The Sins of DVD Menu Design

'The Sins of DVD Menu Design', across Gustave Doré's illustration of Farinata degli Uberti addressing Dante, with the FBI warning from DVDs appearing on a stone behind him.

Original wood engraving illustration by Gustave Doré.

Good people of the internet, the DVD has existed for more than a decade. Yet, the design of DVD menus seems to grow more tyrannical and confused with time. Those responsible are blinded by the insidious vices of pride and greed, tempted into committing one, two, or perhaps all of the Sins of DVD Menu Design.

“…they kill the life of grace and risk eternal damnation unless absolved in the sacrament of confession, or taken away by a perfect contrition.” —Wikipedia.

So let us examine these sins, so that we may know of their folly and be led by the light of Reason, unbesmirched in our own journeys.

These are their names and natures:

Diligo typicus: company logos that sit upon the screen, unmoved by protestations
One does not buy Warner Bros. DVDs, nor Miramax DVDs, nor the DVDs of Universal. One buys DVDs. The logo holds no thrall, and gazing upon it for five seconds brings no more imprint on the soul than half a second. The DVD is of your creation and thusly it is your right to place your logo upon it. So be it. But to extend the length of its display is folly. One need only multiply this period by the number of DVDs owned that bear your imprimatur, then again by how many times they choose to partake of it, to see the error. In so forcing the gentle viewer, you have linked aggravation, displeasure and your logo in the minds of the people. By force. Thusly, you are the author of your own undoing.

Abusus non tollit usum: unskippable lectures on the perils of movie and music piracy
One is forced to endure a screed composed by the industries of film and music. These poorly-adorned and misguided lectures come from the mouths of those who would seek to limit pleasure in the name of profit. Why would one deliver words of condemnation to the very souls who have delivered their own wealth to you? If one has made a fair trade, then they shall not bear the branding of a criminal. Therefore cease at once! If I be a brigand, a scoundrel, or a procurer of pirated materials, then your warnings fall on deaf ears and your failure is already manifest. We are plenty aware of your motivations. Perhaps words delivered by the artists, whose daily bread is at stake, would carry more weight. The awkward threats and stilted moanings of your goliath organizations ring hollow in our ears. Your coffers are full or empty in accordance with your own doing, sirs. Do not subject me to your tortured prose in the name of defamation!

Cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex: the warnings of the FBI delivered in a manner that resists abridging by the viewer
There are but two types of person upon this earth: those who would steal DVDs and those who would not. The kind that do, care not a whit about FBI warnings. The kind that do not, will not take their time up reading poorly typeset warnings designed to prohibit the operation of illegal theatres. Why, then, must we endure silent and immutable seconds not reading an edict our eyes and mind cannot bear, in a time period inadequate for the doing?

Auri sacra fames: a series of “coming attractions” presented in a manner that requires repeated skipping, restricting efforts to avoid the ordeal entirely
I am aware that you wish to ply your library of DVDs to the market. This is not an ignoble goal. But to force good men and women to fast forward the bulk, or to skip each preview in turn, for years…is surely a poor method for securing additional sales of The Notebook or a comedic treatment of student life at a university. There are many who enjoy the information and knowledge of coming attractions, but to restrict our freedoms is to make of us an enemy. To witness Julia Roberts erupting in laughter at 8x her natural speed for the tenth time is to swear an oath of abstention from ever witnessing it again. Kindly desist.

Ars longa vita brevis: a menu that reveals its complete function in a plodding or unnecessarily ornate manner
The feature, not the menu, is truly the basis of the vital DVD market as we know it. Indeed, expedient access to the many offerings of a DVD is itself a reason for the format’s success. Therefore, it is not necessary to expose the viewer to a startling visual effects sequence, a 30-second montage of every actor’s countenance, or the construction of a baroque and ultimately unsatisfying interface each and every time the DVD is accessed for viewing. Surely you marvel at your skill in the manipulation of sound and sight while constructing such a folly in your studio. However, it lacks energy and stimulation for all but the most simpleminded upon a second or third viewing (I cast my eye towards you, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Do you doubt it? Then, kind sir, for the next month, perform the chorus of that gentle ballad ‘Home on the Range’ each time you arrive at your front door. Upon completion of this task, you may then lecture us all on the subject of ‘experiential menu design’. Perhaps your time would be better spent at film school, you charlatan.

Non progredi est regredi: transitions between screens which span more than a single second
Oh, how terribly cute. Little Lisa Simpson is doing a thing that is just so like her whenever I select the ‘Play’ option. It truly is “the limit”. Oh, observe! Now she’s performing it for the 30th time. Again, dear designer, this thing of which we speak is a menu: I select an item, and you serve it promptly. When I depress a doorbell, I expect the peal of bells within the instant. When I direct my mouse to a link on the web, I anticipate the immediate loading of a page. Why would a digital video disc perform with any variation? It’s not a damnèd elevator. The content does not require a lengthy descent from the penthouse suite to my television. Play = ‘play the blasted movie’, not ‘show Neo flying at my face, then play the movie’, you prig! Your deeds encourage only dull thoughts and idle minds.

Quo vadis: scattered menus without a clear sequence of navigation
Long before you gasped your first breath through tiny virgin lungs, men of far greater stature than yourself developed the construction we now know as ‘a list’. Why, then, do you not abide by its purity of form and elegance of function? Those seeking a higher stimulation through the consumption of cinema and theatre need not be tormented by the snare of your unorthodox and befuddling geometry. If one directs the cursor to the left, then this is the direction it should pursue. There is neither pleasure nor enrichment gained from senseless games of talentless artists expressing their enmity for their fellow man through nonsensical navigational clouds. It is annoying. This is not a hedge maze, it is a linked list provided for one’s convenience. Do not lower man to the base level of the rat by withholding cultural elevation in exchange for the performance of simple, repeated tricks in a maze of your invention.

Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas: forcing the viewer to skip a portion of the film’s beginning scenes if they choose to pass over the opening credits
My earnings are in your grasp, the funds securely in your keeping. Why, then, do you torment me? Is vanity’s reach so long that its slender fingers must enter into my home, violating my serenity? Your stars and your producers receive no glory from my attentions, no gains from my wasted time. When your studio’s logo appears upon the screen, I am owed the freedom of action to disregard that which disregards me, or to indulge in it at my whim. To crush a person’s self-determination is to reduce their soul to the simple combustive spark found within a machine. It is a decimation of the will and I stand in protest to your impudent disdain for all that makes one human! Cease! Allow us the shortest path to Art and you will profit by it in the final reckoning.

Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus: Menus that are not menus, but the baubles of a deluded mind
The most terrible of DVD menu sins is to lose faith in the menu itself. With the DVD we can rise above the mire of magnetic tape and gain access to beauty and the fruits of creation with the haste it so richly deserves. With the menu, we can bring to each other the utopia of knowledge, Truth and Art. Thus, when you are bestowed with the honor of crafting this gateway to modern wonder and paradise, do not turn it into a damnèd scavenger hunt or a guileless, rudimentary CD-ROM adventure. If I arrive at the gates of the kingdom, but cannot enter readily, then you have failed not only your fellow man, but also your art and yourself. If I actually must labor and toil at some arbitrary themed task or game, simply to access the content I HAVE RIGHTLY EARNED, then you are in debt to me for every benefit and blessing you have place outside of my grasp (hello, Memento). Fie! This is not your graduate thesis on interface design, it is a human’s life you trifle with! Your mock rule in your tiny menu kingdom is built on the ruin of the lives of your brothers and sisters! They sit, their families and friends at their sides, losing their very humanity for your games! There is no profit to be had for crafting the form of these torments in accordance with the themes of the film contained within. See the light and the nature of your folly before it is your unmaking and the destruction of the very society you claim to honor!

And thusly does our examination of the Cardinal Sins of DVD Menu Design endeth. If you take but one lesson with you into the darkness of the world, let it be this: if it annoyeth upon the third occurrence, do away with it, for it is a damned thing and not of good design.

Now go in peace, my child, to love and serve the user.

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