Publication: Improving Navigation-Based File Retrieval

Navigating through a file hierarchy is one of the most common methods for accessing files, yet it can be slow and repetitive. New algorithms that predict upcoming file accesses have the potential to improve navigation-based file retrieval, but it is unknown how best to present their predictions to users. We present three design goals aiming to improve navigationbased file retrieval interfaces: minimise the time spent at each hierarchical level en route to the target file; reduce the number of levels traversed by providing shortcuts; and promote rehearsal of the retrieval mechanics to facilitate expertise. We introduce three interfaces that augment standard file browsers based on each of these goals: Icon Highlights give greater prominence to predicted items in the current folder; Hover Menus provide shortcuts to predicted folder content; and Search Directed Navigation uses predictive highlighting to guide users through the hierarchy in response to query terms. Results from a user evaluation show that all three interfaces improve file retrieval times, with Icon Highlights and Hover Menus best suited for frequently accessed items and Search Directed Navigation best suited for infrequent ones. We also show that the benefits are larger when folder content is spatially unstable. Finally, we discuss how the interfaces could be combined and deployed in existing file browsers.




Stephen Fitchett Andy Cockburn
University of Canterbury
Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan


Fitchett, S., Cockburn, A., Gutwin, C. 2013. Improving Navigation-Based File Retrieval. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2013), ISBN 978-1-4503-1899-0. 2329-2338.


@inbook {440-improving-navigation-based-file,
author= {Stephen Fitchett and Andy Cockburn and Carl Gutwin},
title= {Improving Navigation-Based File Retrieval},
booktitle= {Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2013)},
year= {2013},
pages= {2329-2338}