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Does anyone know of research that shows users rate applications as more responsive or easier to use when paths within the application require fewer clicks? Is it more important to eliminate unnecessary clicks than to create an application that has a completely consistent user interface?

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How does unnecessary clicks relate to consistency in a UI? If you can add some context or an example to this question we can give you better answers. –  obelia Jun 2 '13 at 22:40
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A possible relevant bit of research: uie.com/reports/scent_of_information (summary: number of clicks is less important than making sure a user feels like they headed in the right direction) –  DA01 Jun 3 '13 at 5:15

5 Answers 5

I have one datapoint from just yesterday: I saw a user get pretty pissed at Word 2013 for adding a click to Save As for a document (now users have to choose whether to save to the local computer or MS’s cloud service before specifying a folder). Two datapoints if you count myself as well.

Do clicks matter? Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

  • If all you care about is the user getting to the end of the task, all you need to do is ensure each click clearly moves the user towards the end. Users may get annoyed and frustrated, but they won’t give up because they’ve already have too much sunk costs –all those clicks they had to do to get to where they are.

  • If you want users to complete the task and not be annoyed, then you need to also ensure that each click appears to be important and necessary. As long as users don’t catch on that the design is inefficient, they won’t be frustrated. In other words, you just have to be a better designer than the user. Can’t be too hard.

  • If you truly care about maximizing a positive user experience, then minimizing clicks is very important. It doesn’t matter that the users complete the goal with lots of clicks. It doesn’t matter that users aren’t annoyed after lots of clicks. Clicks are bad because they waste the users’ time. You have to figure multiple seconds per click, especially for a web site. Clicks are bad because they take effort. The user has to stop, think (at least the first few times), and act. Clicks are bad because they introduce error. Each time you require a click, you provide a chance for the user to mis-click. That means still more time and effort for the user. Wasting the users’s effort and time is a bad UX, whether the users realize it or not. They’ve better things to do in life than futz with your product.

How important are clicks? Well, what’s the tradeoff? If the user spends 2 minutes trying to find the right thing to click on a cluttered page rather than 30 seconds clicking through two low-cluttered pages, then adding the click improves things. In a usability test, time to complete the task is a better metric than number of clicks. (Nonetheless, prior to testing, number of clicks plus other actions provides a decent estimate of time to complete a task.)

As for consistency, consistency doesn’t mean make everything the same. Consistency means make everything that looks the same be the same. If two things look the same, but one takes 3 clicks and the other takes 2 clicks, users are likely to make errors, especially once muscle memory starts to build for either the 2-click or 3-click response. However, it things look different –if it is immediately and obviously clear to the user that the 2-click vs. 3-click response is necessary in the current context, consistency won’t be an issue.

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Number of clicks are much less important than users feeling that they are getting closer to their goal. http://www.arrowsandicons.com/articles/what-makes-a-good-wayfinding-system/ sets out the key principles. The key points are:

  • Navigation should get the user where they need to go, with clear, well-defined paths and decision points
  • Information should be organised into distinct areas with clear themes
  • Users should at all times know where they are, and what they need to do to get to their destination
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Would be great if you can highlight the key points here, rather than having people compulsorily visit a link. –  rk. Jun 3 '13 at 12:25
    
That article doesn't mention how it relates to the number of clicks. –  mawcsco Jun 3 '13 at 14:06
    
rk - thanks, Done. mawcsco - hopefully my comment addressed that? –  Peter Jun 3 '13 at 17:23

Number of clicks are task-dependent too. If a user is engaged into task flow and task is divided on several steps (clicks) – it is ok.

But if you have boring repetitive task you will pray on clicks minimisation, watch type overload.

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Number of clicks aren't important, provided they are performing a useful purpose to the user.

For instance, if I want to read a user manual for the latest Acme Point and Click Camera called SureSnapz, then I will expect to select:

  • Camera
  • Point and Click
  • Sureznapz
  • Documentation
  • User Manual
  • PDF
  • English

Thats a lot of clicks just to get a manual, but I don't care, because at all times I've felt totally in control and know exactly whats happening.

Compare that to when I want to track a package from Warble. I know they tried to deliver it, as they left two cards. I go onto their site, and all I have to do is enter the reference number on the card. I do that, and then I don't know where I am. There are tabs all over the place. hundreds of links to click, but what is missing is a big fat button saying: click to reschedule delivery. Its a mess and I end up going around and around in circles.

Worse still are the sites that have ads pretending to be links to the information you want. Nothing makes me less likely to want to buy or support a product than when the person selling it either wants to use me as a cash cow or doesn't care that their advertisers use unscrupulous means to get me to click their links.

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Number of clicks aren't important unless the user thinks that they're clicking too much. If a user says that they're clicking too much, this likely indicates that your user experience doesn't support their workflow appropriately.

Consistency and number of clicks aren't often at odds when creating a user experience. If you're unsure of whether you should focus on one or the other to make the best use of your time in addressing issues, you should conduct user research to understand where users have problems with your application.

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