The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface

by Kent L. Norman

published by Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1991, 368 pages (ISBN: 0-89391-553-X).

About the Book

Menu selection is emerging as an important mode of human/computer interaction. This book, the first entirely devoted to this important form of human/computer interaction, provides detailed theoretical and empirical information of interest to software designers and human/computer interaction specialists and researchers. A new theoretical approach to menu selection is taken by developing a psychological theory of cognitive control by the user. A comprehensive review of empirical research on menu selection is presented in an organized fashion to aid in the design and evaluation of systems. Finally, information is given on how to protype and evaluate menu selection systems using both performance data and user ratings.

The volume has three parts. Part One is conceptual and theoretical in nature. The first chapter introduces the issues of design and flow of control at the human/computer interface. In the next three chapters taxonomic frameworks are proposed concerning the type of menu selection system being used, the nature of the task being performed by the user, and the cognitive elements involved in performing the task. In Part Two, experimental research on menu selection stemming from paradigms developed in experimental psychology and more recently human factors and cognitive psychology is discussed. The last part of the book deals with the topic of implementation and evaluation. Chapters discuss principles of when and how to use menus, cover topics of prototyping and evaluation, and attempt to plot some of the future directions of menu selection. Throughout, graphs and illustrations are included. Examples of good and bad designs are shown in a number of illustrations while empirical data from experiments are desplayed in graphs.

The reader will benefit from the discussion of the many issues, design possibilities and insights regarding menu slection. The empirical research at times supports and at other times refutes existing guidelines. The reader will want to know what the current state of knowledge is about how to design menuy selections and why the design choices are important.

The On-Line Copy

The complete table of contents is listed below. You may have a peek at the book by clicking on the chapter titles. You may use this resource freely; however, I would prefer that you actually buy a copy to help defray publishing costs. Also, I should point out that the on-line copy is from a pre-publication draft and has not been carefully proof read for errors.

Order a Copy

Ablex Publishing Corporation has been acquired by other publishers.

The hard copy edition of the book, however, is still available from Intellect Books
PO Box 862, Bristol BS99 1DE, UK, (telephone: +44 (0)117 955 6811), for $34.95.

Table of Contents


Part I: The Theory and Implementation of Menu Selection Systems

1. Introduction to the Theory of Control at the Human/Computer Interface

1.1 Research and Design of the Human/Computer Interface
1.1.1 Issues in Design
1.1.2 Three Paradigms of Design
1.2 A Model of the Human/Computer Interface
1.2.1 Characteristics of Tasks and Environments
1.2.2 Characteristics of the Human User
1.2.3 Computer Processing
1.2.4 The Human/Computer Interface
1.3 Research Methods
1.3.1 Observational Studies
1.3.2 Survey Studies
1.3.3 Experimental Studies
1.4 Summary

2. Types of Menus and Cognitive Structures

2.1 Menu Structures
2.1.1 Single Menus
2.1.2 Sequential Linear Menus
2.1.3 Simultaneous Menus
2.1.4 Hierarchical Menus
2.1.5 Connected Graph Menu Structures
2.1.6 Event Trapping Menus
2.2 Menu Frames
2.2.1 Context Information
2.2.2 Stem Information
2.2.3 Leaf Information
2.2.4 Response information
2.2.5 Information Format
2.3 Response Mode
2.3.1 Standard Keyboard Input
2.3.2 Special Function Keys
2.3.3 Virtual Keypads
2.4 Summary

3. Tasks and Flow of Control

3.1 Taxonomies of Tasks and Information Structures
3.2 Human vs. Computer Control of Flow
3.3 A Theory of Cognitive Control
3.4 Functions of Menu Selection
3.4.1 Pointing: Moving to a New Node
3.4.2 Command Control: Executing a Procedure
3.4.3 Output: Displaying Information
3.4.4 Input: Data or Parameter Specification
3.5 Operation by Menu Selection: Command Menus
3.6 Decision by Menu Selection: Decision Menus
3.6.1 Decision Trees
3.6.2 Decision Matrices
3.7 Information Retrieval by Menu Selection: Information Menus
3.8 Classification by Menu Selection: Category Menus
3.9 Summary

4. Cognitive Elements of Menu Selection

4.1 The Menu Selection Process
4.1.1 Information Acquisition and Search
4.1.2 Choice Process and Time
4.1.3 Response Process
4.1.4 Evaluation and Error Detection
4.2 Problem Solving and Search Strategies
4.2.1 Heuristics
4.2.2 User Strategies and Styles
4.3 Cognitive Layouts of Mental Models
4.3.1 Menu Selection as a Metaphor
4.3.2 Schemata and Scripts
4.3.3 Cognitive Layouts of Menus
4.4 Summary

Part II: Design Guidelines from Empirical Research

5. Research Issues and Methods in Menu Selection

5.1 Intuition and Data in Conflict
5.2 Replicability
5.3 Importance of the Result
5.4 Generalization of Results
5.5 Experimental Designs
5.6 Summary

6. Formatting and Phrasing the Menu

6.1 Formatting the Menu Frame
6.1.1 Amount of Information per Screen
6.1.2 Focusing Attention on the Menu
6.1.3 Perceptual Grouping
6.1.4 Menu Context
6.1.5 Ordering of Menu Items
6.1.6 Orientation of the List
6.1.7 Fixed vs. Variable Format
6.2 Writing the Menu
6.2.1 Titling the Frame
6.2.2 Wording the Alternatives
6.2.3 Graphic Alternatives
6.3 Selection Response
6.3.1 Response Instructions
6.3.2 Position of Response
6.3.3 Response Compatibility
6.3.4 Response Verification and Feedback
6.4 Summary

7. Performance, Acquisition, and Training Methods

7.1 Performance
7.1.1 Measures of User Performance
7.1.2 Overall Performance = User Proficiency X System Power
7.2 Acquisition and Learning
7.2.1 Components Acquired by Practice
7.2.2 Frame Search Time
7.2.3 Menu Tree Search Time
7.3 Transfer of Training
7.4 Methods of Training
7.4.1 Training on Content Free Menus
7.4.2 Training on Meaningful Menus
7.4.3 Methods of Training as a Function of Types of Menu Systems
7.5 Methods of Help
7.6 Summary

8. Depth vs. Breadth of Hierarchical Menu Trees

8.1 Depth vs. Breadth Trade-Off
8.2 The Linear Model
8.3 The Log Model
8.4 Total User Response Time in Hierarchical Data Bases
8.5 Selection Time as a Function of Menu Depth
8.6 Factors of System Speed and User Response Time
8.7 Summary

9. Search Behavior in Hierarchical Menu Structures

9.1 Menu Focusing through Structure
9.1.1 Varying Menu Breadth
9.1.2 Decision Uncertainty Evidence for Breadth
9.1.3 Number of Discrete Menu Frames
9.2 Patterns of Search
9.2.1 Reposition to Breadth
9.2.2 Reposition to High Probability Paths
9.2.3 Reposition to Cognitive Landmarks
9.3 Individual Differences in Search Behavior
9.3.1 Characterizing Differences
9.3.2 Predictors of Search Performance
9.4 Summary

10. Rapid Access Menus

10.1 Location in the Menu
10.1.1 Pull-Down Menus
10.1.2 Minimizing Distance/Maximizing Size
10.1.3 Position in the Hierarchy
10.2 Accelerating through the System
10.2.1 Alternate Command Keys
10.2.2 Direct Access vs. Type Ahead
10.3 Speed-Accuracy Trade-Off in Rapid Menu Selection
10.4 Summary

Part III: Implementation and Evaluation of Menu Systems

11. Clustering of Menus

11.1 Knowledge Representation
11.2 Hierarchical Clustering Methods
11.3 Semantic Space
11.4 Expert vs. Novice Users
11.5 Frequency of Use
11.5.1 Command Frequency
11.5.2 Command Transitions
11.6 Summary

12. Prototyping and Evaluation of Menu Selection Systems

12.1 Prototyping Systems
12.2 Guidelines for Menu Design
12.3 User Evaluation
12.3.1 Standardized User Evaluation of Interactive Systems
12.3.2 Evaluation of Menu Selection
12.3.3 Menu-by-Menu Evaluation
12.4 Summary

13. The Future of Menu Selection

13.1 Menu Generations
13.2 Innovation in Menu Look and Feel
13.2.1 Nonlinear/Spatial Menus
13.2.2 Analog Menus
13.2.3 Power Pointing
13.2.4 Apparent Menus
13.2.5 Simultaneous/Linked Menus
13.2.6 Vast and Fast Menus
13.3 Limits to Menus
13.3.1 Early in the Learning Process
13.3.2 At Transition Points
13.3.3 At Different Mental Workloads
13.3.4 Flexibility
13.4 Research on Menus
13.5 Summary


Appendix: Checklist for Menu Design