Trust, Live Preview, and Menus in the Customizer

One of the most important things in WordPress is users being able to feel confident as they make changes to their content and more generally to their sites. Being able to make non-destructive changes and preview them is an important component of building that trust. This is perhaps most noticeable in the “save and surprise” approach of the widgets admin screen – every time you add a new widget, modify its settings, or move one around, the changes are saved and appear live on your site, even if you’re not ready yet. The customizer is our framework for live previewing changes. We are committed to providing live preview for all aspects of site customization and making it usable on all devices from phones to large screens.

The customizer is the result of a tremendous amount of work over many releases. It was first introduced in 3.4. In 3.9, it received its first big updates in the form of widgets support and improved header upload and cropping. 4.0 brought panels and contextual controls. Development really started to take off in 4.1 when JS-templated customizer controls and a JS api were introduced, making possible an ecosystem of live preview compatible plugins and themes. 4.2 followed that up with two important features, theme switching and mobile support.

That brings us to today and the ongoing 4.3 development effort. Revamped navigation for the customizer is already in trunk and the nighty builds. The menu customizer feature plugin is a merge candidate for 4.3 and could land soon. These marquee features further our commitment to live preview and need all of the attention we can muster.

The customizer has come a long way, but it still lacks some features and needs time to mature. We have many improvements planned and in-progress, including transactions, partial refresh, theme installation, speedier loading, scaling to large screens, and possibly even integration with front end editing. Our live preview framework offers many possibilities.

Meanwhile, the Appearance screens will remain and will be maintained. Appearance > Menus recently received some attention in the form of a few fixes. More attention is needed and will be given. There are still differences in the flows each approach best enables, whether it’s new site/theme setup, small maintenance tasks, or dedicated content managers for heavy usage of widgets, menus, or other pieces of content that benefit from having a preview mechanism. We should gather quantifiable metrics when it comes to performance and time to completion for a given flow, as well as evaluating the less-objectively-quantifiable perceived performance. There may come a time where the worlds converge; however, that time is not now.

The feature plugin merge window is currently scheduled for June 17th. We have 8 days to get the Menu Customizer plugin ready for merge. Feature plugins must meet several criteria to be considered for inclusion in a release. To meet this criteria, the flow team has started testing and documenting flow and visuals for the menu customizer as well as the recently landed navigation changes. Merge criteria include identifying flows through the customizer, creating visual records of those flows, and creating flow comparisons of existing flow through Appearance > Menus versus flow through the customizer. This is a great and necessary way to contribute that requires no coding. All you need to do is take screenshots and publish them as a captioned gallery using the tool we’re making together, WordPress. We endeavor to be an Alan Lomax of flow, capturing and cataloging real user scenarios. Please help us capture the flows through Appearance > Menus used by you and your clients. We need this information to ensure our new interfaces are mindful and aware of how WordPress is actually used. Information on how to test and contribute visual records is available on the 4.3 development tracking page.

@ryan, @helen, @designsimply