Click on OK

There is a school of thought among certain painters that you should count your brushstrokes: the fewer that you make to complete a painting, the more efficient your brushwork is, and the ‘looser’ your painting style.

As with many over-simplistic approaches, it is easy to find such gross exceptions that I am not sure that brushstroke counts amount to anything other than an arbitrary personal goal. Virtuoso sketches by John Singer Sargent would far outdo the painstaking detail of Poussin and Claude Lorrain, for instance. I also hope that we never see artistic ‘stroke-outs’ alongside those dreadful speed-painting contests.

With that in mind, I offer a crude but empirically useful tool for measuring some of the efficiency of the human interface: the number of clicks (or, if you are still enjoying your Magic Trackpad as much as I am, taps) it takes to accomplish an everyday task.

For instance, until it became decked with advertising and deeply sponsored,, formerly the mighty VersionTracker and still a major Mac software update site, used to require a single click to download most updates. Now, for pedants like me who want to obtain the disk image or installer for manual installation, it takes no less than 16, two of which are double-clicks. I don’t think that anyone would dispute that the efficiency of its interface has collapsed.

By comparison, the App Store fares well. Once you have identified the product you wish to purchase, one click brings up the authentication dialog, type in your password, and a second click on OK results in download and installation. Apple has always been adept at devising quick and simple ways to relieve us of our money.

Now step through the process of opening a TIFF image in Photoshop CS6 and saving it as a JPEG.

Click-drag ① the file from the Finder onto Photoshop’s icon in the Dock, and it is opened. But at first the image never properly fits the screen, so the next click ② zooms it up to size. Once adjustments and manipulations are complete, click ③ the File menu to open it, then click ④ on the Save As… command.

The Save As dialog does not default to the last filetype used, but is steadfastly stuck to the same as the image is already, making the assumption that I want to rename the file rather than change its type. So it takes another click ⑤ to open the popup menu, and another ⑥ to select JPEG. Having clicked ⑦ on OK, there is a further dialog to set JPEG compression options, which are thankfully sticky but require a final click ⑧ on OK. However the document has yet to be closed; as that remains in its original TIFF format, clicking ⑨ the close tool brings up an alert, which has to be dismissed by clicking ⑩ on the Don’t Save button, closing the image ready to open the next.

Graphic Converter 9, on the other hand, saves half of those clicks.

It initially opens the image to fill the screen, defaults to the last used filetype for the Save As dialog, and puts its sticky compression options into an optional dialog which you need not enter. It then changes the file displayed to the last-saved type, now the JPEG, meeting the expectations of Mac users and sparing another wasted click at the end.

Although the app may be less powerful, its interface is generally more efficient than Photoshop’s. Where Photoshop requires more clicks, those are the result of poor interface design (non-sticky file type, rigid defaults, aberrant behaviour when saving as) rather than imposed by its more sophisticated features.

When you have a few moments, if they are not already etched into your brain and hand, try counting the clicks that your everyday routines require, and compare them between contrasting applications of similar functionality. I think that you will find a strong correlation between the number of clicks required and your subjective feeling of dissatisfaction with that app’s human interface.

Perhaps if enough of us were to count and compare clicks, and complain about the convoluted course that our everyday work has to follow, the software houses would help us be a bit more efficient.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 30 issue 10, 2014.