Obsessing over the number of clicks it takes to do things in your product may seem very old school – the kind of thing we worried about back in the 1990’s rather than the 2010’s. But it is still a key concern for some clients.
One of the reasons for this is that “too many clicks” is actually the kind of complaint that end users will make when asked for their feedback. However, like most direct feedback from users, it needs a bit of unpacking.
“Too many clicks”
“Too many clicks” is usually best interpreted as a complaint that the product is confusing or complex. It’s better to treat that complexity, rather than specifically trying to reduce the number of clicks.
In any case, all clicks are not equal: there are good clicks and bad clicks. Explaining this can help clients to see past the raw feedback and understand their interface in a more rounded way.
Anatomy of the click
How can there be different types of click? Well, a click is more than just pressing down on the mouse (or trackpad). Each click potentially has five components: thinking, targeting, clicking, loading and repetition. The clicking part may be standard, but the other parts are not.
To click on something, I first have to decide what to click on. This is going to be hard if I need to choose between a lot of confusing options; if it isn’t clear where I need to click; or if it isn’t clear what is actually clickable.
Before I can click, I have to actually move the cursor to the right place on the screen. Fitts’ law states that this process takes more time the further away the target is and the smaller it is. Small click zones that are far away make for bad clicks.
I click on something in order to perform an action, like loading a page. The longer it takes for this action to complete, the higher the cost of the click. This is particularly true if there is any uncertainty as to whether it was the right click to make, since I have to wait for the action to complete before I can see that I went wrong and choose to go back.
Finally, some clicks are easy, but fall down because the design of the product means that I will end up having to repeat them too many times. For example, if I have to navigate five levels of menu to reach the core function of a product, every time I want to use it, then those clicks become bad, even if each one on its own is quite easy.
Good clicks are easy, obvious, quick and not repeated too much. Clicks like these are pretty much free.
In contrast, bad clicks require the user to think, to hunt, to wait and possibly to repeat the whole thing multiple times. One bad click can easily cost as much as ten good ones.
Reduce clicks if you can, but focus your efforts on eliminating bad clicks, or converting them to good clicks!