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Why Counting Clicks Is a Thing of the Past

Posted 17 May 2016 9:00 AM by Adrienne Sangastiano @MoxieUSA, @Asangastiano

We’ve all heard at one time or another the adage that “less is more.” From the amount of content we serve up to the variety of choices we provide right down to the number of clicks we count — we’re seeing more and more of “less is more” in everything we do.

Today, the movement toward simplicity has taken hold, and the mobile-first mentality has established firm roots. “Less” is a fundamental and welcomed friend of experience design. But what happens when we shift our perspective from “less is more effective” to “less is part of crafting better experiences”?

The “less, but better” mantra from Dieter Rams is evident in the designs of Apple, Braun, IKEA and Volkswagen. With an emphasis on the essential rather than the frivolous, this principle has inspired many designers to find the balance between what is necessary and what is better for the user in order craft outstanding experiences. Perhaps we can share in these successes and reframe the problematic myth that fewer clicks improve satisfaction and completion.

As an advocate for simplicity, I believe fewer clicks are generally a good practice, so long as the solution is in context of the user’s mental model. Yet the reverse is also true: sometimes more clicks add up to a better experience. With simpler steps that involve more clicking but less comprehension, the user can advance through the task swiftly and avoid information overload. My point: we should not focus so much on counting clicks that we lose sight of the user experience (UX). The UX, above all else, should dictate your design. And research backs up this assertion:

Fewer clicks do not equal more satisfaction.

In a study of 44 users attempting 620 tasks, more than 8,000 clicks were analyzed to determine if the user succeeded or failed at finding his/her desired content. There wasn’t much of a change from 3 clicks to 24 clicks, and the users were just as happy at 3 clicks as they were at 13.

Fewer clicks do not equal more completion.

Knowing that users are now accustomed to scrolling, pages are oftentimes overloaded to reduce clicks, with the intent of improving completion. In the same study, successful and unsuccessful user tasks were compared, and there were no differences between the outcome of the task and the task length. The success of a task had no dependence on the number of clicks.

Counting links has given way to better labels.

Another study tracked the satisfaction before and after each click to shed light on why some sites are so successful. They found that if users were more confident, they would succeed long before they experienced the outcome of success. There was also a strong correlation between an early indication for success and the final outcome ultimately being successful. Somehow users were predicting their success. The powerful force that enabled users to foretell their success is called Information Scent. The textual and visual cues of a good information scent (1) tell users that they are on the right path and (2) instill the confidence needed to continue. In the words of the researchers who conducted the study:

We were amazed when we discovered the answers from the first three clicks strongly predicted whether the user would eventually succeed or fail, even if the clickstream was 15 or 20 clicks long. Not only that, but as long as every subsequent click had high confidence values, the user was very likely to succeed. As soon as the confidence values dropped, so did the likelihood of the users finding their desired content.

It’s up to all of us to ensure that, when designing experiences, we don’t pursue “less clicks” at the expense of a better UX. The time has come to put the abacus away, and instead, focus on understanding the mental models of your users. Then, and only then, can we create information scents that are pleasing.

Do you still fear the click? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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