Hick’s Law Applied to Application Design

Over the course of the next several weeks I’ll be getting into why it’s important to understand and use design principles as you build mobile applications. To get started I’d like to start with a lesser know but very important principle known as Hick’s Law, or the Hick-Hyman law. Hick’s Law, named after British psychologist William Edmund Hick, describes that the time it takes to make a decision increases as a result of the number of alternatives increase.

Let me explain why this is an important principle to keep in mind when designing applications.

A proper understanding of Hick’s Law can help designers prioritize a path for their audience that helps them accomplish their task as efficiently as possible resulting in a delightful and simple experience. If Hick’s Law is avoided the danger becomes a design that includes an array of choices that the user may not understand, resulting in confusion, frustration and ultimately a poor user experience.

Here’s a simple perspective to ponder. Why do some people prefer using their mobile app for basic, routine tasks over a desktop app with more functionality and features? My suggestion is that the paths that exist on mobile apps are more focused and clear. There are many reasons that paths on mobile devices tend to be more clear and intuitive.

  • Smaller form factor
  • Conventions are more commonly understood
  • Constraints – this goes along with the smaller form-factor. Simply put the application must be more concrete about the options presented, thus presenting the user with a simpler and more clear path to take.