Make navigation and menu selection easy


People who find it difficult to use a remote control may often press the wrong button accidentally. They may not know which button it was they pressed and if it takes them to an unfamiliar place, they may have difficulty finding their way back to where they were. People who find a television interface confusing may also take a wrong step and will need to get back to where they were or to a known starting point in order to proceed.

It’s okay as long as I am familiar with the remote controls. If something goes wrong on the TV or I hit an incorrect button by mistake then I am lost as to what’s wrong.

Guidelines survey respondent.

There are a number of ways that the design of the on-screen interface can help or hinder navigation and selection. In combination, these can make the difference between the interface being an effective and efficient tool for the user or a time-consuming and frustrating barrier.

Directions and techniques

Ensure a direct correspondence between on-screen prompts and remote control button labels (high priority)

On-screen instructions or prompts should exactly match the operations the user will have to do. For example, users may be confused if instructed to press the information key on your remote control where the label on the key is the standard i symbol. Instead, say press the i key.

Give users a way to get back to a known place (high priority)

This can be achieved by providing a ‘Back’ option that returns to the previous menu and a ‘Home’ option that returns to the main menu.

Allow one-touch menu selections (high priority)

Provide a way for users to select any item from within a menu by pressing a single remote control button, This can be achieved by numbering menu items and options so that the user can make a selection by pressing the associated number. This negates the need for users to scroll through a menu to get to an option, then pressing a ‘Select’ button to activate it all of which requires at least two and possibly more button presses.

Allow quick access to favourite functions (high priority)

Favourite functions should be accessible quickly, without having to go through a number of menus to reach them. This can be achieved by allowing users to add their favourite functions to the main menu or home screen. Another technique is to number the menus and menu items and allow the user to select an item by pressing the menu number immediately followed by the item number, without having to wait for the menu to appear. For example, the third item in the second menu could be access by pressing 23 2 for the second menu, followed by 3 for the third item. This can be extended to any depth of menus.

Make the current focus clear

It should be visually clear which item on the screen is the current focus for user input, e.g. Which function will be activated by pressing Select, OK or ‘i’. Figure 3 shows an example of clear focus highlighting of the selected menu item.

consumer Equipment

Figure 1. Clear menu highlighting, indicating the selected item the focus of the Select or OK button.

Similar highlighting should be used for text entry fields used to enter information such as PIN numbers or user details for interactive services.

Make menus cyclical

In order to reduce the number of interactions required to select an option by traversing through a menu, going ‘down’ past the last item should return to the first item. Similarly, in the reverse direction, going ‘up’ past the first item should return to the last item.

How you could test for this

Test prototypes with a wide range of users, including older people and people with vision impairments, to see how easy they find navigation and menu selection. Note the causes of any errors, confusion or inefficiency.

After the product is launched, very valuable information can be obtained by engaging customers in providing feedback. At its simplest, this can involve issuing questionnaires or administering telephone interviews. However, this is unlikely to provide the depth of insight required to address how well the design is working to support users. It is preferable to observe the equipment in use. After using a product for a period of time, individual users will adopt specific patterns of behaviour that work for them. This may mean avoiding functions that are confusing or difficult or adopting unanticipated workarounds. Finding out about these behaviours can give valuable insight into how users adapt to the equipment and how well it supports them. Run customer studies to find out whether the equipment is being used as intended, whether any functions are being avoided due to difficulties, how well it supports various tasks and whether customers’ workarounds suggest better approaches to the design of future products.

This testing could be included as part of more general long term user trials encompassing the whole process of setting up, learning and using the equipment.