Hick’s law basically states that the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increase . This law found broad application in user experience design, because not only did it reduce users’ confusion, but also increased conversion rates of call-to-action UI elements. But does Hick’s law enforce reduction at all cost? Imagine a credit card form that would allow payments by one type of card only, or an on-line t-shirt store that lets you buy only one size. :) That seems not to be the case here.
A very similar problem of choice paralysis was described in a study called: “When Choice is Demotivating”. In a famous “jam experiment” the researchers set up a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams, customers who came by could taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. What did they find?
Of the 242 customers who passed the extensive selection display of jams, 60% (145) actually stopped at the booth. In contrast, of the 260 customers who passed the limited-selection
display of jams, only 40% (104) stopped.
“Is the initial attractiveness of extensive choice also reflected in subsequent purchasing behavior? Our findings suggest not: Nearly 30% (31) of the consumers in the limited-choice condition subsequently purchased a jar of Wilkin & Sons jam; in contrast, only 3% (4) of the consumers in the extensive-choice condition” (source: http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/articles/Choice_is_Demotivating.pdf)
So how to avoid the choice paralysis and Hick’s law adapt to contemporary web design needs?
We took some of the best work from the UX Porn gallery to illustrate some ideas to answer that question. Click the wireframes to upload them completely free to your UXPin account and start tinkering right away. If you’re new to UXPin, it’s a good way to start a free trial, click the wireframe you like to sing up for free.
Drop down menu from Dishizzle
How to apply Hick’s law to a drop down menu design where you’ve got to expose several content groups? Well, here’s an idea from Dishizzle – good categorization and corresponding visual code.
Header from Typecast
This one is quite obvious – the sign up button stands out quite clearly and the only other alternative within the nearest area is the “Find out more” link, which visually has inferior visibility. It’s a good idea to resist the temptation to fit everything-that-is-important in an attention drawing hot spot. :)
If you want a yet clearer example of this technique, check out the next wireframe:
Sign up from Basecamp
Main screen from Heard
Heard is a type of app where time really matters. Thanks to the visual “hegemony” of the record button there is really just one thing to do here.
Search from Gigfi
No tags, no categories, just a search bar. There’s nothing more frustrating than setting up an “advanced” search that eventually goes wrong (and when you go backwards and discover all that carefully customised search is gone – that’s a true “Hulk moment”). If you want your customers to try the app and discover its functionality themselves, then you should let them do it. :) Gigfi bet on simplicity and curiosity that drives even the most daring decisions in people’s lifes. See if you this would work your your service, here’s the wireframe:
Contact Page from Buffalo
Another way to incorporate Hick’s law to your web design is segmentation. You will make your 40ish elements more clear if you put it into groups, just how Buffalo divided its contact page:
Multishare button from Ban.jo
Another technique of applying Hick’s law to web design – moving out of the context or layering. This wireframe simulates the lightbox effect that sets everything that’s not a part of the multisharing button to background, so you don’t have any unnecessary alternatives.
If you know any other good examples in this category, drop in a line in the comments.
And for further reading, see the works of Barry Schwartz, you can start from this video on the paradox of choice:
Take care and stay inspired with UXPin!