“Cognitive Milestoning” and the Myth of Minimizing Clicks for Optimal UX Design
by Darren Hood
During my years of UX-related design and advocacy, I have frequently encountered clients and stakeholders that were quite concerned with the number of clicks it would take to complete a particular task. The sentiments presented were quite passionate and boisterous, but it always concerned me that targeting the number of clicks was overshadowing other key elements and becoming too much of a priority. After reviewing several of these situations and finding a great deal of research that disproved the necessity of minimizing clicks (for the sake of minimizing clicks), I settled upon a different concept that could help to diffuse the inordinate passion of stakeholders and direct design appropriately. The concept? I call it “cognitive milestoning!”
Here’s an overview of my theory on cognitive milestoning:
- As many bloggers and UX experts have already clearly stated and proven, “the number of clicks” should NOT serve as a measuring stick to confirm whether or not an optimized user experience is achieved.
- While the number of clicks have been proven to be an improper design target, every user is intolerant of extensive processes that lack proper communication and that offer no rewards or supportive stimuli during cognitive processes.
- Instead, taking those same cognitive processes into perspective, users simply need to know where they are when completing a task (e.g., viewing progress and steps remaining, where applicable). Rewarding and informing them at various stages of a cognitive process (i.e., at certain milestones in the experience) makes what may be perceived as a lengthy process tolerable and possibly even enjoyable.
- Rewards and valuable communication-based functions (serving as cognitive milestones) will provide a sense of satisfaction, extending the patience being extended during a given process.
- Providing milestones to users will result in their willingness to take a few extra steps…. as long as the benefits are truly valuable and outweigh the efforts.
It’s pretty simple, don’t you think?!? If we focus on limiting a particular user flow to the proverbial “3 clicks”, but the user isn’t experiencing any rewards, confirmations, or the like at appropriate intervals, nothing has truly been accomplished just by minimizing clicks. In the same scenario, if we were to extend the number of clicks, let’s say (for example) from 4 to 7, but communicated in a manner that rewarded the user and provided a means of allowing them to reset their cognitive processes at, for example, steps 3 and 5, isn’t the user experience more optimal?!?
Cognitive milestoning is smarter, more practical, and serves as a better means of achieving designs that work for the user as well as for stakeholders. I feel quite strongly about this theory and am convinced that it is a viable UX strategy to use in all design projects — a far better strategy than using the, irrelevant and disproven “3-click rule.”
If you agree or are curious and are in need some additional, supporting thought leadership and research about “click counting,” I’ve provided a few links to related articles for your convenience (below). Some may consider them to be old, but the human brain’s functionality remains the same, making them highly relevant:
- Stop Counting Clicks — David Hamill, June 2009
- Stop Using Number of Clicks to Measure Good UX, Please… — Borrys Hasian, October 2013
- Testing the 3-Click Rule — Joshua Porter, April, 2003
- 10 Usability Tips Based on Research Studies — Cameron Chapman, September 2010
- Three Clicks or Bust — Alex Nichol, August 2011
Of course, I’ll continue to research this topic going forward, but I thought it would be nice to share my current stance. It’s at least worth a discussion. :-)