Empirical Evaluation of a Popular Cellular Phone’s Menu System: Theory Meets Practice

Peer-reviewed Article

pp. 91-108Download full article (PDF)


A usability assessment entailing a paper prototype was conducted to examine menu selection theories on a small screen device by determining the effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction of a popular cellular phone’s menu system. Outcomes of this study suggest that users prefer a less extensive menu structure on a small screen device. The investigation also covered factors of category classification and item labeling influencing user performance in menu selection. Research findings suggest that proper modifications in these areas could significantly enhance the system’s usability and demonstrate the validity of paper-prototyping which is capable of detecting significant differences in usability measures among various model designs.

Practitioner’s Take Away

  • The effect of breadth/depth tradeoffs in navigation is much more obvious and important in a small screen device. Findings suggest (1) reduce both breadth and depth of the menu and (2) display more menu items and options in one page so that users can avoid extra scrolling actions on a level.
  • Ill-categorized and ill-labeled menu items have strong impacts on user performance in menu selection. Findings support (1) Norman’s (1983) suggestion of using longer (and more complete) descriptions in naming is more useful to users learning the system; and (2) Shneiderman’s (1998) recommendation of forming distinctive menu categories based on users’ tasks.
  • This study demonstrates the efficacy of a paper prototyping variation as a way of testing the usability of an information architecture, which shows that an evaluation of a user’s path-finding activities in a map of menu hierarchy can detect significant differences in user performance among a variety of models.