Currently working on bettering our internal tool/ticketing system's UI. We have several products - broken up by category, of course. Each product has an email template that a technician will wend in reply to a client's request. We are working with our some 40+ email templates that will be interacted with regularly.

The problem we're trying to solve is: "How can we provide a large list of product email templates?" The team has agreed upon the below as the best candidates to resolve this issue. However, we are pretty evenly split in either direction. I pulled the below screenshots from Jquery UI to display the options we are deliberating on. Option One being a Tiered Menu Tree, and Option Two an autocomplete search box.

Tiered Menu Tree & Autocomplete Screenshots!

And now to the meat of it: While we have decided to pull the technicians for input on which option best fits their workflow, I find myself struck with a question I've not come across:

Can required keystrokes be measured the the same as mouse clicks? And if so, how are the keystrokes be calculated? I am puzzled with calculating the keystrokes because the number entered can/will vary based on the user, and the desired object. The user's familiarity might also come in to play.

Please note: I pose (not sure if this is standard) that the mouse over steps required to navigate a sub-menu should be measured as a "clicks", because the user is required to accurately place the cursor over a specific object to receive a desired outcome.

Any insight/feedback is greatly appreciated!

  • I'm missing the part between 'pull technicians for input' and 'can keystrokes be measured'? Are you trying to assess the interface based on the number of keystrokes/clicks? If so, why?
    – Brendon
    May 1, 2013 at 17:47
  • Yes, I'm hoping to assess the number of keystrokes/clicks. Particularly because the project administrator is convinced that "less clicks" (I don't entirely agree) is always the deciding factor. The better choice. We will take input, but this is primarily for feedback, and not necessarily to solidify the final choice. May 1, 2013 at 17:53
  • I assume there is a business reason the client can't directly download the template?
    – uxzapper
    May 2, 2013 at 0:00
  • Personally: #2, because (a) I can paste a term I copied from somewhere else and (b) Hierarchical categories are hard to maintain when the underlying data changes
    – peterchen
    May 2, 2013 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


The amount of clicks required is something you can measure about an interface. It's a number and if managers like one thing it's numbers. It is however impossible to learn anything about the quality of an interface from a usability/ux point of view by counting clicks.

I have seen it happen: people trying to improve an interface by reducing clicks through having buttons activate on hover instead of on-click. Yes, if a button is triggered if a user's mouse lingers over it for half a second, they don't have to click. However, it will slow them down immensely and aggravate them to no end.
Give your user something that helps them do their work, don't challenge them with a dexterity game.

Read this (and perhaps a few others) on the subject: Why Hover Menus Do Users More Harm Than Good

What I'm saying is comparing amount of key presses or mouse clicks is not going to help you build a great solution to your problem. And also that Solution #1 is a bad idea.

To answer your central question: yes of course you can count keyboard strokes, but you can't compare them to mouse clicks. If you're trying to improve users' performance in your interface, you need to learn how they use it. If most users primarily use the mouse to interact with the interface, the switch to the keyboard will slow them down. If they're mostly using a keyboard, adding keyboard shortcuts etc. will allow them to become more efficient.

Long story short: you can't learn about how to solve your users' problems by sitting in your office counting mouse clicks. You have to get out there and observe!


This answer is more or less a paraphrase of what I remember about what Jef Raskins says in The Humane Interface about KLM:

Say K is the time it take to hit a keystroke, P the time to put the cursor in some place of the screen, H the time to go from the keyboard to the mouse and vice versa, M the time for the user so she can prepare to the next action, R the time for the system to process the action.

Each time depending on studies (wikipidea gives you samples).

The idea is to calculate an average time to obtain a wanted outcome.

  1. Therefore you need an outcome
  2. The list of tasks to obtain this outcome
  3. Transform this tasks into tiny actions: K hitting, P pointing, H swapping, M thinking, R waiting. (each keystroke counts for one K, each time a user has to think at least a little bit it counts for one M) : someting like

     M P K P K P 4K M P K
  4. Transform the letter to the right amount of time

  5. Add all the corresponding times
  6. There you have your global simulated time

So it is not only about the clicks and hits but more about the different actions to perform to go threw the process. The less the users thinks the better, the less click there is the better, the less hits there is the better, the less wait there is the better, the less changing devices the better.

So you can have a little more to say to your administrator when he wants to reduce UX and UI to clicks.

Sources :

The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems, Jef Raskin

Using the Keystroke-Level Model to Estimate Execution Times, David Kieras of the University of Michigan

The article on wikipedia about KLM-GOMS

  • 3
    Great post clarifying how to quantify the gut-feeling that clicks do not equal keystrokes and more importantly that UX can't be reduced to measuring those. Keeping it in my toolbox for dealing with managers! :-) May 2, 2013 at 6:34
  • I am glad to be helpful ! May 3, 2013 at 0:42

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