Hick's law

Synonyms: paradox of choice

Hick's law states that the time needed to make a decision depends on the amount of choices available to a person. The more choices exist, the more time we need.  


This law is named after British and American psychologist William Edmund Hick. He and his colleague Ray Human studied the dependence between the number of stimuli and an individual’s reaction time to them. In 1952 they conducted a test.


That experiment involved 10 lamps that lightened randomly. Participants had to choose the one that lightened. The more lamps were there, the more time people needed to choose the right one.


Hick's law formula
This formula describes how increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically

How To Use It

1. Reduce the number of choices

When response time is critical to increase decision time. For example, this is important for control system environments and menus. Remember that the less options you give a user, the more likely he performs an action.



2. Break down complex and long processes into smaller steps

For example, you can divide the user registration process into several screens. It will make the interface more user friendly.


3. Keep a balance between reducing complexity and oversimplifying

Breaking down the choices for a series of lots of small chunks can make the user leave before reaching the goal.

There are two rules to make small steps work: show how many steps you have and try to limit them to 5 steps max.

4. Use the highlighting to help users to avoid overloading and to make a choice quicker

You can stand out important options for users among the cluttered interface.



5. Categorize choice to navigate users in a website

If one menu offers direct access to every link, it could quickly overload the user.


How To Break The Law

There are situations when infinite choice works great. For example, infinite scroll in Instagram or Tik Tok. At the same time, in both cases actions are so simple that users actually can repeat them a lot of times. It is different with Netflix, for instance. The reduсtion of options here works much better: people like different lists like Trending Now, Top-10 In Your Country, Best Comedies and so on. Such lists help users to make a hard decision — how to pick one film or TV show among thousands.


share the term