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I'm currently working on adding a right click option to an existing Windows 7 desktop application. The application displays a number of "points" the user can click on. If the user right clicks a point, I'd like for a context menu to appear displaying options. However, I'd also like to use the context menu to tell the user the name of the point they selected.

Here are a few examples of what I had in mind:

Menu example

Here is my question: would it feel natural to the user to have a title on a context menu in this particular situation? How could the title be presented so that the user doesn't want to click on the title, and without the context menu looking too different from a standard Windows 7 feel? Would it be better to approach the problem from a different angle, such as showing the name of the point that was right-clicked elsewhere on the GUI (outside the right click menu)?

Thanks!

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Problem: A menu item that isn’t a menu item

Context menus don’t have titles because the class of the selected object is the name of menu, and it’s assumed the user knows the class by the object’s presentation (e.g., symbol) on the screen (in your case, the class is Track; in other cases, it could be Text, or Shape, or Image).

You want to use a menu item to identify both the class (which should be unnecessary) and the object (which seems like something useful to me if it can’t be shown statically on the screen due to clutter). The problem with all your solutions is that the title may be confused with a menu item; worse it may be confused with the default menu item (what the user gets on double-click) due to its bold font (it would seem you have no default menu item, but you probably should have one).

  • Separating and emphasizing the title from the rest of the menu items with a line or indenting doesn’t really solve the problem because it just looks like you’re just trying to emphasize the default menu item more, not say “this isn’t a menu item.”

  • Graying or otherwise muting the title is also problematic because the user may take that to mean the title information is unreliable (maybe obsolete), or, more likely, that it’s still a menu item, but the object is not in state to enable menu item –users may end up poking around the UI trying to “enable” the title.

Solutions

Fortunately, there are two relatively simple solutions that should work:

  • Don’t put the title in the context menu. Instead, put it in a separate tool tip or data tag that appears either when the user clicks the object (any kind of click) or hovers over the object. Position the tool tip / data tag so the context menu doesn’t occlude it. Now when the user right-clicks the object, the title and menu are visually separate so the user won’t confuse the title as a menu item. As an added benefit, the user can show the title without opening the context menu, which may be useful in cases when all the user wants is the title and the context menu would occlude important information (e.g., other tracks).

  • Make the title be a menu item. Chances are your menu has some sort of “drill-down” or “open” menu item for the object (probably your “Manage Track…” menu item). Make that the default menu (generally what the user would expect to happen on double-click anyway), and include the title in the menu item caption. The caption could be like “Manage Track #1234 (A-10 Warthog).” Alternatively, maybe you can make the menu item look like a link by coloring it and/or underlining it. Then the menu item is simply the title (e.g., “Track #1234 (A-10 Warthog)”), because links generally navigate to more information about whatever the link label says.

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IMO, its not natural to have a title on a context menu . You may approach this in a different angle maybe adding tooltip when hovered on the point.

If I have to choose, I'd pick the first one

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I see nothing wrong with displaying the name of the clicked item as a title. I think it is a good thing as it gives you a confirmation that you are acting on the right item.

If you are concerned about people clicking the name you can run some user tests and see how it works. I think it will not confuse people since the title is a noun and the actions are verbs.

Another thing you can do is to separate the title visually even more, by adding a subtle background color for example (I'm talking about the first image).

Yet another improvement could be to display the menu a little higher so that the mouse cursor ends up in the same line as the first menu item instead of the title.

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