How to Avoid Menu Clutter (Acagamic Tip Tuesday #21)

the acagamic tip tuesday Jul 05, 2022
A screenshot of the crafting menu in Cyberpunk 2077 with too much information highlighted in yellow.

In today's issue of The Acagamic Tip Tuesday, we learn that the cognitive processing capabilities of our users are limited to four items in visual working memory (the things we can process at once) and cluttered menus are a consistent problem even in modern AAA game titles. This will only take a few minutes to read.

Game UX Tip of the Week

Avoid Menu Clutter: Players are limited in their capacity to process information. Settle on which essential information to present in your menus via user testing.

You might have heard of the magical number 7 when it comes to short-term memory in people. This is based on a 66-years-old study from George Miller. Many UI designers refer to this number when designing interfaces and it can come up in UX meetings. However, in psychology, we distinguish between short-term memory (simple items you can recall) and working memory (items you can pay attention to and manipulate). And studies between 1923 and 2008 show that working memory is consistently more around 4 items (+/- 2).

Taking into account this research, that means, we should consider only four items at a time for our users to handle. I would suggest one in each corner of the screen or if in more complex menus, to break the menu down into four large categories that the player can drill down into via progressive disclosure.

An excellent example of an internal case study at Ubisoft that considered mode-switching as a solution to this problem of cognitive capacity is in the links below.

UX Links

UX Research App of the Week: Qualtrics

Many applications for survey design do the trick for your user research studies. Some of the most popular ones to get started are Google forms, Typeform, and (my current favourite) Tally.so. However, for more complex survey tasks, you'll find researchers using Surveymonkey (or Wufoo), Limesurvey or Qualtrics (among many others).

Many of these more complex survey tools work the same way. They let you design a survey of increasing complexity. The reason we use Qualtrics is that our University has bought a license for it and made it available to researchers. It has quite a few useful features like question randomization and conditional logic that only make certain parts of the survey available based on the answer flow. I also like the reporting features and visual summaries it provides. Exporting to a CSV for further processing is also a must and allows you to run any statistics in your favourite tool. Keep in mind the free options I listed above (specifically Tally, which is great for basic surveys) if this one is too pricey for your current approach.

Games Research Find of the Week

This literature review investigated issues related to child-interaction research and the impact that design decisions have on the user experience in learning games used in primary and secondary (K-12) education. The authors summarize 30 most relevant research articles published between 2006–2020.

They found that the most common learning mechanics used in those games in primary education are reflection and discussion, followed by action tasks, observation, experimentation, repetition, exploration, and instructional guidance. In secondary education, the most popular learning mechanics were simulation or action tasks (e.g., programming, experimentation, simulation, role-playing, problem-solving) combined with observational or instructional cues. The most popular game mechanics used in learning games were story/narrative, realism, roleplay, collaboration, rewards, and movement (I would disagree with the authors' classification that all of these are game mechanics, but alas I wasn't a reviewer).

The most used game types were role-playing games and puzzles and the most common themes in educational games were science fiction, mystery, and fantasy. The most reported fun was reported as a combination of a story with a series of academically meaningful challenges that players had to face.

The authors suggest a wealth of ideas about how to improve educational games. For example, embedding especially high school students into realistic problem-solving learning conditions.

Read the full study:

Pellas, N., Mystakidis, S., & Christopoulos, A. (2021). A Systematic Literature Review on the User Experience Design for Game-Based Interventions via 3D Virtual Worlds in K-12 Education.Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 5 (6), 28. https://www.mdpi.com/1122784

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