Academic journal article Human Factors

Menu Design with Visual Momentum for Compact Smart Products

Academic journal article Human Factors

Menu Design with Visual Momentum for Compact Smart Products

Article excerpt

Users of compact smart products with small screens often have trouble learning the menu structure. If they cannot master the menu structure, users are not able to fully utilize the products. It is argued in this paper that using visual momentum in menu representation design helps users develop effective mental maps of menu structures and promotes learning of the user interface. To assess the effect of visual momentum in this study, four types of menu representations were developed. Additionally, two menu hierarchies, two types of function key layout, and two types of function key labeling were assessed to examine the effects of menu dimension and compatibility. Experimental results indicated that participants using a partial menu map with visual momentum design performed the best, and participants using a partial menu map without visual momentum performed the poorest, even worse than those-using command-only representation. The results also showed that the menu navigation problem appeared to be particularly s ignificant with a deep menu hierarchy. Actual or potential applications of this research include menu representation design for compact smart products.


As microprocessor-based technology becomes increasingly popular, more electronic consumer products are available that have extended features and that are, to a certain extent, programmable, hence the term "smart" products (Buurman, 1997). A number of smart products with small displays and limited keypads that are rapidly becoming part of daily life are referred to here as compact smart products (CSP). Typical CSPs include cell phones and personal digital assistants.

Modern CSP products, such as cell phones, weigh only about 100 g and yet are packed with dozens of functions. To fully utilize those functions, a set of function keys and a display enable users to navigate through function menus. At the conceptual level, the operating procedures for navigating the function menu of CSPs are similar to those used for operating menu-driven computer interfaces. At the implementation level, however, because of the limited space on the displays, it is impossible for designers to display all menu items at the same level on a single screen, as is done for computers.

In general, a menu item in a hierarchical structure can be accessed only through its superordinate node. This node, which is usually visible on a menu-driven computer interface, is generally not displayed for most CSPs. Because users can see only a limited part of the menu structure at one time, it is more difficult for them to interlink the current node with its peer nodes (i.e., all nodes under a single super-ordinate node) as well as with subordinate nodes and the super-ordinate node. Without these visual cues to form the hierarchical tree structure, it may become more difficult for users to learn the proper selection of navigation pathways. The compromise required by limited display space may eventually cost users more time to develop mental models of the menu structures. This design issue associated with the lack of visual cues for linkages between menu items is not seen in computer interface design because the display space is not severely limited. Therefore, it is questionable whether theories and guid elines for designing menu-driven interfaces for computers are readily transferable to CSPs.

To increase CSP product usability for casual users, this study investigates two factors regarding menu design: menu dimension, or menu breadth and menu depth, and menu representation, which addresses how menu items are visually displayed on the screen. In particular, visual momentum (Wickens, Harwood, Andre, & Aretz, 1990) is explicitly used in menu representation design to facilitate information transition on the displays. To make sure the results can be generalized to different key control layouts, function key layout and labeling are also examined.

Visual Momentum

Users interacting with visual display terminals (VDTs) must integrate data across successive displays, which requires the visual system to combine data across successive glances or fixations (Woods, 1984). …

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