New Medium, Same Complaints

DVD Menu Design: The Failures of Web Design Recreated Yet Again by Dr. Donald A. Norman (of Nielsen Norman Group fame) : The first time I saw this, I didn't even realize that it wasn't written by Jacob Nielson. I guess they're partners for a reason - Norman writes much the same way that Nielson does, and with the same interface philosophy. This time they're applying the same old boring usability guidelines to DVDs. But just because they are the same doesn't mean they are useless - DVD menus are getting to be ridiculously and unnecessarily complex. There is something to be said for the artistic merit of the menu scheme, but most of the time it ends up being obnoxious (especially upon repeated viewings of the film). Its surprising that most DVDs haven't learned from the mistakes of other mediums. In fact, I'm going to take this opportunity to bitch about DVDs - their interfaces and their content.

  • Animated Menus : Animated entrance and exit sequences are becoming more and more obnoxious. On occasion, I'll run across a DVD that has nice looking sequences, but they are definitely a rarity. I don't need to see a 3 second clip of the movie when all I'm trying to do is turn the commentary on. And Animated Menus don't count as a "Special" Feature.
  • Extra Features :
    • One suggestion mentioned in the above article is to state the duration of each item in the Special Menus, along with a brief description instead of the now, often cryptic titles, often chosen more for cleverness than for informativeness (even more annoying: when the cryptic titles mentioned on the DVD sleeve are different than what actually appears on the disc!).
    • If you have a series of short 1 minute pieces, string them together into a single 20 minute mini-documentary with skippable chapters instead of making me click through each and every one. For example, on the T2: Ultimate Edition, there are something like 50 short pieces concerning makeup, F/X, etc... that are ungodly difficult to navigate.
    • A fifteen minute promotional film consisting of 10 minutes of clips from the film does not count as a documentary.
  • Commentary : A good commentary track is a gem, and I realize that directors like Stanley Kubrick can't be troubled to sit down and talk about their movies (not to mention that he's dead). But even if they can't reanimate Kubrick's corpse, they should be able find someone else to do a good, insightful commentary. Two excellent examples: the commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck on the Seven Samurai DVD and the commentary by Roger Ebert on the Dark City DVD. Both are well done and very interesting, especially in the case of Seven Samurai, which is one of those movies that demands a good commentary (and is one of the few that gets it). I want to see more of this because while it is interesting to hear about the filmmaker's perspective, works of art often take on a life of their own and move beyond anything the filmmaker originally intended.
Don't get me wrong, I love DVDs. I love the quality and all the extra content, but its hard not to complain when only some good movies (and even some bad movies) get nice DVD treatment.