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Improving cascading menu selections with adaptive activation areas

Cascading menus are the most commonly used hierarchical menus in graphical user interfaces (GUIs). These menus, however, tend to have elongated paths with corner steering, which can result in navigation difficulties. To resolve the corner steering problem, most current cascading menus implement an explicit time delay between the cursor entering or leaving a parent menu item and posting/unposting the associated menu. In this paper, we present adaptive activation-area menus (AAMUs), a technique to improve cascading menu performance by providing a localized triangular activation area between the menu and the child submenu. This triangular activation area aims to overcome the corner steering problem by permitting quick diagonal navigation without imposing a time delay. We describe four experiments designed to refine and validate the AAMU technique. Our first experiment shows that AAMUs improve item selection performance in comparison to traditional menus and a number of competing techniques, including gesture-based menus and enlarged activation-area menus (EMUs). Our second and third experiments reveal, however, that in a searching task, where the user has to look through multiple submenus to find the target, the basic AAMU design suffers from a “cursor trapping” problem, where the user has to move the cursor out of the activation area prior to exploring another submenu. An evaluation of an improved AAMU design shows that it is as fast as or faster than traditional menus and EMUs for both selection and searching tasks.


Erum Tanvir, Andrea Bunt, Andy Cockburn and Pourang Irani. 2011. Improving cascading menu selections with adaptive activation areas. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 69(11), 769-785.

Bibtext Entry

@ARTICLE { JMenu2011,
    AUTHOR = { Erum Tanvir and Andrea Bunt and Andy Cockburn and Pourang Irani },
    TITLE = { Improving cascading menu selections with adaptive activation areas },
    JOURNAL = { International Journal of Human-Computer Studies },
    VOLUME = { 69 },
    NUMBER = { 11 },
    YEAR = { 2011 },
    PAGES = { 769--785 },
    DOI = { 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2011.06.005 },


Erum Tanvir

Erum Tanvir

Andrea Bunt

Andrea Bunt

Pourang Irani

Pourang Irani

Canada Research Chair
at University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus

As well as: , Andy Cockburn