What is a menu? 24 Sep

When thinking about a way to get to more options, or a higher level of looking at our content, we often think of a menu. This is the standard way we have always interacted with a virtual environment, but what exactly is a menu?

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.45.40 PM

If course we have these things. We have had them for years. The “top menu”, where we move our mouse and select what we want to do and where we want to go. This is always there and always has been. Not much has changed since the days of Mac OS and Windows 3.1.

Just the idea of ‘File’ is skeuomorphistic. Do we really need files anymore. Do we really need language to define options, or can we find a better way?

With the advancements in haptic interfaces, namely through iOS and Android devices, we now have the ‘hamburger’ icon.

image courtesy of gawker media.

But what does this even mean? It means we want to see a list of things, but does this truly represent a new way of interacting with computers. It still does, after all, give us a list, and I have to bring up the fact that that’s exactly what is listed behind door number ‘File’.

So what can we do break away from the ways in which we’ve interacted for so long. Perhaps it’s a question of direction, of scale, of intuitive contextual knowledge within the space with which we are interacting.

Who says our menu needs to exist as a drawer on the right or left?

Who says it even needs to be a list of items?

We have in our minds a familiar design language full of familiar affordances and familiar conventions. The need we have to conform to these when designing new interfaces of course makes sense: we want to give our users a familiar experience.

But don’t we also want them to explore, to intuit certain things about the spaces we give them to use, and┬ámaybe even have a new experience that they may enjoy?

This is the challenge of both keeping a design familiar, while at the same time making it new enough that it’s engaging yet easy to understand.

Hopefully over time we can move on from the list based menus of the past. No more drop-downs, no more lists, but imagery that conveys meaning, not just words.

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