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Chapter: User Interface Design

Structures of Menus

In this simplest form of menu, a single screen or window is presented to seek the user’s input or request an action to be performed

Structures of Menus


Single Menus


In this simplest form of menu, a single screen or window is presented to seek the user’s input or request an action to be performed



A single menu may be iterative if it requires data to be entered into it and this data input is subject to a validity check that fails. The menu will then be represented to the user with a message requesting reentry of valid data.


Sequential Linear Menus


Sequential linear menus are presented on a series of screens possessing only one path.


The menu screens are presented in a preset order, and, generally, their objective is for specifying parameters or for entering data.


Sequential path menus have several shortcomings. A long sequence may become tedious as menu after menu is presented.


Simultaneous Menus


Instead of being presented on separate screens, all menu options are available simultaneously



Problems with simultaneous menus are that for large collections of menu alternatives screen clutter can easily occur, and screen paging or scrolling may still be necessary to view all the choices.


Presenting many menu dependencies and relationships on a screen, especially if poorly indicated, can also be very confusing


Hierarchical Menus


A hierarchical structure results in an increasing refinement of choice as menus are stepped through, for example, from options, to suboptions, from categories to subcategories, from pages to sections to subsections, and so on


A hierarchical structure can best be represented as an inverse tree, leading to more and more branches as one moves downward through it.


Common examples of hierarchical design today are found in menu bars with their associated pull-downs


A disadvantage of a hierarchical scheme is that the defined branching order may not fit the users conception of the task flow.


If users are not familiar with the hierarchical menu, or are unable to predict what suboptions lie below


a particular choice, they may go down wrong paths and find it necessary to go back up the tree to change a choice, or perhaps even return to the top-level menu


Connected Menus


Connected menus are networks of menus all interconnected in some manner. Movement through a structure of menus is not restricted to a hierarchical tree, but is permitted between most or all menus in the network.


A connected menu system may be cyclical, with movement permitted in either direction between menus, or acyclical, with movement permitted in only one direction. These menus also vary in connectivity, the extent to which menus are linked by multiple paths.



The biggest advantage of a connected menu network is that it gives the user full control over the navigation flow. Its disadvantage is its complexity,

Event-Trapping Menus


Event Trapping menus provide an ever-present background of control over the system’s state and parameters while the user is working on a foreground task.

Event-trapping menus generally serve one of three functions.


They may immediately change some parameter in the current environment (bold a piece of text),


they may take the user out of the current environment to perform a function without leaving the current environment (perform a spell check), or


they may exit the current environment and allow the user to move to a totally new environment (Exit).

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