Hicks Law

Choices, decisions and possibilities.

A principle always worth revisiting is Hicks Law.

It states that the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increases. 

I like to remember that most tasks will consist of four basic steps: 

  1. Identify a problem or goal
  2. Asses the available options that solve the problem or achieve the goal 
  3. Decide on an option
  4. Implement the option

Hicks law applies to the 3rd step, that encompass simple decisions making. While there is an actual equation to solve for the exact time we don’t have to get into that much detail. Instead we can take this theory and apply it to common patterns and flows, things like menus, control displays, way finding layout and signage. 

Remember to always aim to minimising the number of options involved in a decision to reduce response times and minimise error. Or instead of showing everything at once, you can break it down. A common solution to lengthy check-out processes. 

Other principles and theory that overlap and influence Hick’s Law is Progressive Discolosure and Fitts’s Law