Optimizing on the wrong metric? (and a quick book review)

I finished Steve's Krug "Don't Make Me Think" a few weeks ago. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in usability; most reactions when I told folks I'd finished it were off the "you haven't read it already?" and "you realize when that book was written!" variety. :)

There are a bunch of great ideas in there. The most important one for me was really just the title of the book, i.e. when users get to websites, apps, anything really etc., they're typically looking to do something specific so:
  • they skim; they don't really read and process everything you might put there
  • so using minimal design and familiar patterns is critical to usability
i.e. make sure they don't need to think much.

But a few days later, a conversation at work reminded me of another great idea in the book, i.e. "make sure you're measuring for and optimizing for the right metric."

For websites and web forms in particular for example, "reducing the number of clicks" is generally the right thing to do. However, this is a dangerous heuristic to follow thoughtlessly.

The rationale behind this is that multiple clicks means more information to process, and more things for the user to do - which is bad. It also means multiple screens to fetch and display, which tends to be slower overall - which is worse. So while often this heuristic may work, I saw a couple of examples recently where in an attempt to cram more information (and reduce the number of clicks) a web form was actually made more complex and intimidating - i.e. it forced the user to think much more which is really the worst.

In this case more clicks where I didn't need to think much >> fewer clicks where I needed to exercise more brain cells.

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