One of the most difficult tasks that we all experience is when we go to a new restaurant, we read the menu and see what we have to choose. It becomes difficult when there are many menu options. It means having several choices in the appetizer section and several choices on the menu of main course, drink and dessert. If we have it with us, we have a big argument about who wants to order what. It takes us a lot of time to choose from different options.

A user who enters a site must also make choices. Sites also have a menu. Menu sites should not be too confusing and complicated. Because the user may be disappointed to find what he is looking for and leave the site altogether. On the other hand, the menus should not be so simple that the user realizes in a few moments that what he wants is not on the site and leaves. Basically, the user should stay on the site as long as possible.

One of the main goals of the user interface and user experience designer is to make the user’s movement on the site simple and easy. And at the same time, the design should be such that it keeps the user on the site. One way to keep the user on the site is to give them options to choose from. Just like choosing from the restaurant menu, the user is busy choosing on the site and, as a result, stays on the site.

But should the UI and UX designer provide the user with all the options in all parts of the site? Isn’t it possible that too many options will tire the user? Or to give up choosing at all and go? By the way, shouldn’t it be the other way around, that is, we should give him a few options so that the time to choose will be less and he will get to what he wants sooner? What is the right number of choices? Hick’s Law answers these questions.

This article wants to introduce you to this law and its application in designing the UI and UX of the product (site or application) and answer the questions raised above.

Hack’s law in UI and UX design

The UI and UX designers design for humans. The needs and wishes of the user are the main thing for them. They must find a way to best meet the needs of the user. Therefore, they must know the user (human) well. In this way, the science of psychology and its findings can help them a lot. Gestalt principles and rules help the designer a lot in user interface design and make decisions easy for him. The second psychological theory that helps both the UI designer and the UX designer and the product designer is Hick’s law.

Many times, the designer asks himself, what should the user see when he enters the landing page? How many parts should menus be? How many ways should he have to go to where he wants from the site? Other important questions are that when the user wants to interact with the site (for example, online payment), how many stages should this interaction take place? How many tasks (choices) should he do in each step? How many choices are enough for the user?

“As a designer, you will use Hick’s Law to examine how many functions you should offer at any part of your website and how this will affect your users’ overall approach to decision making.”

What is Hick’s Law?

Hick’s law is the result of the research of two British and American psychologists named William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman in the 60s. This law is expressed in mathematical language (an equation). This law actually expresses the relationship between human reaction time (Reaction Time or RT) to stimuli in the environment based on the number of stimuli. In simple words, the more stimuli, the time that a person reacts (answers) to them also increases. In other words:

“Hick’s Law (or the Hick-Hyman Law) states that the more choices a person is presented with, the longer the person will take to reach a decision.”

So, with fewer choices (options, interactions, things to do), the human reacts, chooses or does something in less time. Hick’s Law is more important in product design than you think. You may not believe that the number of buttons on the washing machine or dishwasher or remote control can be determined with the help of Hick’s law.

Applications of Hick’s law in user interface design and user experience

Therefore, in general, Hick’s law helps the product designer (site or application) to design a product that neither bores the user with excessive complexity nor with excessive simplicity. Now the question must be answered, how should the UI or UX designer use this law on the site or application? Considering Hack’s law, the designer should reduce menus and the number of user interactions to the minimum possible. That is, the most necessary options and interactions should be presented to the user so that he does not want to spend a lot of time (a lot of effort) making a decision. Because if the user wants to engage in multiple selections, he will get tired and confused. As a result, the user experience will not be satisfactory. Of course, it should be noted that the designer should not think that this means removing all the choices (options) during the user’s interaction with the site or application. Because:

“The objective of Hick’s Law is to try and simplify the decision-making process, not eliminate that process entirely.”

This rule has two specific applications in user interface design and user experience:

1. Organizing navigation on the site or application with reasonable and suitable categories of options

This rule should be kept in mind in the design of all menus and general navigation of the site. That is, the navigation should be simple and easy and only provide the necessary options for the user. The categories of the menus should also be the same. There should be general and specific categories in the menus, not links to every page on the site. The Amazon site is the best example of the application of the hack law in this case. When you enter the home page, the first thing you see is the Search option. That is, without the need for the user to open something or look for a product, he can directly search for it on the site. If, for any reason, he does not want to search for a specific product name, there is a menu on the right that contains all the products in three categories.

2. Reduce confusing complexity by reducing the number of transactions per section or stage

Imagine that the user is going to register on the site. You may need to enter a lot of information. Here, the designer has two choices: to create a list with 25 fields on one page or to create 5 lists or 5 fields on 5 pages. Which is more convenient for the user? Which user is less tired? According to Hick’s law, the second option. So, the designer should break the number of interactions that the user has with the site into several stages. With this work, the designer has actually followed one of the basic principles of product design and has not created a new problem for the user in his interaction with the product.

Exceptions and limitations of the Hick Act

Another question must be answered: Should the designer only follow this rule in design? Is it not possible to violate this law in UI and UX design? In other words, what limitations and exceptions does this law have?

  • When the user has already made up his mind or there is only one option, there is no need for this rule. This is why the home page of the Amazon website is designed so that the first thing the user sees is the white search bar.
  • Sometimes you can’t narrow down the options. That is, the nature of the subject or categories is such that it is not possible to reduce the number of options. That is, the designer has no choice but to ignore Hick’s law.

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