Hick's Law & why too much choice slows you down

Hick's Law & why too much choice slows you down

There's a temptation when you want to make your customer happy to give them lots of different options, in the hope that they'll find something that will make them happy in all the things you've provided them.  However, as you will know if you've ever been faced with a choice between more than a handful of things, it can be a bit of a challenge.

What is Hick's Law?

Hick’s Law (or to give it its full name, the Hick-Hyman Law) is named after the psychologists William Hick and Ray Hyman, who in 1952, set out to research the relationship between the number of stimuli present and an individual’s reaction time to any given stimulus. 

Their finding? The more stimuli to choose from, the longer it takes the user to make a decision on which one to interact with.

What does Hick's Law mean for product management?

With Hick's Law there are a few key elements that feed into how you might go about solving your user's problems:

  • Break down complex or long tasks into smaller chunks (which is why checkout processes are split into different pages or sections)
  • If you want people to make quick decisions (such as in onboarding), then minimize the number of choices they have to make.  Too many and they'll give up.
  • Help people get into using your products by setting some defaults or highlighting the recommended options