Academic journal article Human Factors

Effectiveness of Menu Orientation in Chinese

Academic journal article Human Factors

Effectiveness of Menu Orientation in Chinese

Article excerpt


In the past two decades user interface design methodology has evolved and developed primarily in English-speaking countries, such as the United States and parts of Europe. The result has been the establishment of principles and guidelines that direct user interface designers (Marcus, 1995; Mayhew, 1992; Shneiderman, 1992). However, little work has been reported about the impact of culture and language on the way users learn and interact with computer interfaces (Sukaviriya & Moran, 1990).

The importance of culture in the design of interfaces has been stressed by many researchers (Fernandes, 1995; Marcus, 1993; Nielsen, 1990; Russo & Boor, 1993; Shneiderman, 1992). The nature of the problem may be illustrated by viewing the newspaper dippings in Figure 1.

An important cultural issue depicted in Figure 1 is the flow (or orientation) of the words, resulting in different scanning patterns as the reader progresses through the article. Nielsen (1990) stated that when the scanning patterns of users are different between languages, the mental models of users will be inadequate to handle the direct translations of interfaces.

Russo and Boor (1993) developed an extensive cross-cultural checklist of issues, including flow - that is, the intrinsic reading and writing directions of the language. However, most commercial software packages have concentrated mainly on the first two items of the Russo and Boor checklist (text and formats), possibly as a result of the scarcity of information with respect to flow, symbols, and images. Shneiderman (1992) highlighted this aspect when he wrote, "little is known about computer users from different cultures, but designers are regularly called to make designs for other languages and cultures" (p. 26). Another reason, cited by Fernandes (1995), is that "many software firms believe that one design with translated language is acceptable (usable) everywhere" (p. xvi). A few exceptions exist, such as Lotus 1-2-3 for Arabic, which was transformed to read from right to left in order to account for the bidirectional Arabic script.

The need for culturally and linguistically adapted interfaces is clear. Specific studies are needed to test relevant characteristics of computer interfaces for users from diverse cultural backgrounds. The majority of Chinese-language-based software interfaces have been derived from direct translations of their English counterparts or by utilizing organization, layout, and icons based on English-language interfaces.

A menu is one basic form of human-computer interface, and it is generally a list of options from which a user selects a desired choice (Mayhew, 1992). Backs, Walrath, and Hancock (1987) investigated the effects of search time with vertical and horizontal orientations on full-screen text menus. Menus with 4, 8, and 12 items were presented either vertically or horizontally. One shortcoming of that study was that the horizontal orientations with 8 and 12 items was not truly horizontal, because there were only 4 items positioned per row in a matrix-like arrangement on the screen. When the search times for both presentations were compared, that with the vertical menus was shorter for all three configurations. The participants in that experiment reported that the vertical menus were easier to use than the horizontal menus, resulting in a guideline suggesting the presentation of choices as a vertical list (Mayhew, 1992). It seems natural that native English speakers would perform better when using vertical lists. They would also perceive them as easier to use, given the writing and reading orientations in English (and in most Western languages). As text is written horizontally from left to right, starting in the top left corner, it is natural that lists (or menu choices) be built vertically (with horizontal text) in a top-down fashion, similar to a restaurant menu. However, Shneiderman (1992) expected that "users who were raised learning Japanese or Chinese will scan a screen differently from users who were raised learning English or French" (p. …

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