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Hick’s law

May 24th, 2021 / Product design

What is Hicks' Law?

Hick's Law states that the time required to make a decision is increased by the number of options available.
This basically means that the more options available to the user, the more time it will take to make a decision to choose one of them:

More options → More complexity → Increased decision difficulty

We can see this phenomenon everywhere, not only in digital products, in fact we face it almost every day! Let's look at a very everyday example below to better understand what we are talking about.

A very common example.

How many times have you arrived at a restaurant and you don't know what to order because the menu had so many options? Exactly, here we have a moment where your decision making process is hindered due to the large number of options available.

Look at the following hamburger menu and answer the question:

— "Which hamburger do you want?"

It took you too long, didn't it? In a real example, it is possible that you liked several of them and the final decision was difficult to make. This has a negative impact on the user experience, since making you think longer than necessary to make a decision generates cognitive friction, and you may not even choose any option.

Subdivision strategy.

This strategy consists of grouping the bits of data in blocks that belong to the same group. In the example we are dealing with, it would be sufficient to add a title indicating what type of meat the hamburgers are.

Okay, let's repeat the same question, but this time following the subdivision strategy:

— "Which hamburger do you want?"

It is very likely that on this occasion it was much easier for you to make the decision, since this menu has four clearly defined blocks of information, and this makes the scanning process very quick.

This way the user will be able to think along the following lines: "OK, I'm only interested in the chicken ones, let's see...".

Therefore, with this strategy we will be reducing from 24 possibilities to only 6 for each block he is interested in.

Progressive disclosure.

Another very good strategy is to divide the process into steps in order to be able to offer an easy-to-process amount of information at any given time. With this strategy the experience changes, as we divide the overall task into small subtasks.

In the example, those subtasks would be to choose: type of meat, type of bread, toppings, extras....:

— "Choose your hamburger"

This also greatly improves the user experience, as the number of available options is drastically reduced, making it much easier to make decisions.

How to take advantage of this in UX?

As always in the world of design, everything will depend on the context and the product you are designing, but there are certain UI components and UX moments in which this law will undoubtedly help us:

● Any menu.
● Product lists (eCommerce, Groceries, Restaurants...)
● Dashboards.
● Long processes.

If we take advantage of Hicks' Law correctly, we will offer our users a much more satisfactory and fluid experience, since decision making will be simpler and faster.

Remember, users value their time! 🙂

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