Menus are part of the standard interface for most programs and most
Operating Systems. On Windows, you’ll find the menus for each
application at the top of the window. To open the Options window, you’d
click on Tools and then move your mouse to Options. If you haven’t had
much experience using a mouse or you can’t keep a steady hand, menus
can cause some usability problems. You could move the cursor a little
too much to the right and activate the Help menu.
A few months
ago as part of my work experience, I was supervising a class of Year 3
students and working with them on a publication project using Microsoft
Publisher and Internet Explorer. It was quite interesting to see how
they used technology – how some of them actually typed in wwwdot
instead of www., how hard it was to spell Google, using laptop
trackpads and typing website addresses into the Google search box
rather than the address bar. However, probably the most annoying thing
for them was using menus. I lost count of how many times they tried to
click on the Edit menu which then disappeared and was replaced by
another menu as they tried to move the mouse to click Paste.
The official Star Trek site
is a terrible example of these bodged up menus. Move your mouse over
“Series and Movies” and then to Deep Space 9. Every single time I
manage to activate the Library menu and need to try again. If you
don’t, the chances are you’ve probably thought twice and been careful
to take a extra large detour around the Library menu. The human hand naturally moves in an arc shape – not in straight lines.
some programs on Linux which require you to click on the next menu if
you want to see another menu item. Perhaps this would be a way of
getting around this problem. The latest version of Office also replaces
menus with “ribbons”. These provide quick and easy access to things
which would have previously been available on the menus. The fantastic
thing about this is they are easy to target and the buttons stay there
at the top of the screen. If I had my way, the Vista UI guidelines
would be updated with a recommendation for application developers to
replace menus with easy to use and simple ribbons.
The Start Menu is another example. The Mezzo Desktop Environment
for Linux replaces the concept of a popup start menu seen in Windows
with a desktop wide menu which takes up the whole screen. The thing is,
if you click on the Start menu, you don’t care what’s on the rest of
the screen – all you care about is being able to access your programs
quickly and efficently. Desktop wide menus make it much easier to
target the required program and provide a lot of extra space. You don’t
get some of the usability problems associated with a Windows-style
Start Menu either.
From the Mezzo Laws of Interface Design:
menus are evil. A good user interface will eliminate
nested menus since humans have a hard time targeting menus
in the first place, let alone panning up, then scrubbing
to the right or left in a 20 pixel wide corridor.
Solution: Desktop-wide menus. Mezzo banishes the
nested “Start Menu” and “Apple Menu” concepts in favor of the expansive desktop-wide menus launched
by single-clicking the Corner Targets. These menus eliminate
the pan-and-scan method of finding the proper information
in a menu, and cut down on the user accidentally missing
the nested menu, and having to go back and re-drop the menu
to try again.