Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


DVD Menus and Functionality

I recently heard about a problem with one of the DVDs I authored. I built the DVD a few years back when I was still ignorant of this issue. So, lesson 1: There is always more to learn. Basically, when the viewer presses the "Menu" button on my defective DVD, hoping to return to the Menu, the DVD doesn't go anywhere; it just pauses and then continues playing as if nothing had happened. This is extremely frustrating to someone watching a DVD. The first reason is that the DVD doesn't let them get back to the Menu, so functionality it's shot. The second problem is that the DVD doesn't behave as expected.

There's a book out titled "The Design of Everyday Things". Mr. Norman discusses how smart people can become very frustrated and confused when something doesn't work as they expect. The DVD not going back to the Menu when you press "Menu" would fall into this category of frustration.

I experienced this myself when I first held an iPhone. I double tapped to zoom in on a web page, but then it didn't zoom out when I doubled tapped again. I was lost. I clicked everything I could find, restarted it, and flipped through every menu page I could find. My wife then told me that double tapping should make it zoom out. I tried it again and it worked. I must have not quite tapped in the same place when it did it the first time, but I would have been lost forever if someone hadn't been there to set me straight.

Lesson 2: Make sure your DVDs do what people will expect.

Granted, if you have a simple DVD with only a "Play" button, people aren't going to be too confused (unless that button doesn't seem to do anything). Problems arise when you have hundreds of buttons or try to get too fancy.

A prime example of "too fancy" is the DVD for "Troy". In the Special Features there is a section where you can flip through things about the Greek gods, or something. Unfortunately, once there if you click the "Up" arrow on your remote, you end up at the bottom left of the screen. "Over" will take you to some random button, and on and on. It doesn't help that the buttons are sprinkled throughout the page in an upside-down "U" shape, so you're never sure where you are supposed to be.

Whenever I make a DVD, I always flip through all the buttons to make sure they go where I expect: Down goes down and right goes right. This requires quite a bit of thought if your Menu has 40 buttons and a navigation bar. What is someone going to try to do? What if they end up there? Where are they going to want to go?

Lesson 3: Less clicks is better.

No one wants to spend their time clicking their way through your DVD. I don't care how cool your transitions are, or how awesome your backgrounds and buttons may be: People want to watch what's on your DVD, not spend time clicking. This leads to design issues when you have a hundred different chapters that you want your viewer to access, like in an educational DVD. Your time is well worth spent on saving your viewers' time navigating your Menus.

Well, I should go fix that issue now, which is lesson 4: Don't dwell on past mistakes. Fix them and move on.

~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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