As is typical with the break room at many offices, we have a microwave. Actually, we have two, but there is one in particular that everyone knows about and avoids. Everyone but me*, that is. It is a machine crafted in the forges of bad usability and total misunderstanding of user journey.

The main requirement for a microwave is that one be able to set the time for which their food will receive a nuclear blast, converting last night’s roast beef into magma. Either there is a “time cook” button, or you simply enter the time directly. The uranium-235 does the rest.

In all seriousness, people expect time and power level entry to exist with a clear designation. If a microwave has no designation, people often assume it is reasonable to simply begin keying a time. This microwave is different.

My coworkers avoid the evil microwave because it doesn’t do things the way they expect. If you begin keying time, it sets off “auto cook” mode and cooks food for some pre-designated time in full-minute increments from 1-6. There is no “time cook” button, only a “power” button. It appears there is no way to enter the exact time something should cook for.

As it turns out, there IS a way to enter an exact time. If you press “power” you can freely key in your time. Yes, by opting to enter your power level, you are free to enter the amount of time to cook your food.

Clearly someone decided it would be efficient to trim the “time cook” button out of the process because it was an “unnecessary” action that make the overall process slower. What they forgot to take into account is what people actually look for: how to enter the time.

Translation to the rest of the world?

Fewer clicks is just that: fewer clicks. Just because you took away a couple of clicks in order to get the user to their destination doesn’t mean you did them a service. They may have relied on that waypoint on your site. Though it cost them an extra click, they knew each click was an important step upon the journey. You helped build their confidence in your site by marking the path clearly. If you eliminate a critical sign at a fork in the road, your users may get lost.

If you find your users getting derailed at a certain point on your site, look for the missing “time cook” button. Take care in guiding your users carefully through your site, adding an extra step if it makes the entire journey clearer. Users only mind extra steps if they don’t lead to clarity. Avoid building the efficient and impractical microwave and make the web a better place.

*I intentionally use the bad microwave. Since nobody knows how to use it, the traffic to that appliance is low. Food for thought.