The complete guide to Hick's Law in UX

Hick's law in UX Design

Hicks' Law, also known as the Hick-Hyman Law, is a fundamental principle in UX design that deals with the relationship between the number of choices offered to a user and the time it takes for them to make a decision. Simply put, the more choices a user has, the longer it will take them to choose one.

What is Hick's law 

Hick's Law, named after British psychologist William Edmund Hick, is a principle in the field of user experience (UX) design that states that the time it takes for a person to make a decision increases with the number of choices available to them. In other words, the more options a person has, the longer it will take for them to make a decision.

Hick's Law is often applied in the context of user interface design, where designers aim to simplify decision-making processes for users by reducing the number of choices or options presented on a screen. This can lead to a more streamlined and efficient user experience.

Here's the key principle:

  • Decision time increases logarithmically with the number of choices. This means that even a small increase in options can significantly impact the time it takes users to decide.
  • Complexity affects decision time. Options that are more complex or unfamiliar take longer to evaluate, further increasing decision time.

The formula for Hick’s Law

Hick's law formula

RT = a + b log2 (n)
Where RT = reaction time, (n) is the number of stimuli present, and “a” and “b” are arbitrary measurable constants that depend on the task that is to be carried out and the conditions under which it will be carried out. 

Why is Hicks' Law important in UX?

Understanding Hicks' Law helps designers create interfaces that are efficient, user-friendly, and prevent decision fatigue. By limiting the number of choices presented at any given time and simplifying complex options, designers can improve user satisfaction and engagement.

Here are some ways designers can leverage Hicks' Law in UX:

  • Minimize choices: Offer only the most relevant and frequently used options at first glance.
  • Prioritize and highlight key options: Guide users towards the most popular or recommended choices.
  • Use progressive disclosure: Reveal additional options only when necessary or requested.
  • Simplify complex tasks: Break them down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Provide clear labels and descriptions: Help users understand the difference between each option.
  • Use search and filtering tools: Allow users to quickly find the options they need.

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How to apply Hicks law in design

Applying Hicks' Law in UX requires a good understanding of user behavior and their context within your interface. Here are some specific strategies you can implement:

Minimize Choices:

  • Limit options displayed initially: Offer only the most essential choices for users' immediate needs. Consider presenting "Most Popular" or "Frequently Used" options first.
  • Use progressive disclosure: Gradually reveal more options as users become familiar with the interface or indicate a need for further exploration.
  • Utilize filtering and search: Facilitate quick finding of specific options within a larger set.

Prioritize and Highlight Key Options:

  • Visually emphasize important options: Use larger font sizes, bolder text, or contrasting colors to draw attention.
  • Offer default selections: Pre-select the most likely or recommended choice, reducing decision time.
  • Group similar options together: Organize logically related choices to aid comparison and understanding.

Break Down Complex Tasks:

  • Decompose multi-step actions into smaller, achievable units. This reduces cognitive load and avoids overwhelming users.
  • Guide users through the process: Use clear instructions and progress indicators to keep them on track.
  • Allow users to easily backtrack and revise their choices.

Simplify Choices and Information:

  • Use clear and concise language: Avoid jargon and technical terms that may confuse users.
  • Provide informative labels and descriptions: Explain the purpose and benefits of each option clearly.
  • Leverage visuals: Use icons, images, or videos to enhance understanding and reduce text load.

Test and Iterate:

  • Conduct user testing to evaluate the effectiveness of your UI decisions. See how users navigate the options and measure their decision times.
  • Continuously iterate and refine based on user feedback and data analysis. Optimize the number and presentation of choices to fit your specific userbase and context.

Remember, applying Hicks' Law is not about simply removing choices entirely. It's about presenting choices strategically and in a way that minimizes user effort and cognitive load, leading to a more efficient and pleasant user experience.

Bonus Tip: Consider the user's context and goals when applying Hicks' Law. In time-sensitive situations, even fewer choices might be necessary. Conversely, experienced users may appreciate more options for fine-tuning their experience.

The principle underscores the importance of simplicity and clarity in design, encouraging designers to prioritize essential information and actions while minimizing unnecessary complexity. By adhering to Hick's Law, designers can enhance the usability of a product or interface and help users navigate more easily through the decision-making process.

Further readings

Check your knowledge about Gestalt Principles
What is Expert Review in UX Design 
What is Contextual Inquiry 

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