In User learning and performance with marking menus by Kurtenbach and Buxton (1994), the paper demonstrates that marking menus are more efficient than linear menus. And to me they look just as intuitive.

What are the reasons they have not been adopted by the industry? if not for the general public, I would think that power-users enjoy more efficiency.

Here is a summary of the paper.

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    They're not more efficient. It's someones opinion that some are more efficient. – insidesin Feb 15 at 4:41
  • Such menus don't work well if you start near the edge of the screen. – alecail Feb 15 at 15:45

I have a couple of theories.

  1. The efficiency of the marking menu relies on "knowledge in the mind". Don Norman talks about the distinction between "knowledge in the mind" and "knowledge in the world" in UX in the book "Design of Everyday Things". Knowledge in the mind is great but it also requires learning and familiarity. Computers are still not super familiar for a lot of people and back in the 80s and 90s that was even more so. At this point any major changes on that front are going to take awhile to happen.

  2. You could say point 1 is not important because a marking menu can just be used normally and this would be true but I imagine it was also a good deal harder to program back in the day and developers tend to follow the path of least resistance. Also mice weren't nearly as good back then and I imagine there are accessibility issues with marking menus that would make it difficult for some people with limited dexterity to use.


They are used. Just not in ways you instantly recognise: for example, in keyboards with 'swipe type' or screen locks.

Perhaps the reason for less widespread use is - as David says - the cognitive burden on memory.


The reason: Shortcuts and gestures

Traditional menus are just as fast for infrequent use and have less friction, since they are widely used and always look similar - a single app with a mark menu would induce friction, since the user would be irritated at first.

Now if the user wants to repeat the same actions for many different cases, they usually learn a keyboard shortcut for the action, which is even faster, more reliable and widely used. So the only use case for mark menus would be situations where there is a need fast repeated selection of an action without access to a shortcut/keyboard.

And in these cases gestures with hints (which are essentialy a lot like mark menus) have prevailed -> browsing a gallery on your smartphone, swiping left and right to access the option "next/previous image" and swiping upwards to remove the image.


Of course we can only theorize about this, but from a developer's perspective, think about the beginning of HTML: Most (if not all) menus were tables, even though they had to be UL (as they're now). Circular or radial shapes didn't exist other than as images. I think linear build was a consequence of that limitation.

Now, after decades of using linearity, most people understands the behavior of a menu at simple sight. If you used a XEROX machine, you'd realize not even them are using a radial menu, so I'm quite sure the results wouldn't be the same nowadays.

Personally, I tried doing something like this based on circular navigation tutorial for a project, and I've found the results were quite poor. Tests shown that everybody liked it from an aesthetics point of view, but everybody was really confused. And keep in mind we were using only one level, unlike the (really interesting) video which has several levels, so we ditched it. Therefore, I have to assume that people understands the affordance a linear menu transmits

  • Can you explain your first paragraph to me? Linear menus predate (the proliferation of) HTML by far, so I can't really imagine how the limitations of the latter was what caused the preference for linear menus. Or am I missing something? – Schmuddi Feb 15 at 13:22

This approach isn't scalable. The target areas get smaller as you add more menu items, whereas with linear menus it stays the same and can easily handle a larger number of top level menu options.

For the situations where there are fewer options it's probably not worth doing as it's introducing a potential variation in menu paradigms and having this variation has a cognitive burden of its own.


A couple things come to mind:

  1. Time to learn and adapt. Similar to keyboard layouts, the Dvorak layout is probably faster, but most people have already learned QWERTY. The potential speed improvement for the average user is not significant enough to learn a new approach.
  2. From my experience, marking menus don't work well with touchpads. Many people don't use a mouse with their laptops.

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