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If you've ever right-clicked something in Windows (yes! you can do that!), and you're like me, you'll have noticed that sub-menus are always slightly higher and inset into the parent-menus.

Wouldn't it have been easier and cleaner looking to make it like:

enter image description here

(I'm not sure whether all Ubuntu versions/themes follow this look, though.)

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Is that even a sub menu? These menus look so flat... –  Tom Wijsman Sep 13 '11 at 4:26
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The menu items tend to stay aligned, just like in your screenshot. Tested in XP. –  grawity Sep 13 '11 at 14:06
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With no overlap, you can't really tell which of the two menus above is the submenu (or rather, in which order they were opened). –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 15 '11 at 13:34
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The overlapping effect is just to show that the bottom menu is the parent. The perceived misalignment is caused by the padding around the text, but the red line shows that the menus are technically aligned.

enter image description here

Apple shows which menu is the parent by removing the rounding in one corner of the child menu.

The fact that one menu appears after the other, however, should be enough to make the hierarchy obvious. However, I personally think the Windows implementation is more intuitive.

enter image description here enter image description here

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I imagine it's simply so that users can easily differentiate and pick out different menus. If I were to open three identically-sized submenus from the top menu option in each case, I'd end up with a large, homogeneous block of options I'd have trouble scanning.

Users don't like large groups of potential options. Unreasonably large decisions make them uncomfortable.

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The answers to this questions are relevant: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/8377/… –  Luke yesterday
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The content of the first sub-menu item is aligned with the menu item that it expanded from. The overall menu has extra padding that makes the popups unaligned from each other, while the menuitems inside are in fact, aligned. The sub menu is slightly inset to show that it is on top of the parent menu. This is useful in case there is not enough space to draw the sub menu to the right and has to be drawn on the left. Without this distinction, it could look very strange and the parent-child relationship could appear reversed.

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