April 2022

Hick's Law in UX design: Keep it simple.

by Linda Bailey

Hick's Law is a simple concept that says the more choices you present to a user the longer it will take them to reach a decision. Hick's Law applies everywhere, but within the depths and all the noise of the World Wide Web, it's fundamental to providing a good user experience.

What is Hick's Law?

Hick's law, or the Hick–Hyman law, named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices — increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically. The Hick–Hyman law assesses cognitive information capacity in choice reaction experiments. The amount of time taken to process a certain amount of bits in the Hick–Hyman law is known as the rate of gain of information (1).

Factors:

  • Time 
  • Choices
  • Person who makes the decision
Hicks Law of User ExperienceSource

Applying Hick's Law to websites and apps

Hick's Law is not just about reducing complexity or eliminating choices. The reaction time has a logarithmic curve since users can process information presented in categories or groups, therefore when the user makes a choice, they eliminate whole groups of other choices — hence why the curve is not linear.

Consequently, Hick’s Law when applied to UX is also about creating meaningful and clear categories or groups and choosing the right level of depth to deliver a good experience for your users.

Hick's law applies to everything, including information architecture, overall layout, navigation menus, pricing pages, blog indexes, user onboarding steps… the list goes on.

Applying Hick's Law

When applying Hick's Law to web or app design, there are 3 key takeaways:

  1. Simplify choices for the user by breaking down complex tasks into smaller steps.

  2. Avoid overwhelming users by high

  3. lighting the recommended options.

  4. Display information progressively to minimise cognitive load for new users.

desktop

Here's a menu example of Hick’s Law in action. https://www.struto.co.uk/blog/5-laws-of-ux-that-will-help-you-to-create-a-better-user-experience

Applying Hick's Law is about simplifying the web or app design, so it's easier for users to make the decisions you want them to make. That’s why for example, a dedicated landing page with the goal of converting should only have one call to action (CTA). 

Tips for implementing Hick's Law

But first a few things…

  • Your user’s time is precious

  • A user is not obligated to stay on your site

  • Users make snap judgments that immediately influence their decisions.

It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not, whether they’ll stay or leave (2).

Top 5 tips:

  1. Use card sorting to define categories

  2. Divide the decision-making process into manageable chunks

  3. Carefully designed information architecture is critical

  4. Only show the options that are relevant

  5. Make the most important options stand out

Lastly, avoid the voice that tells you to add more functionality… unless it’s carefully designed with your user needs and goals in mind.

Not sure if you need Hick’s Law?

Review data such as “time-on-site”, “page views”, or “conversion rate”. If they need improving, then your web or app design will benefit from applying Hicks Law.

Why you should hire a digital design expert

A digital design expert will use Hick’s Law to examine how many functions and what information should be shown at any part of your website or application and how it will impact user decision making based on their needs and goals in any part of the customer journey.

Web and app designs are judged pretty swiftly and ruthlessly by users, so it’s worthwhile engaging a digital design expert. Why? An expert has years of training, experience, and intuition allowing them to apply Hick’s Law in conjunction with other design principles, research and data to deliver a good user experience.

It doesn't matter what kind of business you're in - For businesses with ambitious growth goals, improving the experience for your users has been proven (time and time again) to increase retention, satisfaction and revenue (3).

Want to level up or implement Hick's Law principles in your business? We're here to help, drop us a line!
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References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hick's_law

  2. https://www.sweor.com/firstimpressions

  3. https://www.superoffice.com/blog/customer-experience-statistics

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Linda Bailey

Diverting from a career in Architecture, Linda uses the left and right side of her brain equally. She's been with Honest Fox from the beginning and is involved in all facets of the business. She's empathetic and kind and loves punk music.

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