No Need To Memorize Menus

My comment yesterday about memorizing menus had me smiling quite a bit.  There was a time when my first blush through a new program was to work my way through the menus to familiarize myself with where I might end up going to find the various functionalities that the program promised.  (If the truth be known, that’s still my first instinct with a new program.  Old habits die hard.)

Then, when I would get an upgrade – there are always upgrades – it was a return to the procedure to get an idea of where things might have been moved or what additional features had been added.  

It was especially important with the humble word processor.  At the office, Microsoft Word was the program of choice because it was “industry standard” and therefore it had to be purchased because of the really important things that were done there.  However, it wasn’t typically available in the schools.  There, students and teachers used Open and then LibreOffice on their computers.  

It always was a sensitive issue – my own personal preference was LibreOffice but I had to be conversant with both programs depending upon who had the current problem to be solved.  Many times, I had asked the questions – “Why don’t we use LibreOffice everywhere?” Answer – “There are things I can do in Word that I can’t with that program.”  and “Why don’t we use Microsoft Word everywhere?” Answer – We can’t afford it”.  

That was the reality of my two worlds.  Back to searching menus….

Fortunately, most items are intuitively placed so it wasn’t all that big a task.  We’re all accustomed to the File Menu for our applications.  It’s where you get to open / close / copy etc. files.

In fact, the logic is much the same that you really don’t even need to name the application.  Things just work.

But when you consider the sheer number of applications that a typical computer has installed, that’s still a whack of menus to be familiar with.

There have been some enhancements to the world of menu surfing that are changing things.  For example, Microsoft’s move towards ribbons just gives you all of the options in one spot.  There’s no need to look around to find what you need – they’re all there.  At a price, of course, of lost screen real estate.

These days, I spend most of my time in Ubuntu where the Dash adds another solution to putting an end to menu surfing.  It’s just a matter of opening the dash of the application you’re using and starting to type whatever function you need.  Below, I start looking for Open and voila – results and related results.

It’s wonderful to see that technology is not standing still and that solutions to simplify the process and increase our functionality.  Menu memorizing isn’t all that important a skill when you consider that there are alternatives.

Pity the power user whose claim to fame is a good memory!

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4 thoughts on “No Need To Memorize Menus

  1. After your post yesterday I was thinking about all those keyboard shortcuts for WordPerfect (version 5?) which were so complex that they sold plastic keyboard overlays for reference.
    I like poking through the menus too, but not just to familiarize myself with the application’s user interface. Instead, that’s how I discover functionality that I don’t already know about. I recall once sifting through MS Publisher menus and asking a teacher what “kerning” was. He told me, and I’ve never forgotten that the feature was there (and I used it one many an overworked flyer or brochure!).
    I like that things are changing. I like the ribbon in Word, I like that my phone guesses what I’m typing, and I like that there is a lot of intentionality in user interface design.
    One area which concerns me, though, is the tendency some designers have to hang on to legacy interfaces to please the “power user” even when a new approach is demonstrably better. In a certain, unnamed web service there are three different ways to complete most tasks, and because (I assume) those tools were developed at different types by different teams, their workflow and UI labelling aren’t consistent. It’s very difficult for the new user to learn it.
    I’m a big fan of GoodUI.org, which shares ideas about improving this sort of thing. He’s a Canadian guy who puts out a free newsletter, and it’s made me aware of some of the boo-boos out there (and how to fix them). Worth a look!
    Thanks again, Doug. More to share with my ICS class 🙂

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  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Brandon. I was not aware of goodui.org but now have it open in another tab. I’m taking a break at point #14 because my head was bobbing in agreement so much.

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  3. I still like menus to a degree. My brain likes indexing things, so menus work for me. I also get frustrated sometimes when the program designers label things in a way that doesn’t make any sense to me. I hunt around going “What the heck did they call this?” Still, I agree there are some advantages to Word’s ribbons.

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