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There are numerous website design guidelines and best practices to follow. But in general, it comes down to one common purpose, which is not to complicate the visitors when they use your site. Hick’s Law believes that the time it takes to make a final decision increases when provided with a number of options. So, the time it takes a user to finish their task on your web design depends on the number of options available. Therefore, you need to shorten it to encourage faster decision-making.

When is the best time to use Hick’s law?

Utilize Hick’s Law when response times are crucial. It is suitable for any simple decision-making with a variety of options. This is particularly beneficial in control system settings. When alarms are triggered and things go wrong, people need to be able to make fast decisions.

When a user enters a stress zone, they get tunnel vision. If you place that with the input from all the body senses, the situation can get nasty. When response time is vital, keep the choices on your web design to a minimum. This helps speed up the decision-making.

But, what about in everyday situations and typical products?

You can use Hick’s law to narrow down large volumes of information without overloading your visitors. In other words, use Hick’s law when you need to simplify complicated processes. Display specific parts of that process on the screen at any one time. For example, during a payment process.

Break things down instead of showing them at once. Show the screen with shopping cart information, then with delivery information, next optional account creation, and so on. Reducing the number of options makes the interface of your web design more user-friendly. As a result, the user will accomplish the goal without giving up or getting confused.

However, do not oversimplify, as creating too many small chunks is likely to cause a visitor to stop before reaching the goal.

When is it not good to use Hick’s law?

Usually, Hick’s Law is not suitable for complex decision-making. If decisions require comprehensive reading, extended deliberation, or researching, Hick’s Law is not able to predict how long someone will make a decision.

For example, picking an AirBnB place or selecting dinner at a high-end restaurant. These types of choices are considered complex because people need to assess and consider a lot of options and factors before deciding. In such cases, Hick’s Law will fail. Again, it is best to use it to simple quick decisions within the right context.

Practical usage of Hick’s Law

When response time is critical, a good rule of thumb is to keep up to five choices. Offering multiple options with equally perceived hierarchy may lead to frustration and analysis paralysis. In turn, this is not the best user experience. In comparison, a web design with fewer and clearer selections frequently is preferred by users as having a greater user experience.

Another way to utilize Hick’s Law on your web design is highlighting. It means to emphasize a few vital options for the cluttered user interface to increase the response times. Aim at reducing distractions in the context of decision-making. More choices can slow response time because it creates distractions. 

Using Hick’s Law in web design

So how do you apply this to your web design and fine-tune user experience? While websites are not like supermarkets, they are not too far off when it comes to the cost-benefit principle of Hick’s Law. Whether it is choosing from images, products, or navigation, it entails more energy from a user to make a decision. When the energy needed to make the decision is quite large, the benefit of making it would not be worthwhile.

When Hick’s Law tells you to keep choices to a minimum, this covers everything, from navigational elements to content, product choice, and so on. For this to be effective, take out unessential choices; thus, reducing the number of unnecessary decisions as well. This reduces the time to get your desired conversions. In the end, users will not give up, get frustrated, and leave your website.

Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Clear the paths for your users on your web design. This includes reducing drop-offs and navigation time. Also, work on a smooth user experience. 
  • Put content into the right categories. Limit overall choice into manageable sections. For example, clothing sites typically separate male and female categories, with an additional breakdown of categories below. 
  • Implement this to your navigation too. So, get rid of long navigational lists. Consider have three branches with a few sub-branches. It is better than having a long list of 10 places to go.
  • Utilize filter and search options effectively. This can help you reduce large streams of content into manageable lists.
  • Always value the moment that a user spends time on your website. With that, use it wisely with the help of Hick’s Law.

Here are two ways to see if applying this web design principle has an effect on your platform. Remember to look at metrics to confirm the impact of your design:

Review the time spent on your site. If a user spends too little time, they probably left without deciding on something. On the other hand, if the user spends too much time, something may have probably distracted them from the goal.

Work on optimizing your design and provide the right amount of options, maintaining user engagement along the way. Help your visitors to make the right choices and convert.

Check the page views. The number of page views can be an indication of whether you have used Hick’s Law successfully. If your navigation is too complex, then expect the number of page views to be lower.

As such, avoid making deep navigation on your web design, for example, requires 2–3 choices for every level and goes on for 10 levels. This will lengthen the time for completing a task, as well as increases the likelihood of people leaving your website prematurely.

One thing is clear; the time of users is precious. Therefore, make sure your web design does not disrupt their time and energy, particularly when you need them to make decisions. They have no obligation to stay longer on your site, especially with all the other websites out there. In this case, use Hick’s Law to speed up the selection task and maximize decision-making time.