An object-oriented system for generating and displaying control items that allow users of an interactive network to recognize and select control functions via a graphical user interface. The manipulation of the control items on a display screen is linked to a set-top terminal associated with the interactive network. The control items, which can be visible or audible, are associated with control objects. Control objects are arranged in a hierarchy, and can contain one or more child control objects. Attributes of a child control object are inherited from an ancestor control object. A control item can be graphically manipulated independently by drawing the control item into its own sprite, or can be manipulated by drawing the control item into the sprite of a parent. The system provides building blocks of control elements that can be composed and customized to produce versatile interfaces for applications and content.