Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is 3 Click rule becoming a hurdle?

UI designers are always under pressure to complete any work flow or reach any module of the application with in the three clicks. Yes, the famous three clicks which has been there to haunt us since the dark ages of internet when the WWW was not that wide enough.
From the day I took on UI design as a profession, this rule have been there to force me to put all my effort on focusing on getting all the information with in 3 steps or clicks. Even the business executives who never laid their hands on design don't fail to mention it and appear smarter. Well it does simplify users efforts and if normally users don't find what they are looking for in 3 steps they are most likely to leave your site in frustration. Well a variety of studies have been done on 3 click rule and of course it helps the designers to always be focused on user needs. However, there are certain tasks and scenarios where we are forced to ask users specific questions and they might be longer to reach to the final destination.

Now, the big question which arises is should we break the 3 Click rule? Should we not go by the book!

Effective Navigation while breaking 3 Click rule
In various usability studies it has been noticed that users don't mind reaching to a task in more than 3 clicks as long as they are not getting lost mid way and are intuitively aware were they are heading or guided to. It is when crowded navigation and when user begins to develop sense of no direction that they usually leave a website. One such study by Josh Porter flagged off an online debate when he published the results of his usability testing results Testing The Three-Click Rule.

Various navigation methods like breadcrumbs, tree navigation, global navigation through out and sitemap always tell users where they are, never ever letting them feel they are on their own. Prompting users with effective messaging on completion of sub tasks in between their quest for desired result keeps them motivated enough to carry on. I call it the water boy methodology which keeps the user fresh at every juncture and makes clicks easier for them to click on with sense of trust.

In the end I am not the 3 click rule hater but I do believe that it is also not the thumb rule for any work flow to be achieved, instead it is a good method to keep us alarmed all the time to show our useful information first hand. Some information do need simplified more break ups than to assemble them in 3 clicks.


  1. hey Avinash, good topic chosen. 3 click rule is not at all a hurdle.
    i believe in real application, a UI designer will always face this question. In simple words, standards and studies are useful in most of the scenarios and they really simplify the life of user.
    in an enterprise app or in a complex scenario where there is tons of information floating and at the same time we need to provide the user the most simple experience to complete the task, sometimes we have to overlook these standards and there is no harm in it. reason being, we are designing for the user and if user is happy with multiple clicks and at the same time achieving its goal, i am happy.

    that's why we suggest to use the progressive disclosure or some wizard sort of things to complete the task. wherein u can provide/track the data at every step. and user will not loose the focus also.

    keep posting. good to read all stuff here.