Hick’s Law and Design

I’m somewhat on a design psychology kick because I’m deep into product design every single day at this point with my new project, Yen. Besides choosing the easiest (and most simple) option among the many, many alternatives, a related law that quickly comes to mind is Hick’s Law:

As the number of choices available increases, so does the amount of time (and effort) required to make a decision.

Consequently, it’s oftentimes better to have only a small number of options available to the user, specifically chosen for maximum impact.

Where this becomes difficult is when you try to marry these concepts with expectations of users, especially if you’re traveling down a well-worn path of user experience.

Take, for instance, travel sites, like the newly-redesigned (or updated…?) Google Flights homepage where you are presented with a lot of options and menus already.

Google Flights

Now, I actually think they’ve done a great job of minimizing choices, using the screen real-estate well, and keeping the color palette functional and not overwhelming.

Actually, the more that I stare at it the more that I like it – that’s quite nice Google, wtg…!

Google Fights

The most common example of Hick’s Law that we’re all familiar with is reviewing menu decisions at a restaurant. Sometimes, the menu is so massive that you literally throw your hands up in the air in frustration.

Menu via Denny’s

There are just so many choices that you simply cannot walk through them all and by the time you know it the waiter is already on top of you asking for a decision. What typically happens is that you ask for more time.

This, of course, just doesn’t work in the digital world. Asking for “more time” is not something that you want your users to experience. In fact, you want them to be able to intuit their way to the end, every single time, with ease.

Minimizing this cognitive overload is imperative to have a successful digital product – removing extraneous and non-critical pages or even technical load times is a standard expectation that end-users have.

Hick’s Law is something that is weighing heavily on my mind.

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