Are there any studies to measure frustration when tapping back multiple times to get out of a hierarchy?

I ask because I am evaluating the most appropriate way to navigate a complex menu application. One with a mix of deep categories and can have deep transaction/reservation steps.

I've looked at sites like Best Buy and IMDB that implement the hamburger and back button on the left side of the titlebar and sites like Target that place a back/breadcrumb inside sidebar navigation. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Anything stopping you from using a "Home" shortcut to get out of any part in the hierarchy quickly? Jan 26, 2014 at 14:42
  • Nope. I meant to add that in my description, but didn't know the text cut off. I agree with your thinking, although "home" shortcut seems really close to hamburger/back button so there can't just be a home. Traversing back through steps is ideal and have to account for contextual actions that show on right side of titlebar i.e., info, edit, etc. So can't just place home icon anywhere. Unless you are speaking of tabs alone, which I would say would not work because a "more button" wouldn't work with amount of primary features.
    – Mobile Q
    Jan 26, 2014 at 18:07
  • If you already have a hamburger menu, I would just put an option in there and not add another icon on the title bar. My intention was to provide users with an easy "get me out of here fast" option. Jan 26, 2014 at 18:15

3 Answers 3


Although you're talking about navigating away from something, and not to it, navigating away from something is also a navigation goal in itself. So I present you the infamous Three clicks 'rule' which for a long time was the accepted wisdom on how many clicks (or taps in your case) was acceptable for a user. However as people have learnt more about usability, and studied it with real scientific experiments, we have the three click rule myth.

What's important is not how many clicks/taps it takes to do something, but what the user thinks/feels about those clicks (the information they have). For example, I'd much rather click four times to get somewhere if each time I clicked on a meaningful label which confirmed to me my end goal would be validated, whereas if I was just randomly exploring then even clicking twice might feel like a waste of time.

This "how I feel it performs, is more important than how it actually performs" attitude has become the new norm. It's the principle behind usability in Googles new SPDY protocol.

In your case: Three clicks is okay, but to be safe, give some explanatory text. For example instead of 'back' have 'back to [last page name]', so they can identify with that navigation process and see where it's going. If you need more than three or four levels, Consider adding a separate smaller button beside your existing back button which 'roots' the user back up to the base.

  • I'd disagree: this is a form of backtracking. Video gamers mostly hate it. The usability tests UX Myth is talking about are for reaching the goal (forward, an unknown location), not about reseting system state, and it tells us to have as few "non-goal" states between as possible.I believe that reset should be achieveable within at most 10 seconds (cognitive task maximum) and without thinking (esp. without reading intermediate labels)
    – Aadaam
    Jan 26, 2014 at 11:47
  • Hi Aadaam. Yes I quite agree, although I'm not sure this is a video game, or much about the exact context so hard for me to lean anyway, hopefully presenting some opinions to the OP helps.
    – S..
    Jan 26, 2014 at 15:22
  • Sam - I am experimenting with integrating dynamic tabs so that there is a button that roots to base and at the base, provide global nav so I like the thinking. Not sure if it is most appropriate, but at least I am glad others are thinking on it. Thanks.
    – Mobile Q
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:55
  • Happy to help. That sounds like a good compromise solution.
    – S..
    Jan 26, 2014 at 19:43

I never heard of studies that measured frustration levels, however based on my experience in mobile applications, anything beyond 3 is to be considered too much. Unless the application is super complex one where there is no alternative but to have deeper levels.

I have seen some android applications use side pull menu bars to use this effectively reduce navigation complexity.


Navigation depth will become an issue

  • When a user makes navigation errors (i.e. over-run on way back up)
  • When the navigation is inefficient (requires significant time and effort)

This is app dependant. In an app where the user mainly works within a page context or one level up and seldom traverses the full tree, then the impact of having a deep tree is low because a user will spend hardly any time doing navigation. However if the user often moves up and down the full tree, then a much higher percentage of user time and cognitive effort is spent navigating. Especially say if page redraws are slow.

Note that for both potential problems listed above, the speed of display refresh after navigation and clarity about the location arrived at are important mitigating factors.

First up Research should help you know your red routes. Data gathering should refine this.

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