on the UI in the customizer. WordPress 4.3 would point the Menus link in the admin bar to Menus in the customizer and later releases would remove all core links to the Menus admin screen, or point them to the customizer.

    That’s kind of crazy pants.

    The long term goal is a complete re-write of the admin interface to be mobile first, JS driven, performant, and etc. etc. okay, that makes sense – but it doesn’t make sense, to me, to move everything into the customizer.

    Additionally, I don’t understand the benefit of seeing live updates when editing menus. “Look, Bob, Contact just moved above About! Now watch me move it back!”

    That’s kind of tongue in cheek, I’m not trying to be a jerk. It just doesn’t seem like a great idea to me.

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  8. Current WordPress strategy: If it’s not broken, break it.

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  9. Worst idea yet. I’m already livid at discovering that in the admin toolbar, when viewing the site, now redirects me to the Customizer when I click “Widgets” instead of the usual Widgets admin panel.

    I don’t want to go there to customize anything let alone my widgets, so give me the option to CHANGE IT BACK.

    If they put Menus in the Customizer and take away admin menus… sheesh, they are trying to drive people back to Drupal, aren’t they… and putting everything in Customizer when nothing outside of theme mods works right is beyond stupid.

    And no, I cannot see a time where any serious designer, developer or site admin will want to do everything from a mobile device. That way lies madness.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an organization actively working to destroy the functionality and usability of it’s products. You’d almost think they want to kill off WordPress by slowly driving everyone who works with it away, so they can go do something else.

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  10. Definitely a bad idea in my opinion! Putting theme options into the customizer did make sense. Although, now adding a theme is an extra effort with no easy link to the menu since the Navbar also replaced the old link!

    Now, if the idea is to put Menu creation in there, then it’s clearly not a good step for making WordPress user friendly. Menu creation needs to sit where it is. The interface gives you the space to work on it and create the menu. Putting it into the customizer is just stuffing in way too much in there and it’s already crowded with all the existing options.

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  11. Last time I checked a decision affecting 24% of the Web was supposed to be getting some positive feedback and support. I found none in the comments thread so far.

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  12. The troubling thing for me is that lately I don’t see dissenting voices in the group of core devs. I’d like to see some discussions and opposing views before adding or changing features affecting a great deal of sites.

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  13. Well for some people is a nice thing for others is not, but what I think it´s that maybe is not the most suitable thing that WP needs now, but it can contribute as an idea for developing or adding other stuff related, or inspire another proposes

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  14. I agree with Carl Hancock and Chris Lema. I’m really afraid of how much a pain this will be with the conditional nav I use now for membership. I have per page secondary nav per course and per product which I can easily work with now. I really don’t want it in the customizer.

    I’m hating the same thing that Summer mentioned.

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  15. Post formats were an ill-conceived reaction to the growth of Tumblr, now shoehorning everything into the customizer seems to be an ill-conceived reaction to the growth of Squarespace.

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    1. Post formats were an ill-conceived reaction to the growth of Tumblr, now shoehorning everything into the customizer seems to be an ill-conceived reaction to the growth of Squarespace.

      +1

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  16. There is a hope with the WP API new admin interfaces will be developed and people will be able to chose and will not be stuck with the default.

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  17. That a great idea. It will give extra power to wordpress menu system. I wish it will be deafult.

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  18. I’m cross posting here, I posted the same thing on the Make discussion.

    I am also not a fan of this idea for all the same reasons mentioned above. I did want to try the functionality out so I installed the Menu Customizer plugin from the repository. After activating the plugin the site crashed when trying to access the customizer with `Fatal error: Call to undefined method`.

    This is on a clean install of WordPress 4.2.2, 2015 theme, and no additional plugins, all running locally on a VVV box.

    For me, as an average user, I don’t understand how such a huge decision could be made to not only move forward with this, but to quickly remove the menu admin screen, when the plugin implementing the functionality doesn’t even seem to be stable at this point.

    Something minor I can understand, and I understand that it’s a feature that is under development – but my first experience with this functionality was a white screen, on a completely clean site.

    I don’t get it.

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    1. From the article above…..

      “Given that the plugin currently requires WordPress 4.3 alpha, it’s not likely that it has not been widely tested by users of varying experience levels.”

      That might explain your experience attempting to run it with 4.2.2. Perhaps a second try is warranted?

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      1. …the plugin currently requires WordPress 4.3 alpha…

        That might explain your experience attempting to run it with 4.2.2. Perhaps a second try is warranted?

        Well, yes, that definitely would explain it.

        I completely missed that, thanks for pointing it out. :-/

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  19. Whoever said crazy pants earlier hit the nail on the head. Making it more complex is insane.

    Thinking that people won’t build sites on mobile devices is also insane. The Meeker slide deck from last week already shows that a considerable number of the worlds developing population (that means new users, can’t get to 50% without them) and third world inhabitants ARE using mobile EXCLUSIVELY now, because it is all they have. Mobile users log more daily hours on their devices than laptop/desktop users do on theirs TODAY.

    I’m sure that a lot of people can recall hearing statements about how no one would use WordPress either, but I guess that’s been proven wrong ;)

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  20. What I don’t get is why for some reason everything that includes a “Live” preview should be tucked into the customiser. I can absolutely see the benefit of having a live preview of your new menu before you put it live. So what about just doing what WP has been doing for years with Post previews? Why don’t they add a big nice, shiny “Preview Menu” to the existing (incredibly well made) Menu manager that shows how your new menu will look? And what if this preview window would automatically refresh whilst you are working on your menu. You could dedicate a full browser tab/window to having constant live previews without having to cram all of this advanced functionality into one screen.

    And if that previewer works you can look at using some of the awesome JS stuff in Core to load this preview through a fancy animated JS/AJAX preview. This way you could move towards a preview that does not require a second browser tab/window to be open. Like this: http://codyhouse.co/demo/animated-page-transition/about.html

    What I’m trying to say here is.. It feels and seems like the Core team has decided in order to move WordPress forward it needs to make things more clear and easy to the user through showing changes as they happen. I think this is a great idea but hinging all of this on the Customiser simply because it’s the only part of WP that currently offers this type of live preview functionality is troublesome.

    Please reconsider this way of moving forward Core devs. I think it’s a mistake from especially an user experience point of view.

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  21. Adding menus to the customizer is a great idea. Even if it fails, WP needs to try it out and not play it safe. In my opinion, all options that prompt visual change should be in customizer, even content editing. With development on the web moving so fast, we can’t afford to have WP stuck in admin as live website editing is not even a novelty anymore. Live editing is faster and easier. If you’re new to WP, learning curve is also much shorter. For us, WP “experts”, these updates break our habits, but on the long term, we all profit from it, so stop complaining.

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  22. I really really can’t understand this Customizer obsession: everithing has to be moved in to the Customizer now, but… why?
    I mean, in feew month we’ll have a full REST API on which anyone could build any sort of Customizer, FrontendEditor, Realtime Preview taht could be delivered as plugin, as third party software, app, even as part of the core… why why waste so much time, energy and… words on this poor designed Cutomizer?

    Or Automattic / WP core developers have user data, user requests, survey that show that the Customizer is one of the more requested features?
    I wuold concentrate on Media management, editor, content curation features…

    Stefano

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  23. Its a good thing that WordPress has the JSON Api because the core software is not improving at all. Customizer and Emojis have somehow taken precedence over a decent UI for post types, taxonomies, a proper media library, and revamped core settings. Sorry I just don’t get where these priorities come from.

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  24. I love mobile-first, but who the heck is going to setup complex menus on their…phone? I remember when the menu screen was first introduced awhile back, what a major improvement it was for WP. Why do we want to mess with that?

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  25. Straight to the point, I an extremely disappointed where WordPress is taking the customizer because it appears they are moving everything from the admin dashboard and squeezing it into the customizer. It should strictly be used for “theme options” only, and it was my assumption that it was to replace third party theme option panels. Right now, we have the Title and Tagline, Background, Header, Nav, and Widgets mixed in with theme options, and it’s just getting bogged down and will frustrate users.

    If there’s one thing that will turn me away from WordPress, it’s going to be the direction they are going.

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  26. Someone did not think through a use case where there are MANY menus. Primary and secondary with a reasonable number of items that vary per page/post for logged in/logged out users. This would be a real PITA if in the customizer.

    If WP core really wants to put it there for simple situations, do it, but just leave access in the admin for more complex scenarios.

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