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Are right click context menus that override the browsers context menu considered a good usability practice?

  • If so, are there accessibility concerns?
  • If so, are there any guidelines or best practices for this kind of implementation?

I personally like how Yahoo!Mail utilizes this type of functionality.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Dropbox does a wonderful job with its right-click functionality.

Hovering with your mouse over a directory looks like this: alt text
Clicking on the underlined link (music) navigates there, but clicking anywhere else in the frame, as well as the "dropdown" sign, or right-clicking(!) opens the following menu: alt text
This has so many benefits:

  • It doesn't block the user from right-clicking - it gives the users what they wanted (a context menu) and shows them where it can be accessed without a right-click.
  • This menu is discoverable, unlike the right-click which has to be guessed.
  • No problem to consistently support touch devices.
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It's a great example, but it's hard to see how you'd extend this to the general application of right click context menus. Generally, right click is something that gives you additional options from any context. Dropbox's design, while laudable, only really works in this specific situation. How would they handle, for instance, context menus browsers make available for any area of a web page (eg. the view source menu)? –  Rahul Sep 1 '10 at 18:41
    
The solution can work in other cases too - this "dropdown" indication can be attached to icons or items' names. Clicking the actual item does the main action (for example navigate to it or open it), while clicking the arrow reveals the rest of the options. Naturally it's not fit for every situation, but the example of the "view source" is not exactly right in my opinion - it's an "external" use of the browser and not of the site itself. –  Dan Barak Sep 1 '10 at 20:10
    
The question is whether there are "real" scenarios behind the right click anywhere... even if you're dealing with a map, or a photo which has no defined locations, you do "create" locations - a pin on the map, or a click-able area of interest; a selection window on part of the photo, etc. For these locations you can now employ the "dropdown" scheme. –  Dan Barak Sep 1 '10 at 20:13
    
Great comments. You're right that "view source" isn't a good example, but OTOH, what if you're making a web app where you want comparable rightclick context menus across the screen? That's an example where this could get complicated (though I admit, I'm looking for straws here). –  Rahul Sep 2 '10 at 8:03
    
This is great. I personally find it annoying when custom context menu's interfere with the browser menu, which prevents me from doing browser specific actions, like bookmark, copy, etc. First, Users are used to the browser right click. Second, they wouldn't always know that a custom context menu is available. This answer addresses both issues. –  Pathachiever11 Apr 15 at 18:43
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Some thoughts:

  • With the onset of touch-based platforms, there's no such thing as a context menu. If you expect your UI to be accessed by touch devices, avoid using them.
  • Accessibility concerns are relevant if you consider that using a mouse with two buttons is potentially difficult for some people, who may choose a single button mouse or even a different input device than a mouse (such as voice controlled browsers). Although these browsers generally include options to access context menus, it's probably much less likely that users will think to use them to discover additional functionality in a website or app.
  • On the other hand, Jakob Nielsen reported in 2007 that right click menus are a good convention and users have come to expect them to exist. He doesn't comment on web sites specifically, though, and I would take that into account when considering using them.
  • Web sites and web apps are two different things. Consider that a web app like Google Docs will have a higher expectability associated with context menus by users than a web site like Amazon.com. Web apps look more like traditional desktop apps and it's therefore not unreasonable for users to expect them to work similarly. Web sites have a different model to conform to.

Whatever you do, it's important to consider what users will expect and design accordingly. A hidden menu like context menus won't help anyone if no one thinks to right click in the first place.

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Coding cross browser, accessible context menus is tricky and as Raul points out can be a usability issue too. Many users won't notice, can't find your controls unless it's clearly spelled out. And not all users know how to set their readers to activate context menus in a browser. Very good points and answer. –  Susan R Sep 1 '10 at 15:53
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