Do clicks matter? Well, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
There’s a myth forming around the idea that fewer clicks equal a better, more productive user experience. If you are looking to improve the user's productivity, then reducing clicks alone will not help you achieve that goal. You don’t receive any actionable or valuable data by just counting clicks. The user's positive experience and time-on-task should be the key metrics for measuring your product. I’m going to explore 4 usability practices to improve your user's experience before thinking about your click count.
1. Navigation #
In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug writes that a user wants and needs to get where they are going. That’s it. So, if your workflow is designed to seamlessly navigate the user to their end-goal, the click count it took to get there will be less noticeable to users. That means having several clicks that guide a user down a clearly defined path is better than one click that the user needs to think about. If your user needs to decipher what a button means in your application, you’ve already made them work harder than a click.
"In general, I think it’s safe to say that users don’t mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they’re on the right track"-Steve Krug
2. Consistency #
A consistent design is crucial to your user experience. By using common components and elements throughout your interface, you avoid forcing the user to learn and relearn patterns each time they enter a new workflow. If they click on a drop-down in one place, they will understand how drop-downs work in the rest of the application.
This also does not mean that you need to make everything the same. Consistency simply means that everything on a user interface that looks the same should act the same — a drop-down is a drop-down is a drop-down, and a button is a button is a button. If two things look the same but act differently, the users will be more prone to error in your application. More errors will inevitably add more clicks, and worst of all, could make your users think, a consequence which results in more productivity loss than one mindless click.
“Three mindless, unambiguous clicks equal one click that requires thought”-Steve Krug
3. Wayfinding #
Users should not have to think about where they are in an application. Each page should clearly tell them where they are and how they got there. The best way to do this is by having clear page titles. As well, show your users a clear path to their next task and show them what you expect from them in that task flow. Try improving the wayfinding in your application before removing clicks, and you will ultimately see fewer clicks made out of error, and improved productivity across the board.
4. Organization #
The information that you display in your application should be organized into clear and distinct themes. This will help guide your user through your application. Place information in similar groupings so that they can easily find what they are looking for.
If your user spends 5 minutes trying to locate the thing that they want to click on a complicated UI rather than a few seconds clicking through two simplified pages, then adding the extra click would actually be an improvement. The user in this scenario had to spend less time thinking about what to click. When it comes to usability testing and metrics, time to complete the task is a better metric than the number of clicks, because time is really what you are trying to reduce, not clicks.
“Both click counts and task time are metrics for measuring efficiency—one of the key elements of usability. All else being equal, a task that takes less time to complete is more usable than one that takes more. But when you measure efficiency, are click counts an acceptable substitute for task-times? Is the number of clicks really the metric to manage?”
- Jeff Sauro at measuringu.com
The Bottom Line #
So, how important are the number of clicks in your application? The short answer is that the number itself isn’t important unless the user thinks that they are clicking too much. If a user feels that they are clicking too much, then it is possible that the user experience doesn’t support their workflow adequately. If you are not sure what improvements you need to focus on within your application, the best idea is to go straight to the source. That means making sure you are conducting frequent user research and usability testing sessions with your end users. That way you can best detect where your users are having problems within your application without making assumptions.
If you come across a good reason to reduce the clicks after exploring the above 4 usability practices through user feedback, then, by all means, reduce away! But, if your intention to reduce clicks is to improve your user’s productivity by making them more efficient in your application, then a better metric to manage would be your task flows and time-on-task. Because the number of clicks only tells part of the story.
Let’s challenge the idea that reducing the clicks equates to improving usability, and focus instead on creating an optimal experience for the user through the navigation, consistency, wayfinding, and organization of the interface. Or as I call it, usability in however many clicks it takes to get there.
If you liked this article, I’d recommend reading Don’t Make Me Think. I’d say it's an important read for any UI/UX Designer or Developer, but if you don’t have time to read the book, check out UXBooth’s summary here.