Suffering from Click and Stare

September 2nd, 2008
by Christopher Kusek (PKGuild)

I suffer from Click and Stare.   Not every day, and not every time.  But too often.

What is click and stare?

Before I go into the exact description of click and stare, let me provide you with a little context.   Application Developers, Efficiency Experts, and other Productivity people who analyze what people do and how they do it have identified that for every 1 less click, you’re saving ‘x’ number of seconds!   So lets say that for every 1 less click you do in an application a day, you’re saving 5 seconds, and you click once an hour.

So at 1 click = 5 seconds per hour, with 8 hrs in a day (40s a day)
Which adds up to 200 seconds a week per click, resulting in  ~3 hours a year per click saved!

Wow, that’s amazing! So, the more clicks we get rid of, the more time we save and we’re all productive all around! Excellent!

Oops, sorry that didn’t work out like we planned.

So, on paper it all sounds so logical.  If an action you do frequently takes you less time to do, you can do it more often.   No arguments from me here.   I can go click a big B or hit ctrl-b and make this text bold.   Instead of going into a file-function menu to do that.   Excellent!

The problem is, this only takes into account things which THEY thing we do, and do most often.

Here’s a real world example of where it triumphs and wins!


Right here, I have a very basic email window (My actual email window)

I don’t need to attach a signature it’s already done, and if I wanted to attach it all I need to do is click "Signature" and select my alternates from the Drop down.  Excellent.


However, lets say I wanted to turn this from an HTML email into a Rich Text one.

Well, firstly I stare, and stare and look around.  Nothing.  Okay, lets click Options.

Click and stare.


Oh, there it is, it took me a few seconds to find it here.   However if I didn’t know it was in options (I know :)) I would spend a good 10-15 seconds just finding out it’s not on the main tab before going to click on other things.

But this problem isn’t a fat application focused one.  No, this lives in the Internet as well (And stores.. I’ll get to that)

I’ll visit a website.  I visit it every single day, I know where it is what I’m looking for, I go to click on it.   


Hmm, that feature I use every single day (Even every other hour) is now harder to find, or not there at all anymore.    I go to a new "menu" where it might be, click and stare to find what it is I’m looking for.

But I’m not that guy, I don’t just stare – I search (this is a webpage) and STILL I don’t even find it!   WTF?    What is going on here.  It’s like the very functions which we rely upon for living our lives and running our business are intentionally being made harder in the effort to make us more "Productive".

I understand what you’re saying, where you’re coming from.   I analyze productivity and productive people in order to take the best they’re doing and replicate it.   However, I don’t do it in a completely counter-intuitive fashion which cripples a persons ability to work, leaving them like a deer in head-lights perhaps unable to even recover.

All of a sudden a 5 second ‘loss of productivity’ from having an extra click becomes 30 seconds to 5 minutes just trying to figure out what on earth they were doing when they lost their train of thought.   All because someone wants you to click less.


I thought it important to reference this before I go into real lessons of how to actually fix these click and stare scenarios.

It’s Monday evening.   You go to your local grocery store you visit all the time.   They’ve decided to restock the shelves and re-arrange the store since you were last there, to ‘liven it up’ and make it ‘easier?’ and a ‘better shopping experience’?

You go to where your regular stock items are.  You cannot find them.   You ask for assistance, they cannot find them.   "Maybe we don’t carry that?" they say.   Leaving you to fend for yourself in their incompetence because they’ve not only crippled you the consumer but they’ve also crippled their own employees.

Sadly, I’ve experienced this at a number of grocery stores (Nothing is as sad as walking into a grocery store expecting to spend several hundred dollars, and being unable to find ANYTHING you were looking for, WITH assistance)   Think about how that’d impact your customer service oriented business if your CS told the customer "Yea, we don’t do that" When clearly they know you do.

Resolution and Recovery?

Programmatically, there is an actual resolution to "click and stare".   It is by designing your applications to operate as a hybrid, in a fashion which the people use it, instead of how you feel they should use it.    What this means is, let the application operate and run as it normally does.   Enable a "discovery" feature, which is tagged on an individual basis.    As the application is used more and more, the features and functions which are actively used appear in a "Frequently used feature/function" area, similar to your "Recent Documents".   What this will do is allow your Accountant to operate like an Accountant using the tools they use, while your engineers, Architects, CS, and others – all using the same application can continue to operate it at their pace with their toolset.   

Some might say "Well, we’ll make the most universal functions available which we queried was being used by each of these parties"  That’s great, except for when it doesn’t work.   User Preferences are individualized for a reason.   Some users prefer things one way, and others a different way.    Letting the application be ‘user aware’ and working with them instead of against them can help solve and resolve these future issues.

Life and work are supposed to be easier the more we do it, not make it harder to do something routine simply because a developer or architect felt we didn’t actually use that function more than we do.    With the advancement of software factories and user aware applications, this does become easier, but it takes more than doing all the work to make the job done.    The code, the applications, even the businesses and stores need to realize – We’re the target audience.   Watch what we do.   Watch how we do it.   Don’t try to change our behavior because it won’t happen – Model and adapt to follow it.

Short of automating everything and anything we do (I prefer to do that ;)) people are going to continue to do things their own way.   If you’re not working with them to get the job done (Helping a customer, running an application, buying in a store) you’re working against them.

Look for patterns, watch them repeat, repeat and repeat again (re: genetic sequencing, flowers, life)  and model them and improve them.    Or work against them.   History has shown that isn’t too successful, it’s not impossible – but it takes a major shift to adopt.

Hopefully you don’t suffer from too much click and stare.   I’m doing my damndest to suffer from it less!

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Posted in Baltimization, Christopher Kusek, Microsoft | Comments (1)

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