I’ve just started a long, long project at work of replacing forty or so websites which have long been neglected with something more modern, but in the process I’ve come across a ‘3 click’ rule I never knew existed.

As part of the project, which is replacing healthcare websites intended for patients of all kinds of services to find out what they can get, where they should go and who they can call if they need to know something else, I get to experience agency life again: working with a client to deliver something that meets their needs and ticks all the boxes their website needs to.

I was quite surprised to find that as part of the project, one of the boxes the website needed to tick was that any piece of information was never more than 3 clicks away.

Given that this was a relatively small website, that wasn’t much of a problem – and I like a challenge – but it did leave my arguing with the Intern who was putting together the content and site map ahead of starting to build the site about how the menu should work.

I was arguing that anything titled “Patient Information” couldn’t be a menu option simply because that’s exactly the best way to sum up the purpose of the entire website, but I lost. We agreed to disagree – and that’s how it should be.

The site has been delivered, the client is happy and it’s ticking the boxes they laid out at the start. But I can’t leave it there. Because there’s 35 more of these sites to go, and I crave to know whether this is one of those situations where I’m wrong (and so I should shut up) or one of those situations where I need to come up with a better way of convincing people.

Foiled by the three clicks

On the face of it I didn’t get my way because I couldn’t think of something better to call the menu option but in reality I lost because my way would fall foul of this ‘three clicks’ thing I’d been introduced to.

If I’d been left alone to build the site from scratch with no clients or Interns to please then I’d probably have gone with five menu options with sub menus taking people further. I’d have had: Home, Our Story, Our Services, Get Help and Contact Us.

That would’ve meant that someone looking for some bits of information might have had to click through maybe three or four links but at least I think those three or four clicks would’ve been sensible ones.

I came across a similar argument with a colleague over making things easy to find on an Intranet site. Their argument: everything essential for people to do should be linked directly from the homepage. My argument: logical menu structure which puts things where people expect them.

I won that one, but then we never ended up building the site anyway.

Following it to its ultimate aim, as sites get more complex then the three clicks rule just means long and hard to use top-level menus or even longer pages of content.

Ultimately, the aim for 3-click access to any bit of content on the site is somewhat admirable. I like the concept, and the idea that putting the user and their experience (in this case saving them time and perhaps some menu-induced bother) is important because it is and it often gets forgotten.

Simple sites that just do what you want and don’t make a big fuss about it absolutely rock. But I’m concerned that setting an arbitrary number of clicks to access anything is just systematising something that can’t be boiled down like that.

What do you think – is there anything in this or am I just overthinking it? Tweet me @picnarkes.

Illustration shared on Flickr by Andy Bright, illustrated by Claire Murray. (C) Some rights reserved.

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