Proposal to investigate interaction techniques and display styles appropriate for the application of pie menus to window management.

Don Hopkins
9 min readFeb 10, 2019
Pie Menu

Date: April 10, 1988
To: Members of the Technical Writing Class
From: Don Hopkins
Subject: Proposal to investigate interaction techniques and display styles appropriate for the application of pie menus to window management.

Pie menus are a fast, accurate way of selecting commands from a list
of options shown on the screen, by using a mouse to point and click at
the desired selection.

Pressing a mouse button causes a menu to be displayed, centered on the
cursor location. The menu choices are positioned in a circle around
the cursor, which is initially located in a small inactive region at
the menu center. Each choice is adjacent to the cursor, but in a
different direction. Moving the cursor in the direction of one of the
choices and releasing the button selects an item from the menu.

The selection is defined by the direction of mouse movement between
the clicks of the button. Since the target regions of the menu choices
are shaped like the slices of a pie, the accuracy of selection becomes
more precise as the cursor is moved further away from the menu center.
The distance of movement is independent of the direction, so it may
serve to modify the choice.

In a graphical environment supporting multiple overlapping windows on
the screen, such as the NeWS window system (Gosling, 1985), pie menus
can be a very effective interaction technique for window management.
They can be used to issue commands to move and resize windows, invoke
programs, and control the environment in many ways.


I propose to investigate display styles and interaction techniques
that make pie menus easier to use, and to apply the techniques towards
the development of a set of window management menus, designed to be
quick, reliable, simple to learn, and easy to remember.


In an experiment comparing the selection time and error rates of pie
menus and traditional linear menus (Callahan, Hopkins, Weiser, &
Shneiderman, 1988), Jack Callahan found that novice computer users
could make selection faster and more accurately from pie menus than
from linear menus.

There are certain types of task for which the circular layout of a pie
menu is especially appropriate. They’re useful in situations with
pairs of complementary menu items, which can be placed in opposite
directions, and orthogonal pairs, which can be placed at right angles.
There are other types of groupings that are very appropriate in a
circular layout, such as directions, in a compass rose, or hours,
minutes, and seconds, in a clock face (Hopkins, Callahan, & Weiser,

Grouping menu selections into logically related nested sub-menus makes
the menus smaller, thus easier to select from, and makes the choices
easier to find (Barnard et all, 1977; Liebelt at all, 1982; McDonald
et all, 1983; Miller, 1981). Pie menus work very well for nested menu
selection, especially for experienced users. They have a nice
kinesthetic feel, and make good use of muscle memory. You remember a
path through a tree of nested menus as a series of directions,
somewhat like navigating from room to room. Since menu selection is
defined by direction, and delimited by mouse clicks, you can rapidly
mouse ahead through familiar menus, without having to look at the
screen. The physical gestures of menu selection “chunk” together into
higher level actions, which are easy for experienced users to perform
automatically (Buxton, 1986).

Another important factor is the style in which the menu is graphically
displayed. The appropriate use of icons and pictograms, the
highlighting style, and the layout of the labels can work together to
make the meaning of the menu choices more appearant (Barnard, 1984;
Billingsley, 1982; Card, 1982; Foley et all, 1974). It is important
to develop a consistant, concise visual language for expressing pie
menu functionality.

Window management tasks are typically done quite frequently, so it is
beneficial if they are quick, reliable, simple to learn, and easy to


To investigate interaction techniques and display styles appropriate
for the application of pie menus to window management, the following
will be done:

1. Conduct a literature search (partial bibliography attached).

2. Send a letter of inquiry sent to Lyn Bartram, a researcher at
the Computer Graphics Lab, at the University of Waterloo,
where pie menus have been used in a paint program.

3. Continue implementation and evaluation of experimental pie
menu interaction techniques, using the NeWS window system.

4. Distribute my implementation of pie menus for the NeWS window
system, so that people may try them out and use them in their
own applications, and hopefully give me feedback in the form
of comments, complaints, and suggestion.

5. Interview David Rosenthal, of Sun Microsystems, one of the
implementors of NeWS, who has done much research into window
management techniques.

It is well worth it to invest time and attention in developing quick,
reliable, simple to learn, and easy to remember interaction
techniques. Poorly designed user interfaces can make computers
frustrating and hard to use. The application of practical, intuitive,
and efficient pie menu techniques to commonly performed tasks such as
window management can save users a lot of time and effort, and make
operating a computer a much more enjoyable experience. Since users
spend much more time interacting with a system than implementors spend
developing and programming its user interface, it is important that
the implementor’s time is well invested. I therefore urge you to
accept this research proposal, so that that the results of the work
can be made freely and widely available for the advantage of others.


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Don Hopkins

User interface flower child. Pie menus, PizzaTool, SimCity, The Sims, Visual Programming, VR, AR, Unity3D / JavaScript bridge.