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Some Thoughts...

Bad DVD Menu (2002.01.28)

Though I’m not a supporter of all of Jakob Nielsen’s views, the column on DVD Menu Design” I particularly agree with in regards to the DVD for Dr. Dolittle 2. (Perhaps I agree with it easier because the column on Jakob’s site was written by Donald Norman.)

This past weekend we were house-sitting for my parents. They have Dr. Dolittle 2 on DVD, and we decided to watch it. I put the DVD in the player and waited past all the Federal warnings that you have to wait through. After all that is done, a clip from the movie appears. It’s a raccoon who says something about how the beaver wants to see you. The clip pauses, and the text “Do you want to see the beaver?” is shown, with the following menu options below: “Yes” and “No”.

Depiction of yes and no choices.

The “Yes” option is blue-ish circle with lighter blue text “Yes” inside. The “No” option is a red circle with white text “No” inside. Now, my first thought was that this “beaver” thing is a special feature on the DVD, and since it appeared after inserting the DVD and before the main DVD menu came up, that this special feature may not be available again unless restarting the DVD player. So, naturally curious, I wanted to see this, and I wanted to select “Yes”.

Looking at the menu option on the TV, I figured that the red “No” was the currently selected choice. I assumed this because when you start up the DVD, maybe you want to skip the features and get right to the movie, or you’ve already seen this special feature and want to get right to the movie; both of which would mean that ”No” should be the initially selected choice so that you can just hit “enter” or “select” and be taken to the main DVD menu.

So, wanting to see what this “beaver” feature is, I pressed the remote control’s left arrow button to select “Yes”. The “Yes” option was now red with white text, and the “No” was blue with lighter blue text. Next I pressed the remote control’s “Select” button. When I did that the “No” button flashed red with white text, and the movie clip changed and played the raccoon saying something like “Are you sure, it will only take a moment of your time,” and then the same menu option was presented again.

I thought maybe I did something wrong, so I tried to select “Yes” again by pressing the left arrow button and then the select button. The same thing happened again and I was once more presented with the “Yes” and “No” choice. However, this time I had figured out what was happening, and it made me upset at the design of the “Yes” and “No” menu. The selection indicator is not the red circle with the white text as one might think: red is more noticeable than blue, and white on red has more contrast than light blue on blue.

Now I understood how to select “Yes” and I did so... only to be presented with the main DVD menu. Now I was pissed. All that work. All that fighting with a poorly designed way to highlight a selection. All that trouble just to get to the main DVD menu. That was not what I expected. With the Cats & Dogs DVD, before the main DVD menu, you’re presented with a choice of “Cats” or “Dogs”. Selecting one chooses the display of the main DVD menu: with dog images or with cat images. Something like that might have been worth all the trouble of the “Yes” and “No” menu. But that’s not what you get for picking “Yes, I’d like to see the beaver”. All you get is the main DVD menu.

Of all the DVD menus I’ve seen so far, this one for Dr. Dolittle 2 has to be the worst. They could have used any number of other methods to distinguish which option was being selected. Maybe a glow over the selected option, or a separate line surrounding the option. Anything that would be unique to one of the selected options would have been better when there are only two options to select. Simply making one option one color and the other option another color is not enough to distinguish which option is being selected.

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