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UI Best Practices v3.x

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Eclipse UI Best Practices v3.x Updates

Last Updated: 11:03, 20 June 2006 (EDT)

Return to Eclipse 2.1 UI Guidelines

This section provides drafts of ongoing updates to the Eclipse v3.x UI Best Practices. We have decided to use a new best practices format to document UI design guidelines for Eclipse v3.x. It's designed to help practitioners apply the UI design quicker and easier.

Limit Context Menus


Remove extra items from context menus on objects in editors and views.

Problem Description

A context menu provides a quick and convenient way to give a user access to a great deal of functionality. Unfortunately, it is tempting to add too much functionality to an object’s context menu. The resulting menus can become overly long and complicated, which slows down the efficiency of a user’s work with the product. Moreover, it is possible to create the same context menu for all objects, regardless of type, within an editor or view. Such uniformity deprives a user of subtle feedback about which type of object they are currently working with. Contextual feedback is needed for a user to have a clear sense of the functionality of each object type.

Best Practice

There are at least three ways to trim an object’s context menu, so that it will be quick to scan and well targeted at the object.

First, remove menu items that don’t apply to the object at all. This may sound obvious, but in a complicated product environment, it is easy for unrelated items to creep into a context menu. Of course, a menu item that doesn’t apply could be grayed out. But if it never applies, it’s better to remove the item entirely. For example, it would be confusing to have a “Run as” item on the context menu of a C++ header (.h) file in a navigator-style view, since run operations really apply to code instead.

Second, remove items that apply only to the view or editor as a whole. While a user may find it convenient to access these items from an object, it is better to have a “lean and mean” context menu instead – one that is uncluttered and focuses attention on the object at hand. Access to actions related to the view or editor as a whole are better handled by right clicking on the white space outside any object (or by clicking on the view menu). The user will get a better sense of the view or editor as a whole, without any confusion about what menu item lives where. For example, view preferences should not be on the context menu for an object in that view, but rather on the context menu outside any object (or in the view menu).

Finally, remove items from an object’s context menu that apply to other, nearby objects, but not to the specific one in question. The resulting menus will make more sense to the user, as the actions logically appropriate to the object will be there, but not actions logically appropriate to some other type of object. For example, it would be confusing to have a “Close Project” item on the context menu of a Java method shown in an explorer view, since import operations apply at the project level instead.

Tips and Tricks

Sometimes there is value in adding a view-specific item to an object’s context menu, if the action of the menu item can be customized in some way for the object. For example, a generic “New” menu item might open up a new editor pre-populated with item(s) related to the selected object. Be sure to keep the item order on a context menu as similar as possible for different types of object. This similarity will maximize consistency for the user.

In cases where it is not possible to reduce the number of items on a large context significantly, consider using submenus to refactor some top-level items to the second level.

Good Examples

Figure 1: a context-dependent menu tailored for a package in the Outline View.

Figure 2: a context menu tailored for a class in the Outline View.

Figure 3: a context-independent menu for the Outline View.

Related Information

This issue is addressed in the Eclipse UI Guidelines 2.1, in the section titled “Component Development - Editors” (Guidelines 6.11-6.13).

-- Last Updated: 11:03, 20 June 2006 (EDT)

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