Radial Popup Menus

Working on the (Not) Knobs series brought me to this idea of radial popup menus.

The round widget version would allow to fit menus with a low number of items that can be depicted by icons into small space (admittedly a quite specific use case). To select an item, one could could either click to bring the menu up and click again on an item, or click-hold and drag in the desired direction, release. For low sizes, this should be better than the appropriate number of option buttons, as the one larger target area is easier/faster to hit.

4 variations of the base widget with filter modes as example items, followed by the popup menu with optional labels. Then a bit of fun with transpareny and blur and finally what would be a replacement for a combo box, displaying a label for the selected item, but meant to bring up the same radial popup menu.

Radial Popup Menus


About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

4 Responses to Radial Popup Menus

  1. Chris Cannam says:

    This sounds functionally very much like a “pie menu”.

    I used piewm, a pie menu based window manager, for quite a while in the mid-90s. The menus were very usable for selections with small fixed numbers of options. It was possible to select an option using “motor memory” very quickly without having to constantly watch mouse pointer motion on the screen — the pie menu, at least in piewm, was modal while active, so you could move the mouse any distance away from the centre and still get the right option so long as the direction was broadly correct.

    They don’t work at all for menus with many entries, or whose entries can vary. Even a minor infrequent change, like increasing the menu from 4 options to 5 in a new release of the program, can be seriously disruptive to people who have become “programmed” with the directions of the original options.


  2. thorwil says:

    Radial menus and pie menus are the same thing. What you describe are the known strengths and limitations 😉
    Yes, the number of items should be stable and 2, 4 or 8 work best.

  3. Chris Cannam says:

    Ah, OK. I thought there might be a reason you hadn’t just called them pie menus.

    This sounds like a sensible application, anyway — that is, a pie menu in which a distinct icon can easily be used for a very constrained set of options. Perhaps the labels could show after a short pause if the user hasn’t chosen an icon.


  4. Chris Cannam says:

    btw, I always found 3 or 5 options very workable in my pie menu, not just 2, 4 or 8.

    5 options with one of them at the top (as opposed to an option at the bottom and a divider at the top) fits quite nicely with the set of directions I can very easily move a mouse in — up, left and right with a bit of forward push, and two less common options at bottom.

    But I was younger and more agile then. And it’s presumably very subjective.