This unofficial “rule” in the world of UX design asserts that no page should take more than three clicks or taps to access. Or conversely, no piece of important content or information should take more than three clicks or taps to navigate to.
While this thinking has persisted over the years, it’s not based in any referenceable research, however, many designers use it as a goalpost to help reduce the number of steps a user must take to achieve their goal.
Why the 3-click rule shouldn’t be followed explicitly
The challenge with the 3-click rule in practice, is that it’s overly simplified and doesn’t account for the complex interactions involved in many of today’s digital experiences. Using a set number of steps to achieve a goal runs the risk of ignoring everything else that’s important to an experience in service of reducing the number of steps. This could result in overly broad navigation categories, multi-tiered menus (which can be frustrating for users), and even reduced page load speeds.
Rules to follow instead
Fortunately, there are plenty of other guidelines teams can use instead of the 3-click rule, the most important of which involves consistent feedback from real users on a site or apps navigation.
Instead of aiming for a 3-click goal, opt for a more holistic set of goals. General usability principals are a great place to start, so try asking these questions, based off Peter Moroville’s “UX honeycomb” when gathering feedback from users: