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DESIGN USABILITY

Easy as A,B,C – dynamic A to Z indexes


It's a good idea to offer your visitors as many logical ways to navigate your website as possible. This gives them more chances to find exactly the product or information for which they came to your site in the first place. Sitemaps are a wonderful solution, but many of your visitors may find an A to Z index of your site easier to understand. Chris Heilmann explains how to implement such an index.

Author Info:
By: Chris Heilmann
Rating: 4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars / 37
March 30, 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. · Easy as A,B,C – dynamic A to Z indexes
  2. · Our friend the user agent
  3. · The Redmond spoiler
  4. · Making the list dynamic
  5. · Customizing the script

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Easy as A,B,C – dynamic A to Z indexes - Customizing the script
(Page 5 of 5 )

The script needs several classes in the CSS and the appropriate IDs on the HTML element to add the effect. This was done to allow complete control over the look and feel without changing the JavaScript. The IDs make the script a lot faster as we can access elements by their ID rather than looping through all of them.

The IDs are:

atoz

The A to Z list navigation; this can be in any format, as the script loops through the links contained within it. The best option is an unnumbered list, though.

contents

The element containing all the different sections from A to Z, normally a DIV.

The classes are:

hidden

hides the section to which it is applied

shown

shows the section that was previously hidden

current

applied to the current link

dohover

applied to the atoz element to indicate that the effect should be applied when you mouse over it, and not only when you click it.

All these settings can be changed in the first few lines of the script:

            // check if necessary elements are available

            var n=document.getElementById('atoz');

            var c=document.getElementById('contents');

            // Define the classes in use to show and hide the elements

            var hc='hidden';

            var sc='shown';

            var cc='current';

            var mc='dohover';

Saving even more screen estate

Long lists are boring to look at, and the need to scroll the screen can be very annoying. We aligned our A to Z navigation horizontally; why not do the same with the content lists? All we need to add is a style that defines a width for each of the list elements and floats them to the left:

#contents.columns li{

            float:left;

            width:10em;

}

The link pointing back to the navigation needs to clear each float, otherwise following sections might be indented:

#contents.columns p.back2{

            clear:both;

}

Now we have a dynamic A to Z index that takes up the least possible screen estate (example:columnatoz.html). The list items do get arranged horizontally, not vertically. If we wanted to arrange them vertically, we’d need to resort to more excessive use of CSS and messy HTML suffering from “classitis” (the overuse of classes in the HTML, effectively mixing structure with presentation). There is an article on the subject of multicolumn lists explaining all the ins and outs at Community MX [2].

Links

[1] http://www.jimthatcher.com/skipnav.htm - Internet explorer bug concerning anchors and keyboard navigation.

[2] http://www.communitymx.com/content/article.cfm?cid=27F87  - Multi column lists with CSS.


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