To click or not to click – a usability dilemma

28Apr10

Let me briefly set the scene.

There is a price comparison site. The site holds tens of thousands of products, organised into categories each with individual attributes by which they can be sorted.

Situation A

Customer A wants to buy some wet dog food. They arrive at the homepage of the site and click on the “Pet supplies” link, taking them to the pet supplies page. There is a list of results displayed on the page immediately, but customer A needs to be more specific to find what they need. Customer A is presented with a screen that looks like this:

Pretend screenshot of imaginary website

Situation A

The links in the red box represent the sub categories under ‘pet supplies’. In the green boxes, there are links allowing customer A to search for attributes within these sub-categories, without the user needing to navigate through the sub-categories themselves. Customer A can click on the ‘wet dog food’ link from the first green box from this page and is presented with relevant results. After 2 clicks, the user goes ahead and transacts with the site.

Customer A notes that despite having clicked onto the ‘wet dog food’ link, all the links in the red box and all the green boxes stay on the page and do not change. This happens no matter which category or product the user navigates to under the ‘pet supplies’ section of the site.

Situation B

Customer B also wants some wet dog food. When customer B lands on the home page, they also click on the ‘Pet supplies’ link. However, customer B is presented with this screen:

Pretend screen shot two for imaginary website

Situation B

Customer B is also presented with a list of results, but they too need to drill down further to find what they need. Customer B therefore clicks on the ‘dog food and treats’ link in the red box, which takes them another level deeper to this screen:

Pretend screenshot three for imaginary websiteAfter drilling down into the ‘dog food and treats’ category, the user is given the option to further filter their reults with the links in the green box. Customer B then finds what they need and completes the transaction after 3 clicks.

The dilemma

Situation A:

Plus sign Pros

  • The customer found what they wanted after just 2 clicks

Minus sign Cons

  • After the first click, customer A is presented with a screen with up to 10 boxes of attributes (tens of links) down the left hand side of the screen. Difficult to scan and makes the page look cluttered.

Situation B:

Plus sign Pros

  • Customer B is presented with a neater, cleaner screen that allows them to drill down into sub-categories and attributes in a logical order

Minus sign Cons

  • Customer B has to click 3 times to get their results.

So, what I’m asking you as users, usability experts, designers, content writers etc., which of these options do you think is best? Would you be happier with customer A or customer B’s experience? I’d be even more interested to know if you think there is a better all-round solution.

I realise that a site search function largely reduces the need for this kind of system, but I’d still be very interested to know what the general consensus is on this. Personally, I prefer user B’s experience. The links change depending on how far you’ve drilled into the site, in a logical way that isn’t confusing. It takes an extra click but declutters the page, while breadcrumbs allow the customer to navigate backwards if necessary.

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4 Responses to “To click or not to click – a usability dilemma”

  1. 1 Not today

    I would go for B. A will confuse the hell out of the average joe which will make them feel stupid which means they will never revisit the site again.

  2. 2 Collingham

    I’d prefer option B too – mainly for the reasons you mention. Yes, it is an extra click, but the design is much cleaner and realistic. If I was in a pet shop, that’s what I’d do – go to the pet supplies aisle, look around for dog food, and then home in on the wet dog food…

  3. 3 Jenny

    I’d go for option B because I don’t like to have too many options presented at once. In option A it isn’t clear that the options listed are sub-sets from the top items.

    As long as something looks like a link, users will click happily.

  4. I’m glad that everyone seems to agree so far. I do find option A to be a bit overwhelming and hinders the user from finding what they want quickly, which can scare them off in no time.


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