Hick’s Law

Your constantly-updated definition of Hick’s Law and collection of topical content and literature

What is Hick’s Law?

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. Named after psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, Hick’s Law finds frequent application in user experience (UX) design—namely, to avoid overwhelming users with too many choices, thereby keeping them engaged.

Specifically, Hick’s Law states that the time required to reach a decision increases logarithmically with the number of choices—this means that the increase in time taken becomes less significant as the number of choices continues to increase. Thus, Hick’s Law becomes less important when designing long lists (for instance, a contact list, or a list of UX design topics), but it is crucial when designing short lists (such as a navigation menu, or action buttons in a website or app). In other words, the risk of information saturation/overload rises when website visitors encounter too many options. This will almost certainly have a bearing on how quickly they abandon their user experience by leaving (i.e., the bounce rate).

There are exceptions to Hick’s Law. For one, it applies only to equally probable choices, where the user is equally likely to select any of the choices. This means that if users already know what they want to do before seeing the list of choices, the time it takes them to act is likely to be less than what Hick’s Law describes. However, the general rule of thumb of Hick’s Law is still valuable, and it informs a wide range of design decisions—from the number of controls in a microwave oven, to the number of links in a website’s header. As such, this law tends to be a vital determinant in user engagement and conversion rates.

Literature on Hick’s Law

Here’s the entire UX literature on Hick’s Law by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

All Literature