Tuesday, 21 June 2011

jQuery Menu: Dropdown, iPod Drilldown, and Flyout styles with ARIA Support and ThemeRoller Ready

 We got lots of fantastic feedback on our earlier iPod-style menu, and decided to upgrade it for jQuery 1.3. In the process of refining the script, we morphed it into more of a menu system, which can be used to create a simple dropdown menu for a single list of options, a flyout menu for a smaller hierarchical list of options where child menus are displayed next to the parent menu on mouseover, and two variations on the iPod style, one with a back button and another with a linked breadcrumb to let users easily traverse back up the hierarchy.
As noted in our original post, the iPod-style menu provides easy navigation of complex nested structures with any number of levels. The entire menu sits within a fixed-size area, and when a node is selected, by default a "Back" link appears below the menu to allow navigation to previous (parent) menus, or set options to show breadcrumb links above the menu options to both deliver feedback and allow quick access to nodes higher up in the hierarchy. A lateral iPod-style slide transition reinforces the notion that you're moving forward into more granular data, or backward into higher-level data. This menu is specifically useful in traversing deeply nested hierarchies, particularly those more than three levels deep. It also provides a more usable alternative to multi-level fly-out menus, which can present challenges to those with limited manual dexterity.
Much of the functionality that controls the iPod style menu, like positioning and option selection, is shared by dropdown and flyout menus which are better suited for smaller data sets, so we extended the script to include support for these additional menu types.
We also built in the ability to customize a menu's appearance, including active and hover states, by passing in classes as options. In the examples below, we plugged in jQuery UI CSS Framework classes so that the menus can be styled on the fly using ThemeRoller — try changing each menu's theme with the "Switch Theme" button.
By default, the menu script will transform an unordered list of links into a simple dropdown menu:

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